Wide format printing—a blanket term used to describe any kind of print job over the size of 45x60"—is, as you might expect, a fairly diverse style of printing. From stadium flags to highway signs, there are a million different giant items to print, and about a billion different ways to print them.
Looking to find the best wide format technique for your business? Gary Dunn, sales and production innovator for Adcapitol, Monroe, N.C., explains some of the most popular wide format processes, as well as their advantages.
LARGE SCALE PRINTING
“Large scale screen printing is the same as the conventional printing, but the screens are in the range of 6x10', or [are] composite prints using several 6x10' frames, indexed,” explained Dunn. He said this kind of printing is done either on a large platform or a floor about the size of a basketball court, and requires two or three people to handle the frames, material and double-handled squeegee. It can be used for building wraps, concert backdrops, custom flags, signs and posters.
ADVANTAGES: Printing in multiples, either in duplicate or one long design. “With this process you can progressively print very long panels that have no repeats, such as those used at NASCAR tracks or other sporting events,” said Dunn.
LARGE FORMAT DIGITAL PRINTERS
Large format digital printers work at a width ranging between 45" to 60", at an infinite length. “This class is at the top of the line for printing wall maps, low volume ads, school posters, office graphics, and subway and restaurant advertisements,” said Dunn. “The colors and resolution rates are as good as photographic quality in the 600 dpi range.” He mentioned the large format digital process is the same as a tabletop inkjet printer’s, and can be operated with PC adapting software. “We have a half dozen of these machines, which are supported by a staff of four techno-geek graphic-artists,” said Dunn, noting that these machines also double for printing short-run sublimation “papers,” which are used on single platen large format presses. (These are similar to T-shirt applicant transfer presses, except in size.)
ADVANTAGES: You can go from what you see to what you get almost instantly. In addition, print volumes can be as low as a single unit.
LARGE FORMAT SUBLIMATION PRINTING
Large format sublimation printing is a way of printing onto long pieces of fabric, such as curtains or bedding. It’s done by first printing a piece of transfer paper with a special ink that will diffuse into a polyester substrate and become permanent. The transfer paper is then pressed together with polyester fabric and heated to approximately 320 degrees, for about two minutes. The paper is eventually discarded, leaving a permanent print on the fabric.
ADVANTAGES: Materials can be up to 90" wide. High durability, vibrant colors, high color saturation and excellent resolution.
ULTRA WIDE DIGITAL PRINTING
Ultra wide digital printing is used for outdoor signs. “These are printers that operate on the exact principle as desktop printers except each machine is the size of a Greyhound bus,” said Dunn. “They are specialized to outdoor signage only and require fabrication of the finished product with grommets, flaps or attachments.”
Dunn stated that ultra wide digital printing is great for single-unit outdoor displays sized at least 16x28'. “We can use this method on long-run outdoor signage, as we cut the continuous runs into small signs,” he said. “This is impractical for small detail work as the resolution is limited, and the base material only comes in white, so that full-color pictures demand higher ink coverage defeating the cost.”
ADVANTAGES: Repeat images and short production times.