ISA Sign Expo 2019: Imagining the Future of Print

Talk on the show floor turns to textiles, color management, and waste reduction.

When it comes to wide-format digital print, “you’re only limited by your imagination.” 

Agfa Graphics’ North American Director of Marketing Deborah Hutcheson stated this during Big Picture’s booth tour. It sums up the feeling of the 2019 ISA Sign Expo to a T. 

More than 600 exhibitors presented equipment, products, and applications at ISA Sign Expo, showcasing just what can be created with the hardware and software on display for the show’s 20,000-plus attendees. The tradeshow floor spanned 235,000-plus square feet of booth space at Las Vegas’ Mandalay Bay Convention Center, April 24-26. 

Wide Format SpotlightAwards

The ST Media Group booth was packed Thursday afternoon as Big Picture hosted the first-ever Best of Wide Format Awards Ceremony and Cocktail Hour, in partnership with ISA and sponsored by Fujifilm and HP. Twelve print shops were honored for their ground-breaking large-format digital print work, including tropical plane wraps, creative bathroom vinyl, a resimercial transformation, customized concert graphics, a soft signage boombox, Taylor Swift exhibit, dimensional bus wrap (with a car inside!), all-encompassing entertainment center signage, LeBron James building wraps, famous photography turned wall murals, a stadium revamp, and a ginormous T-shirt wrap for Tulsa’s 75-foot-tall Golden Driller.

“The 12 winning projects demonstrate how today’s print service providers are really pushing the boundaries of wide-format digital print,” said Big Picture Editor-in-Chief Adrienne Palmer. Representatives from a number of the award-winning shops were onsite to accept their prizes (soft signage banners imaged by Big Picture Women in Print Award winner Pam Richards at Color Gamut Digital Imaging) and network with members of the industry.

The Rise of Textiles + Soft Signage

Overheard at the Orbus Exhibit and Display booth: “Fabric is the future.”

Textiles and soft signage were much talked about on the show floor. “Soft signage is one of the fastest growing applications in the marketplace,” said Ken Hanulec, VP marketing, EFI, discussing the company’s continued expansion in the textile space. Hanulec said customers like the premium look and feel of soft signage products.

fabricHutcheson noted the growth in the UV printing of textiles, and Top Value Fabrics’ Product Marketing Manager Michael Compton commented on the continued expansion in demand for digitally printed textiles. “Textiles have expanded from the interior décor and fashion market to the signage and graphics industry,” said Ken VanHorn, Mimaki USA VP marketing and operations. With more digital textile printers hitting the market, plus benefits such as reduced shipping costs, high-quality look, ease of installation, reusability, and compatibility with myriad applications, the popularity of textile and fabric printing for signage applications should come as no surprise.

HP entered the textile market at ISA with the release of the Stitch S dye sub printer series, designed to print directly to fabric as well as on transfer paper for the signage, interior décor, fast fashion, and sportswear markets. The machines offer single-pass printing with no banding for fashion applications, according to Roman Barba, market development, HP large-format graphics division. The dye sub line is HP’s first step into the market, with additions to follow over the coming years.

Reducing Waste

As millennials and Gen Z gain more print buying power, sustainability and waste reduction become major factors for consideration.

PrintFactory has added new features to optimize materials, minimize waste, and maximize profits, based on feedback from its workflow software customers. A dynamic nesting feature allows sign shops to create deadline-driven automated workflows for maximum media usage and minimum waste.

“We don’t keep our portfolio very static. We’re always changing because it’s all about being relevant,” said Bill Podojil, Avery Dennison VP of graphics solutions, label and graphic materials North America. Podojil and Molly Waters, senior technical specialist, graphics solutions, note the industry’s emphasis on sustainability; non-PVC substrates are on the rise, as well as water-based adhesive technology and aqueous inks. 

Vycom is addressing waste reduction head on: The rigid substrate manufacturer’s parent company, Azek Company, recently opened a 100,000-square-foot recycling plant in Ohio to transform polyethylene-type plastic into building materials. The plant is expected to recycle 100 million pounds of garbage annually. What can we in the wide-format industry do to match these efforts?

True Colors

“The challenge customers have in the wide-format space is matching colors,” said Hutcheson. With more and more brands demanding exact color matching, wide-format hardware and software developers from Teckwin to PrintFactory are adding renewed focus to this area. “How do we apply color matching to automation? To textiles and ICC profiles?” asked Onyx Graphics’ Jonathan Rogers, international marketing manager. The Big Picture team turned to the OEMs for some answers.

With the launch of HP’s dye sub printers comes HP Smart Printing cloud-based technology and a built-in spectrophotometer for matching colors across multiple HP machines. “At the end of the day, the most important thing is repeatability,” said Barba. HP’s goal is to allow users to print “always the same color,” no matter which press is used.

Roland DGA’s TrueVis VG2 printer/cutter series boasts new inks and color modes (including orange ink as a process color) designed to offer users a wider gamut and more detailed color reproduction. 

Agfa’s Asanti workflow with PrintTune hub aims to manage production across all wide-format devices, increasing color consistency and quality for all presses – for Agfa and other OEM machines.

SAi’s Flexi 19 signmaking software offers new tools engineered to maximize color: Improved Spot Color Mapping allows users to build custom libraries of spot colors for repeatability and a Pantone Fine-Tune Spot Color Matching Tool offers precise color matching from ICC profiles.

Onyx 19, expected to be released this summer, also features new color management tools engineered to achieve consistent color across the shop floor. Highlights include simulation workflows for consistent color across devices, improved color for all existing media profiles, color management automation with QuickSets, and the ability to build DeviceLink+ profiles without the need for color management training.

Flatbed Renaissance 

A number of manufacturers noted a resurgence in the flatbed printer realm; Hutcheson attributes the growth to the rising popularity of object, dimensional, and two-sided printing. “Flatbeds are coming back,” said Kevin Duffy, Vycom VP sales and marketing, because of their “ability to be creative and do unique things to stand out in the market.”

Among the OEMs displaying flatbed presses were Agfa, with the Anapurna FB2540i LED; Roland, showcasing the small-format VersaUV LEF2-200 flatbed UV printer, a smaller-footprint version of the large-format VersaUV LEF-300; and Mimaki’s new JFX200-2513 EX UV-LED 98.4-inch press said to image 12 boards per hour.

Quotes from the ISA Show Floor
•    “Automation and integration are critical today. Having automation and keeping that press up and running efficiently is key. It’s all about uptime.” –Frank Mallozzi, EFI CRO
•    Between gloss, matte, and satin overlaminates, there’s “a shift to satin right now.” –Waters
•     “We’re trying to add value where there’s market trends,” such as sustainability and just-in-time production. –Dave Prezzano, HP Americas Graphic Solutions, VP and GM 
•    “Customers really care about two things: lowering their costs and adding new things they can do.” –Hanulec

For live updates from industry conferences and shows around the world, follow Editor-in-Chief Adrienne Palmer and Big Picture magazine on Twitter.