The wide-format printing landscape continues to evolve rapidly, presenting both opportunities and challenges for print businesses. To glimpse the future, we asked industry leaders to share their insights on emerging trends and how companies can prepare.

Several key themes emerged. The demand for printed signage and graphics remains strong, but customers increasingly want more than just a print provider. They seek a true visual communications partner who can deliver creative solutions, installation services, and a flawless brand experience. Wide-format print providers will need to focus on delivering unique designs and experiences to stay competitive.

Meanwhile, new technologies like digital presses and hybrid printers are redrawing the production landscape. Printers must invest in training and workflow improvements to fully leverage these innovations. Sustainability is also an area to watch, as eco-conscious customers are starting to expect greener options.

Above all, printers must focus on the changing needs of their customers in this digital age. As Dave Kletke of Oil City Press observes, “While growth is a testament to our industry’s success, it necessitates careful management.”

Read on for a view of wide-format’s future from the perspective of those driving innovation day to day. Their on-the-ground experience reveals where opportunities are emerging amid ongoing change. Their insights will help us all see where the wide-format industry is heading — and how you can future-proof your business.
1››Ink’redibly Relevant

Print certainly isn’t dead. While digital media continues to evolve and hold an increasingly prominent spot in our world, traditional print remains resilient and relevant. In fact, traditional print offers a break from the inundation of digital media constantly running past our eyes.

— Ann Marie Lentz, COO, point-of-purchase solutions, SERIGRAPH (West Bend, Wisconsin)
2›› RTO for the Win

So many of our clients — large and small — are interested in updating their workspaces now that we have had a resurgence in “back to the office” employees. Environmental graphics and large-scale branding projects have become a big part of our workload this past year.

— Bob Chapa, president and CEO, Signarama (Troy, Michigan)
3›› Get Outdoorsy

The demand for outdoor solutions has remained quite strong over the past few years. Between more outdoor events, concerts, sporting events, and pop-up shops, retailers are looking to get creative with their solutions. They are looking to create an entire experience for their customers, whether it is at a concert or a sporting event. Utilizing fabrics and hardware to create custom games and attractions is something we have seen a lot of our customers incorporate into their solutions. With mesh banners, outdoor coated canvas, and various flag options, wide-format printers have a wide variety of solutions to meet evolving advertising preferences and tastes.

— Jaime Herand, vice president of graphic operations, Orbus Visual Communications (Woodridge, Illinois)
4›› Increased Demand

We have a large presence in sports marketing in the Bay Area. The teams and institutions we support are constantly upgrading and adding large graphics to their arenas, stadiums, practice facilities, and office spaces. In addition, we are seeing a boom in POS materials needed by our North Bay (Cotati, California) location as they support the wine industry. Add that to the uptick in trade show event material needed by our corporate clients, and it creates for some busy times for our wide-format team. That said, we’re very hopeful that the trend continues.

— Jason Calvillo, director, large format division, ALMADEN (Santa Clara, California)

I am noticing a trend in the rapid advancement of digital printing technology in the last few years. I believe the speeds at which all types of machines operate are becoming more and more impressive. I never believed that in this short of a time frame the sq. ft./hr. on dye-sub, UV roll-to-roll, and flatbed presses would increase this dramatically. The speeds are impressive, but the sharpness and quality of the prints just gets better and better even as the equipment gets faster.
— Lee Weedman, director of operations, AMI Graphics (Strafford, New Hampshire)
6››Finding Equilibrium

Wide-format printing as other styles of printing — like lithography, then offset and digital — seems to be maturing. We are not seeing an abundance of new trends but improvement and new flavors of media or uses. There was a time where it seemed that fabric usage in wide-format print was eroding into the rigid and roll media, but that does not seem to be happening now. It feels like fabric, rigid, and roll have hit an equilibrium point.

— David Dey, vice president, manufacturing, ColorDynamics (Allen, Texas)
7››Out with the Old, In with the Bold

In the print industry, screen and offset were the means to accomplish large-quantity runs. However, wide-format digital print technology has made its mark and has come so far. Originally developed with just quality in mind, the speed of digital has really taken off, making it a realistic choice for high-volume work.

We recognized the trend of digital wide-format encroaching on the screen-printing business, so much that we decided to exit screen printing (within our point-of-purchase division) and invest in wide-format digital technology. We recognized, through our customers, that we were becoming one of the only vendors to supply screen print; however, it wasn’t cost effective and required a substantial investment to maintain that footprint. New digital print head technology, higher resolution capabilities, and the ability to control color allowed us to make the change.

— Ann Marie Lentz, COO, point-of-purchase solutions, SERIGRAPH (West Bend, Wisconsin)
8››Walls Are Talking

We’ve noticed lately that wall graphics are desired more and more by our clients. Wall graphics require our team to work closely with the client to make sure the final product is what they intended. By staying close to the client, we can solidify the relationship. The result is always great to witness.

— Jason Calvillo, director, large format division, ALMADEN (Santa Clara, California)
9›› Inking Ahead of the Curve

I really believe that the regroup from the changes that happened in the industry and our supply chains due to COVID have not fully worked themselves out. We are still seeing rapid growth in areas that pre-COVID we would never have dreamed of. This has made us rethink some of our old — as well as new — product lines as we take on this growth. The biggest challenge is staying ahead of the technology curve and putting the right investments into the correct equipment at the proper time to stay ahead of the game. What a great challenge to have!

— Lee Weedman, director of operations, AMI Graphics (Strafford, New Hampshire)
10››SEG’s Refined Approach

Silicone edge graphics (SEG) continue to gain popularity for many printers, and the application is suitable for so many different markets from trade shows and events, to corporate interior and retail. Between the simple installation and sleek look, it is a top graphic application in the wide-format space. There are also a number of suitable fabric solutions for SEG graphics including backlit fabrics, polyester stretch fabrics, and gray- or black-backed fabrics.

— Jaime Herand, vice president of graphic operations, Orbus Visual Communications (Woodridge, Illinois)
11››Second Sourcing Shines

As a result of COVID and supply chain challenges, accounts that were once “locked up” are now becoming more open to second sourcing. The requirements brands impose may still be burdensome (a long qualification process to qualify type of substrate, color management, and late delivery time penalties), but because the brands may not have been able to get what they specified, they are becoming more flexible and open to having second and third suppliers. This is opening up opportunities to get new customers that previously may have seemed unattainable.

— Marco Boer, vice president, IT Strategies Inc. (Hingham, Massachusetts)
12››Short-Run Corrugated Packaging

The biggest trend we’ve noticed is running short-run corrugated packaging. Having the ability to print direct to a substrate and then have it immediately finished is hard to compete with, especially in the short-run market.

— Scott Gorman, vice president of manufacturing, Premier Press (Portland, Oregon)
13›› Sign Enhancements

One notable development is the growing utilization of digital and custom enhancements in signage, encompassing elements like embossing, special varnishes, LED lighting, and video screens.

— Dave Kletke, president and owner, Oil City Press (Calgary, Alberta, Canada)
14››Work’s Stateside Return

A lot of large projects that may have been outsourced overseas pre-pandemic have found their way back to the States post-pandemic. I believe this trend will continue to bring more high quantity work to shops that can handle it, and that volume allows us to be more competitive than ever on these types of projects.

— Lee Weedman, director of operations, AMI Graphics (Strafford, New Hampshire)
15››Qualified and Skilled Labor

The labor shortages are affecting everyone. Hidden within that challenge is the fact that securing qualified labor is getting even more difficult. While you can put some degree of quality controls in place for the printing process, this is more difficult to do for the installation of wide-format graphics. Many wide-format print shops outsource installation, only to find many errors during the install process that result in having to re-print the job. This affects short-term profits, margins, and more critically, customer satisfaction. As a result, we’re seeing wide-format print providers heavily dependent upon installation taking this function back in-house to give them more control over end-to-end quality and margins.

— Marco Boer, vice president, IT Strategies Inc. (Hingham, Massachusetts)
16››The Finishing Equation

From a technology perspective, some of the new embellishments such as spot gloss varnish will add some value for sure. Additionally, some of the vendors are focusing on how to integrate printing with cutting, which can be a real bottleneck in wide-format production. It doesn’t do us a lot of good to print faster if we are unable to keep up in finishing.

— Scott Gorman, vice president of manufacturing, Premier Press (Portland, Oregon)
17››Sublime Success

Dye sublimation print technology caught our attention as a growing segment and a natural fit to expand our offerings. This segment is growing nicely year over year, has the capability to launch us into additional retail spaces (as well as events, displays, and textiles), and the skills of our current manufacturing employees correlate beautifully to the skills we need to run this new business unit. We’re just over a year into our launch into soft signage and are pleased with the doors this capability has opened for us. With our recent investments in roll-to-roll, flatbed, and dye sublimation, we are now set up to handle many different markets.

— Ann Marie Lentz, COO, point-of-purchase solutions, SERIGRAPH (West Bend, Wisconsin)
18››Print’s ‘Wall-to-Wall’ Potential

The architectural and interior design industry is beginning to grasp the possibilities we offer, presenting an exciting avenue for growth. Moreover, there exists an untapped market wherein retail and commercial businesses can explore our industry for innovative concepts and solutions in interior design and construction. This includes the realm of custom wallpaper, personalized printed flooring, ceramic tiles, and even carpets — effectively encompassing nearly every conceivable surface within their spaces. This trend presents a remarkable opportunity, especially when considering the concept of achieving opulent finishes like wood grain, natural stone, and a plethora of textures, all while keeping costs at a fraction of traditional methods. This innovation empowers us to swiftly and economically refresh the aesthetic of our clients’ commercial spaces, all while minimizing disruption, labor, maintenance, and waste. The potential for innovative designs and installations knows no bounds.

— Dave Kletke, president and owner, Oil City Press (Calgary, Alberta, Canada)
19››Retailoring Success

As retail businesses continue to retool in an effort to thwart the online industry taking over their market, we are seeing many great opportunities for creative and budget-friendly wide-format graphics. From eye-catching floor graphics to light box fabric elements, many retailers are very open to suggestions right now.

— Bob Chapa, president and CEO, Signarama (Troy, Michigan)
20››Oversized Packaging

We’re seeing a recent need for wide-format packaging. The potential upside is hard to measure at this point, but it’s something we’d like to be part of. So much so that we are actively pursuing an investment in new machinery to ensure we can support this and any other wide-format trend that comes our way.

— Jason Calvillo, director, large format division, ALMADEN (Santa Clara, California)
21››The Cost of Progress

As our industry experiences a surge in advanced equipment technologies, expanded substrate options, increased printing capabilities, and exponential growth, we must also acknowledge the challenges that accompany these exciting developments. The rapid pace of innovation brings with it a set of considerations that demand our attention.

The influx of new materials and substrates can complicate the selection process. While the wider gamut of options offers endless creative potential, it necessitates a deep understanding of each material’s properties, durability, and compatibility with different printing technologies. Ensuring the chosen combination delivers both aesthetic appeal and functional longevity becomes a crucial task.

The advent of new equipment and printing techniques, although beneficial, introduces a learning curve. Adapting to advanced technologies demands investment in training for our workforce. Achieving mastery over the latest equipment ensures we harness its full potential, avoiding inefficiencies and maximizing productivity.

Moreover, as the diversity of materials and substrates increase, so does the demand for specialized installation expertise. As we venture into new terrains, such as custom printed flooring and architectural finishes, mastering proper installation techniques becomes paramount. A flawless final product hinges on the precision and skill of our installers, who must adapt their techniques to cater to unique substrates and materials.

While growth is a testament to our industry’s success, it necessitates careful management. Rapid expansion can lead to challenges in maintaining quality standards, meeting deadlines, and managing customer expectations. Striking a balance between growth and consistent excellence is essential to avoid compromising our reputation and customer satisfaction.

— Dave Kletke, president and owner, Oil City Press (Calgary, Alberta, Canada)
22››The Amazon Effect

Giving customers the ability to self-serve with Web-to-print e-commerce solutions will continue to gain popularity. Online store fronts paired with graphic design tools gives customers easy access to ordering customized print products.

— Jaime Herand, vice president of graphic operations, Orbus Visual Communications (Woodridge, Illinois)
23››Brand Elevation

Companies will continue to push wide-format printers to create products that elevate their brand. Whether it’s utilizing specialized vinyl material or special boards, these substrates allow marketers the freedom to stand out.

— Jason Calvillo, director, large format division, ALMADEN (Santa Clara, California)
24››Dig Deeper

The future of wide-format printing will be steady, as signage is an application whose benefit will never disappear. Electronic signage is having limited impact upon printed signage, and has been very application specific (menu boards for fast-food chains, for example), as regulatory and cost challenges continue to prevent wide-spread adoption. The bigger challenge is finding ways to retain the high profit margins in signage, as convergence means more print providers (including commercial printers) are becoming attracted to the high profits still enabled by wide-format printing compared to general commercial printing.

Wide-format print providers would be wise to go deeper into select vertical applications where there is additional value-add beyond print (such as installation services), content and data services for larger accounts, as well as expansion of the type of offerings they provide.

— Marco Boer, vice president, IT Strategies Inc. (Hingham, Massachusetts)
25››Designing Success

As sign materials continue to become more impressive from an installation standpoint, I think the biggest differentiator for sign companies to stand out in a crowd will be the strength of their design departments. The only real way to earn bigger business opportunities in wide-format printing will reside in the ability to think outside of the box for your customers with incredible designs.

— Bob Chapa, president and CEO, Signarama (Troy, Michigan)
26››The New Age of Fabrics

Soft signage is the future. From what I understand this is already happening overseas and is rapidly building up in the States. With the ease of storage, installation, and some better environmental impacts this is the future. The new technology out on the market is making it easier to produce these products at higher speeds with more control over the process. Staying up to date with this technology and these processes is key to stable future growth in wide-format dye-sub printing.

— Lee Weedman, director of operations, AMI Graphics (Strafford, New Hampshire)
27››Planning for Sustainability

Sustainability and eco-friendly have become a large part of the packaging, publication, and commercial print spaces. It feels like this is slowly creeping into the wide-format space. Especially when wide-format printers are dealing with larger corporations. Many of the materials and usages do not easily conform to these expectations. For companies, it is important to start investigating and formulating future materials and processes wide-format printers can improve in the sustainability and eco-friendly space. If we fail to prepare for these expectations, in the future companies may find a customer segment they cannot support.

— David Dey, vice president, manufacturing, ColorDynamics (Allen, Texas)
28››Invest Wisely

With wide-format graphics applications providing solutions to so many different markets, it’s important to make investments into printing and finishing equipment that will provide businesses with the flexibility to produce graphic solutions on a variety of different materials.

— Jaime Herand, vice president of graphic operations, Orbus Visual Communications (Woodridge, Illinois)
29››Inking Outside the Box

Marketers are finding creative ways to take advantage of every surface — floors, ceilings, walls, and everything in between. This is challenging our industry to find indoor and outdoor substrates and inks for many applications and materials that can withstand any environment they are exposed to for any length of time. In addition to innovation for the sake of durability, our industry must continue to put an emphasis on developing sustainable options for our products. Many times, the nature of our promotional work forces us to replace products every three to six weeks. This constant turn of product will push us to develop eco-friendly inks, recyclable materials, energy-efficient printing processes, and responsible waste management.

— Ann Marie Lentz, COO, point-of-purchase solutions, SERIGRAPH (West Bend, Wisconsin)
30››Nurturing Talent

As the industry advances, nurturing talent becomes a cornerstone. This means investing in comprehensive training programs, professional development opportunities, and attracting fresh talent to the field. Ensuring a steady influx of skilled professionals will be instrumental in meeting the demands posed by evolving technologies and market demands.

— Dave Kletke, president and owner, Oil City Press (Calgary, Alberta, Canada)

The wide-format sector continues to present tremendous opportunities for growth and innovation. As technology evolves, customer demands shift, and new applications emerge, the printers who will thrive are those looking ahead and preparing for change.

By investing in their people, processes, and capabilities today, forward-thinking wide-format providers can continue delivering the quality, speed, and service that builds lasting relationships. They can leverage new innovations to expand offerings while ensuring sustainability. And they can harness creativity to provide the visually engaging experiences customers increasingly expect.

The future promises exciting developments. But realizing the full potential will require vision, adaptability, and a commitment to continual improvement.

Fundamentally, the future belongs to those who understand their customers’ changing needs in an increasingly digital world. Printers must move beyond being commodity vendors to become true marketing partners. They must deliver creativity, branding experiences, sustainable solutions, and flawless quality. Adopting this mindset, in tandem with embracing innovation, will ensure wide-format providers continue leading the charge in visual communications.

The perspectives shared here make clear that the wide-format printing industry is poised for a bright future when printers stay focused on meeting customers’ changing needs.



Author: Wide Formats Impressions

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