By Puneet Chadha,

AP Marketing Manager

Large Format Printing Business

HP Imaging and Printing Systems (Asia-Pacific)

more information

Better print quality, lower operating costs and the move towards digital printing are starting to make large format printers an increasingly viable option for architects and engineers demanding high-quality output without sacrificing accuracy.  

Large format printers have come a long way since their first inception.

Microprocessors are being included within printheads, print sizes are getting wider, colour management is improving and new inks, substrates and laminates are being introduced to extend the life of digital prints.

The industry is also seeing a shift from large electrostatic printers in the early days of CAD applications to the present graphics art, short run, ink jet technology printers.  

New printers now come with built in hard disk storage and computer memory, allowing large format  inkjet printers, which were once considered lower end to vector-based printing, to output large format images. These new printers now provide photo quality images with six colours, versus four previously. The addition of extra colours provides more finesse in mid-tone areas and delicate pastels and skin tones can now be reproduced without any visible cyan or magenta dots.

The printers also come with new levels of accuracy in both line and colour. Large format digital printing today can print fine lines as thin as 0.002 mm in length and have an accuracy of /- 0.2 per cent of the page length. The case for using inkjet printers is a strong one. They are fast and flexible and robust. It is possible now to turn out accurate photographic-quality line drawings with an inkjet printer costing just a few thousand dollars.  
The cost of using ink and media, meanwhile, has dropped from 14 US cents to 9 US cents per page, according to cost estimates from leading print manufacturer HP. The company also estimates that faster speeds - combined with cheaper ink and media - have lowered the cost of large format printing by 50 per cent over the last five years. The lower costs are significant for architectural and engineering users as the printer choice is often selected on the basis of price, precision, ink capacity, throughput and low cost of operation.  

The new enhancements and lower costs are enabling a whole new range of applications and profit opportunities for printing service providers (PSPs), bureau centres and pre-press and production houses who need high-end image quality from a variety of media. The switch to digital printing has changed the printing paradigm. It has translated into tighter deadlines, more customised projects and higher quality expectations.

High-end graphic companies who provide print-for-pay services, such as the bureau centre, can now process large files that can go anywhere to 2GB in size. Files can be printed and turned around within hours to meet the tighter deadlines of their customers. Suppliers can design substrates with the printer and ink technologies, and with the right technical applications in mind.  

A significant feature among new large format printers is embedded web servers that allow Internet access and remote control management of the printer from anywhere in the world. A user, for example, can log on from any browser do tasks such as job preview, queue management, or to change the sequence of printing and even engage in some accounting by calculating the cost of media or calculate the ink and media left in the roll. This unattended web access and control is especially useful for applications that need high volume and continuous output.  

Digital printing also improves productivity by allowing users to use the Internet to transfer a CAD or image file to his contractor, customer or service bureau.

The architect can be based anywhere in the world. He can put his finished work onto the web which is later retrieved and printed locally. This changes the print process from a print-and-distribute to distribute-then-print model.  

Digital printing houses can use the Internet to allow customers to build one-off brochures from data captured on a web site. Visitors on the web can even design and modify new print documents online. By incorporating digital printing with the web, costly and time-consuming inefficiencies from the conventional print process can be reduced dramatically. And for once, there will be real time collaborative communications between buyers, printers and users.  

Market leader Hewlett Packard recently launched a new series of large format printers which have been designed specifically to support the architectural industry.  For example, the HP Designjet 500 printer is a professional printer at an exceptional price.  It delivers ultimate line and photo-quality with continuous tones, smooth transitions and a wide colour gamut.  Similarly, the HP Designjet 800 printer is a perfect robust printer for the architectural market, not only delivering ultimate line and photo-quality, but also coming complete with a �virtual� computer� inside which allows the printer to do all the processing work, thus freeing up the computer.  

The future:  

The outlook for large format printing is bright. New enhancements and technologies will continue to grow as print vendors continue to make improvements in image quality, speeds and durability.

Puneet Chadha, Hewlett Packard�s Asia Pacific large format business unit manager said development in the large format printer market is nowhere near the point of saturation:

�We�re working to improve the chemistry of media so that you can print on any media in the long term. Our main aim is to continue to decrease the cost of ownership further, from the media to the hardware,� he said.  
Chadha said research analysts have estimated that the digital print market will grow a heady 65 per cent from US$23 billion in 1998 to US$38 billion by 2003 ad that the potential of the digital print market could be as much as US$200 billion by 2003.  

HP already owns more than half the global market for large format printing. The company believes that the printing and imaging market, worth US$40 billion, will grow to US$100 billion in the next three years.  Eventually it believes printers will be defined by the services they deliver, not just by how fast they print. Printers will also be connected to and served by the Internet, not by the computers form which they connect to.