When it comes to wide format printing, I have a simple mantra (get it, mantra, Guru…These are the jokes guys!) I give clients two choices. You can have it right, or you can have it right now. Generally speaking the set up time needed to start printing in wide format is fairly quick, assuming the art files are all in order. However, that is not always the case. And even after you have art all ready to go, print times may be longer than some people expect. For example let’s take a look at a recent job I completed.
We received an order from a large retail client. The order seemed straight forward. They were going to send us an art file they wanted printed and wanted multiple copies of it. They requested to have them printed on
one of our repositionable materials that a member of our sales staff had shown them. So far, so good. But then the file came in. They wanted us to duplicate a piece of wood tile that was 23.5 inches wide and 10 feet tall. The art file we got was a photo that they had taken of the actual wood panel. You could see the glare from the flash along one side of the piece. We spent some time debating with our client and ultimately decided to blow the art up about 10% and crop out the flash. Then, the client thought the proof we printed was a little too red. We scaled down the size of the file and printed several copies with different color corrections. It took some back and forth with our sales rep running copies over for approval, but we always go that extra mile to get it right. (see mantra above)
So with the art finalized, we were ready to go. The material we ended up using came in 100 foot rolls, 54 inches wide. My plan was to print two side by side, with nine sets per roll. The client ended up wanting
120 individual tiles! So we ordered in 7 rolls of material and got ready to print.
One thing we realized about the art while we were working on sizing and color correction, was that the file was HUGE!!! Because of the way I have my print software configured, and the fact that I
wanted to use my contour cutter*, I needed to load my files in individually so that I would end up with 60 files of 2 each to print. This would allow me to run them through my cutter in 10 foot sections, and
also allow me to leave the printer set up on automatic to print files overnight if I needed to. In the end, I was really glad I did. Because of the file size it was taking about 3 and a half minutes per file
to load. My software is set up to load no more than 2 files at a time. 60 files, loading 2 at a time, which brings us to 30 files, at 3 and a half minutes each, plus a little bit of slow down from
working it too hard, a little over 2 hours just to load the files. (Sorry if you are reading this early in the morning and I’m making you do math).
While my files were loading, I loaded up my printer and prepared for the first run. When enough files were loaded, I selected my first group of 9 and sent them to the printer. We use latex ink printers in
our shop so the warm up process takes about 5 to 10 minutes before it actually starts firing the ink. So I waited for the printing to start and then after the first few minutes of printing I checked the one thing I knew
would have the largest impact on my turn around time for this job. ESTIMATED TIME REMAINING! Each set of 2 ended up taking just over 30 minutes to print and dry/cure. 9 sets per roll (Sorry, here comes more of that math thing…), 4 and a half hours per roll, 7 rolls, 31 and a half hours in just print and dry time. 5 minutes to unload a roll after printing, 10 minutes to load a new roll, 10 minutes to get back to print ready adding almost 30 minutes to each run gives us another 3 and a half hours for a total of 35 hours just to print!!!!!
The Wide Format Printing Process Video:
My material came in late on a Friday afternoon (doesn’t it always?), and was only a partial delivery. The material we were using for this job is not one of the ones that I usually keep in stock. My local supplier said
they only had 5 rolls in stock and would send them. Remember, I needed 7 to do the job. When we received the shipment, turns out they could only find 4 rolls, so that’s what we got. The rest was to come the following Wednesday. I started the first roll printing late on Friday and stayed long enough to make sure the first set printed okay. One of the benefits of the printers I have the pleasure of using is that they are fairly self sufficient. I made sure there was plenty of ink loaded and no obvious issues and I headed home. Monday morning bright (or dark) and early, I had a full roll of printed material ready to be cut. I off loaded this roll, loaded another and started it printing another group of nine. It took me just over 2 hours to get the first roll trimmed out. No big deal since roll 2 was only about half way through printing at that point. A couple of more hours later and roll 2 came off the printer and roll 3 started up. Roll 2 was trimmed, and roll three finished printing a couple of hours after that. I waited around long enough to pull that off the printer and load roll 4 to print overnight
for me. Not bad productivity for a Monday if I may say so myself!!!
Tuesday morning rolled around and I came in for another fully printed ready to trim roll. I unloaded it and loaded up roll 5……at least I would have, but remember, my supplier only found 4 rolls. The other 3
I needed would not be in until Wednesday and I had everything I could print done by Tuesday morning. I was finished trimming before lunch. Now the wait begins. I took this golden opportunity to do a little maintenance
on my equipment. I’ll take a chance to write some maintenance tips in a future post.
Wednesday morning rolled around and I was anxious to get started back to printing. I finally did, around 4 o’clock when my material finally showed up. I was not able to wait for a whole roll to print so I was only
able to print 1 roll on Wednesday and was not able to start another to run over night. That meant more down time for me on Thursday, but hey, whatcha gonna do?
I came in Thursday morning and unloaded roll number 5 and got roll number 6 started. It finished up around lunch time and I pulled it off and started the glorious last roll. I finished printing roll 7 late-ish on
Thursday afternoon. It had been a hectic few days. Bare in mind I have not mentioned other jobs that came in during this time that had to be set up, printed, trimmed, and delivered. There were plenty. I talked with my
boss and he said it was okay with him if I let roll 7 wait to trim until Friday morning since it was so late on Thursday already. Grateful Guru was Grateful.
Friday morning rolled around, and roll 7 trimmed out nicely. This has now become a week long process. But of course we are not done yet. I mentioned this job was for a retail client. They needed 15 of these prints for
eight separate locations. And they wanted them packed that way. Up to this point I had been laying the prints out flat for storage. They would need to be rolled and boxed for shipping. The material we use for these types of
prints is somewhat fragile because we do not use an over laminate on it. It also needs to be rolled print side out when packing it to avoid “cracking” the print. So boxing was another challenge. I used some of the
laminate backer material left over from other jobs to lay on my table to avoid scratching the print since it would be laying face down. Counted out 15, and rolled the onto a cardboard core that had been cut to fit the
material. Most of my cores are 54 inches so I had to do some trim down work. I also had to build custom boxes to ship them in. Finding something 30 inches long was not an issue. But finding something 30 inches long that was large enough to fit 15 panels 10 feet long rolled up was a bit tougher. I decided to just cut down boxes to fit and they actually worked out quite well. I applied the shipping labels and was ready to send them out
into the world. Rolling and packing took almost a full day. I started around 7 A.M., and with a little trial and error to get it just right, I finished up around 3 P.M.
So all in all, 1 full week to print and trim, plus a day of packing. Flip side of the timing issue is this…While typing up this blog today, I received an art file for a job. I loaded it, printed it, cut it, and took it to the sales rep who was going to deliver it. Total time, less than one hour!
So how long does it take to print a wide format job??? The Guru says “Time is relative, man”! Just remember my mantra, you can have it right, or you can have it right now. A wide format wall mural is a beautiful
addition to your home or business that is going to last for years to come. It’s worth waiting a couple of days to get it right!!!
Thanks for reading,
The Guru of Wide
The Odee Company; est. 1923