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Printing Industry Exchange ( is pleased to have Steven Waxman writing and managing the Printing Industry Blog. As a printing consultant, Steven teaches corporations how to save money buying printing, brokers printing services, and teaches prepress techniques. Steven has been in the printing industry for thirty-three years working as a writer, editor, print buyer, photographer, graphic designer, art director, and production manager.

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Large Format Printing: Selling Sex Appeal

Let’s face it. Pure and simple, it’s sex appeal. The “Wow” factor. When you see Michael Jordan slam dunk a basketball on a poster hanging the entire length of a building, it takes your breath away. And with large format printing, this is just the beginning.

What is large format printing?

At home or at work, most of you print to an inkjet device every day, a small, quiet printer on your desk that consumes ink cartridges and paper. The device sprays measured amounts of thin, fluid ink onto your letter-sized paper. Picture this device and then magnify it from an 8.5-inch wide sheet to a 130-inch wide roll of paper, film, canvas, or plastic. It’s basically the same technology.

What about the inks?

Granted, the inks used for large format printingcan be a bit different from the cartridges you insert in your table-top inkjet printer. It depends on the use of the banner you’re printing. If the large format print will be installed outside, it must be lightfast and weather resistant. Solvent-based pigmented inks will withstand moisture, heat, wind, and sunlight. Dye-based inks will fade in the light, and water will wash unprotected dye-based inks away. These would be more appropriate for a large format poster you would hang indoors. That said, dye-based inks are more vibrant than pigmented inks, and you can add a protective lamination. (When protected from air, water, and sunlight, pigmented inks will last for decades. Manufacturers are continuously improving these inks, and pigmented inks are becoming more vibrant, while dye-based inks are becoming more durable.)

In contrast to the inkjet printer on your desk, large format printing equipment uses an extended ink set. Manufacturers add to the usual cyan, magenta, yellow, and black colors such additional inks as light magenta, light cyan, additional black inks, perhaps orange and green, or even red, green, and blue. Not all of them, just various combinations. The result is a huge color gamut (i.e., the ability to reproduce multiple colors outside the normal realm of offset printing).

What if the poster is wider than the inkjet printer?

The huge building wraps you see from blocks away clearly are wider than a 130” inkjet printer. So how do they do that? Basically, the large format print vendors print out strips of the huge image onto vinyl (or whatever other substrate they are using), align the various pieces of the photographic image, and then stitch together the sections. Imagine a huge sail. It would be stitched together in a similar manner. The custom printing service can add holes reinforced with grommets around the edge, and the signage installers can then hoist the banner up the side of the building and tie it down with rope.

What about flatbed inkjet presses?

New inkjet presses have hit the market. They are very different from the roll-fed devices described above. Inkjet print heads still travel across the substrate, spraying the image onto the medium. But instead of printing to a roll of vinyl or canvas or paper, flatbed presses print to “rigid media.” For example, if you want to print an image on a flat piece of wood or metal—or maybe on the glass doors to your office meeting room–you would use a flatbed inkjet press. This way you could avoid needing to unroll the printed image, cover the back of the substrate with adhesive, and roll the large format print flat onto the base surface: metal, wood, Foam-cor board, doors, wall, or table.

What can you print?

What can’t you print? With large format printing, you can print posters, signs, flags, billboards, trade show graphics, vehicle wraps, and point-of-purchase displays. You can even print textiles. (For example, designers can print patterns on bedsheets.)

Granted, once you have produced the large format print, you must install it. Heat, pressure, and an adhesive mixture—plus a lot of time and skill—can turn a city bus from a vehicle into a work of art, a billboard promoting a company, an event, anything.

Mass customization

Large format printing is a mass-customization industry. Every copy of a large format print can be different from all the others. So consider printing large format inkjet images–with color, resolution, and durability that are beyond belief.

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