Large Format Printing

Posted by Andy Keeler on September 06, 2008
Articles, Trade Show Graphics

Large Format PrinterThe most important element of your trade show exhibit is the graphics. Well-designed graphics should contain your company’s logo, positioning statement, and memorable imagery that grabs the attention of visitors and attendees. Large format printing is the process by which your design files are transformed into the huge graphics that should be the focal point of your booth. Given the enormous scale of typical trade show display graphics, it’s obvious that producing these graphics requires expensive equipment and experienced professionals.

Two types of large format prints dominate the trade show landscape, and those are thermally laminated inkjet graphics and dye sublimated fabric graphics. Both of these processes have seen numerous advancements over the past five to ten years resulting in much higher print quality, longer lasting prints, and quicker turnaround times. Quality varies greatly in the world of large format printing, but MODdisplays graphics specialists understand what materials and procedures result in the best output, and we choose our vendors accordingly.

Inkjet Graphics

Inkjet graphics are the standard for graphic popup displays and detachable graphics. Inkjet print heads use tiny nozzles to squirt ink onto the paper. These nozzles are thinner than a human hair, allowing the printer to make very small dots that eventually come together as a large image. Printers with smaller, more precise nozzles are able to print at a higher DPI rating (dots-per-inch), which means the image will be more crisp and clear. Many inkjet printers are capable of printing at well over 1200 DPI, although it is often pointed out that the human eye cannot tell the difference between 500 and 600 DPI.

Inkjet graphics are often less expensive than dye sublimated fabric graphics, but this has little to do with the actual quality of the prints (although dye sublimated fabric graphics are capable of a much higher print quality than inkjet printers). Large format inkjet printers are extremely inexpensive, easy to use, and capable of producing high-quality prints, which means that there are literally thousands of small printing operations out there. This is simultaneously a benefit and drawback to consumers. More printing companies obviously means more competition and lower prices, but it also means that there are many unqualified printing companies out there with inexperienced technicians and outdated machines. Because the quality of the paper and ink varies greatly, it can be hard to tell if you’re purchasing a quality product or if the printing company is cutting corners to save money.

For most trade show applications, inkjet prints need to be finished. This is usually accomplished with a thermal laminate, but pressure sensitive laminates are also popular among bargain basement printing companies. Thermal laminates are typically scratch-resistant, and they make your graphics more rigid and durable. For popup displays, your thermally laminated inkjet graphics will need to be finished with hangers, kickers, and magnetic strips so that the graphics can hang from the frame of your exhibit.

Dye Sublimated Fabric Graphics

Dye sublimation is a process by which your image is essentially burned into a durable, washable fabric. Your image is initially printed on a coated transfer paper as a mirror image of your final graphic, and is then transferred to the fabric using a heat press with rollers that operate between 300 and 450 degrees. When passing through the rollers, the ink is heated until it “sublimates” (changes from a solid to a gaseous state without passing through the liquid state). The gas then permeates the fibers of the fabric and solidifies, which permanently dyes the fabric. Because the fabric is permanently dyed, dye sublimated fabric is machine washable.

Dye sublimated fabric graphics can be produced at a much higher quality than inkjet graphics for two reasons. First, inkjet inks are not capable of changing colors. By changing the temperature of the heating elements in the print heads, dye sub printers are able to vary the shade of the colored panels. Inkjet printers simply place dots on paper, so dithering must be used to create the appearance of solid colors. Secondly, inkjet ink is completely opaque, which means that dots cannot be laid over top of one another. Dye sub ink is transparent, which means that colors can be placed on top of one another to create true solid color gradients.

Despite these advantages, there are a few disadvantages associated with dye sublimation printers. First, dye sub printers cannot achieve true black. Inkjet printers are able to print a rich, glossy black color, while dye sub printers cannot. Also, dye sublimation printing companies invest huge amounts of money to be able to print dye sublimated fabric. It may cost upwards of $200,000 to outfit a space with the equipment needed to create high-quality dye sublimated fabric graphics.

Large format printing is an ever-changing field with many variables. It can be difficult to know exactly what type of graphic you’re purchasing without examining a sample of the graphic in person. At MODdisplays, we stake our reputation on our top quality trade show graphics produced by the best graphic houses in the country. We constantly receive compliments on our graphics packages as well as our graphic design department, and we intend to maintain our reputation as an industry leading provider of large format graphics.

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