Sonja Angerer: Into The Great Wild Open – Wild Format #2.2

Harvesting the powers of modern wide format digital printing, it is possible to elicit a nod and a smile from even the most elusive target group. But highly effective wide format printing projects are a far cry from the printed ad, TV spot, or banner campaign. This is a beginner’s guide to the digitally printed creative communications wonderland.

Western capitals are a vision of horror for any advertising executive. A vast array of analogue and digital channels try to capture each individual’s attention, causing too many campaigns to fade into the background. What, if you could create a project that makes people stop, smile, consider, even take a picture to share on social media? Digital printing can help to establish fresh, unique communication channels for indoor and outdoor advertising as well as for simple decoration.

Take wallpapers: Printed with HP latex technology, the luxury of individualised designs in shop windows, office or store walls becomes affordable even for neighbourhood shops. But the technology does not stop here. Inkjet printers are decorating floors, tiles, table tops and home textiles, resulting in beautiful, one-of-a-kind spaces at event or office spaces, malls or hospitality areas.

wallpaper HQ

Digitally printed wallpapers on the HP booth at Heimtextil Trade Show Frankfurt.

Foto: Sonja Angerer


With superwide format inkjet technology that can seamlessly print up to five meters wide, the opportunities to make a splash are even more magnificent. One of the most famous wide format digital printing projects ever, in 1999 saw the Bayer AG skyscraper at Leverkusen (Germany) turned into a giant package for aspirin. Since then more skyscrapers, bridges and construction sites than anyone can count have been wrapped in mesh or banner materials that have been printed using EFI or HP roll-to-roll superwide format printing devices. A particularly spectacular project once even made Munich’s famous Bavaria statue disappear, when the statue was covered up for restoration. Under a Trompe-l’œil digitally printed cover, it was claimed that Bavaria had “Gone on holiday after winning the lottery”.


Bavaria HQ

The Famous Munich Bavaria statue allegedly went on holiday after winning the lottery. The Trompe-l’œil wrap was printed digitally.

Foto: Christian Galuschka


But you don’t have to go super-big prints to make an impact. Esko packaging workflows and digital flatbed cutters make short run length Point of Sale (POS) displays and highly personalized packaging affordable, even for smaller campaigns. Or why not take gifts to the next level? UV or sublimation ink printing on cups, plates, keyrings, even laptops or snowboards is not a technical problem anymore.

corrugatedChair HQ

Esko’s packaging workflow as well as digital flatbed cutters make small-batch products like this corrugated kid’s chair very cost-efficient.

Foto: Sonja Angerer


Thinking Outside The Box

A digital printing project can only be as effective as the creative ideas behind it. One should think this goes without saying, but it is very common to see wide format campaigns that don’t really exploit the unique opportunities digital printing can offer to designers. When creating an XXL poster, don’t just scale up a magazine ad, but do take advantage of printing size options and technology. Using opaque white ink, EFI inkjet printers, for example,  are able to produce posters that look different in daytime front-lit mode than back-lit and at night.

It’s a golden rule that when it comes to single items or smaller run-length production, four colour digital printing on any substrate is more cost effective than any analogue printing technology. This applies even more, if you take into account the whole process, including logistics, consumables, energy and water consumption, and don’t just focus on the cost per piece evaluation. Depending on technology and the printer used, even medium-sized printing projects with over 1,000 copies might be cheaper printed digitally.

For a perfect digitally printed campaign, designers and brand owners alike should strive to abandon their old analogue printing habits and start thinking in a new, digital way. It’s not so different from the mechanics of online advertising. After all, digital printing goes well with digital signage and online channels. Wide format posters make a beautiful, impressive and energy efficient backdrop or light-box companion to big screens, indoor and outdoor. QR codes, Bluetooth beacons and Augmented Reality (AR) applications added to a digitally printed poster, display or packaging item can be used to initiate interaction with smartphone users and even establish the feedback channel so many brand owners are dreaming of.

With online shopping becoming more and more common, personalised or interactive packaging will be one of the very few haptic channels left to target many consumer demographics. At at this year’s Drupa, major digital printer manufacturers have introduced new, fast inkjet printing machines such as the EFI Nozomi C18000 or the HP PageWide C500 Press for the corrugated packaging market. Forward-thinking brand owners will start to explore new packaging concepts, creating a digital packaging market some experts estimate as big as €400 million in the next few years.

packaging HQ

Experts believe the digital packaging market will be as big as 400 million Euro in the next few years.

Foto: Sonja Angerer


Choosing the right materials

Modern inkjet printing technology can print onto almost any surface: paper, a wide variety of banners, foils and self-adhesives, textiles, Perspex, glass, and even really fancy substrates like metal sheets and wooden planks.

Many substrates for outdoor applications are PVC-based. Designers aiming for sustainable campaigns, might want to look into more planet-friendly options like textile or non-PVC alternatives. Even corrugated boards often are a viable solution for short-term outdoor applications. But there are no established recycling processes for unusual substrates like printed metal or wood. Also, laminated digital prints often end up in landfill, because composite materials are almost impossible to recycle. To ensure a small CO2 footprint, digital print customers and their designers should plan the printed product’s livecycle, just as they would do with any analogue printing project.


Get Your Geek Out

As with any previously unfamiliar technology, a bit of technical background will help to avoid the most common errors. But rejoice! Wide format print service providers have successfully wrestled truckloads of creative campaigns, since the technology became widely available at the turn of the millennium.

Very often, designers not very used to working with large billboards, underestimate the power of the viewing distance. For a perfect superwide format poster, printing resolution is typically around 75 dpi, because they are perceived from far away. At a long distance it is impossible to see very many very small details, so printing XXL applications at very low resolutions makes practical common sense. It also saves ink. Consider that a native Photoshop file for a 10 x 15 metre poster with 300 ppi resolution will be, depending on colour depth, between 59 and 234 GB of file size. That’s quite a chunk and still not very easily computed in most IT environments.

Smaller items examined from just some 30 cm away, may still require a printing resolution of up to 2,400 dpi. Other digital printing details can puzzle print designers whose expertise is primarily in commercial or screen printing. For instance, a wide format printing machine may use up to twelve process colours, resulting in a much wider gamut than is possible with most analogue printing technologies. Dot placement may also be different from a conventional printing raster.


Do Rely On to Your Local Wide Format Print Service Provider

You want the best possible printing quality as well as colour consistency between substrates and printing technologies for your Wild Format digital printing projects. Access to expertise in colour management is highly recommended to support designers as well as the printing house. In wide format digital printing, the old saying about buying too cheap is buying twice remains as true as in any other field of business. So don’t be tempted to save that extra buck on a creative Wild Format project by choosing a “no service” printing only option. To make a real impact, you are going to need all the expertise you can get – but it’s success will so be worth it!

Sonja Angerer

The Wild Format guides are intended to expand awareness and understanding of the craziness that can be created on wide format digital printing devices, from floors to lampshades and everything in between.

These guides are made possible by a group of manufacturers working together with Digital Dots. Together we hope you enjoy the articles and that you put into practise what you learn. If you want to talk about it, go to our LinkedIn group via this link.

This article is sponsored by: Digital Dots EFI – Esko – HP

Sonja Angerer

Sonja is manager of Rrrabbitproductions, an editor´s office dedicated to technology. A certified print designer before turning trade journalist, (digital) printing technology is her main focus. With excellent contacts into local markets, she is able to offer deep insights into the DACH region. Sonja operates also a WideFormatStories fun shop where you can order t-shirts and wide format related gadgets. This is the link to this special shop: She writes in German as well as in English for a wide range of print and online trade publications, gives lectures on digital and industrial inkjet, and offers translation, localisation and Social Media services through her office.

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