Wild Format Guide 2016-11: It Seemed Like a Good Idea At The Time

If you have been letting your imagination run wild recently, wide format digital printing is just the technology to turn your creative ideas into splendid reality. Here are a few things to help you avoid waking up to a project management nightmare.

So, radio spots, a Facebook campaign or the odd website banner does not excite your customer: he wants to go really big, make a splash in the city, on national TV, and of course on Instagram? A wide format campaign may very well influence a brand’s image for years to come, which is why high-profile companies like Apple and Samsung heavily rely on wide format applications for their brand communication.

day-night Alexanderplatz

SNAFU (Situation Normal, All F**** Up)
It may sound like the most trivial observation ever – but a project means that people have to work together as a team, regardless of expertise, rank, age, gender or nationality. Wide format projects often still dive deep into unchartered territory, and will most likely involve a host of people from different countries, as well as levels of education. So it is vital to get the basics right from the beginning: what level of communication is expected, and which channels should we be using? Between a written letter and a WhatsApp Message, ideas about appropriate business communication may differ substantially along national and demographic border lines. If this means that emails in broken English are the lowest common denominator, so be it. There are other options such as dedicated project management software that might help you to add much-needed structure to projects.

The Powers That Be
There is a very broad choice of what’s possible for wide format projects, but for clarity one can simply break them down into three main categories: indoor, outdoor and vehicle advertising. For each group a host of rules and regulations exist and these may be extended by supra-national bodies like the European Union, a country, or a city.
Even a neighbourhood or a single building’s owner might have a very distinct point of view on what poster size and what motif is acceptable at a certain location, or which safety-standards to follow. Never assume that because a wide format project is not a problem in one city, it will be OK with another town council just 50 kilometres away. It’s probably not a problem, but once you enlist locals in a timely manner, they can help you to sort things out before a real problem arises.
Also, do bear in mind, that countries like Germany and Austria ban most advertising near highways and interstates, while regulation for street-side-advertising in France, Spain and Italy are much less strict. Check before you start.

Vehicle wrapping projects are often between a rock and a hard place, as they have to follow national traffic safety regulations, as well as limitations set by the fleet owner. They might even impose the use of certified substrates or printing technologies because they fear the vehicle’s paintwork might become damaged when wrapped or stripped. Widely accepted certifications such as 3M MCS are available for certain substrates when printed with HP, EFI/Vutek and Mimaki machines, among others, so they are usually very helpful to help dispel any fears the customer might have.

With indoor applications, the two most prominent pitfalls are odour and fire retardancy. Odour may arise when printing onto certain substrates, mainly textiles, with UV-curing and solvent inks. Though not always toxic per se, the fumes could cause some uneasiness leading to questions from the customer. Aqueous, sublimation or latex ink prints, therefore, are becoming more and more popular for indoor applications.

Knowing which fire retardancy certificates are required is critical for any indoor wide format project, especially for trade show designs. German B1 and French M1 certifications are widely accepted on the show floor and for many public areas. For aircrafts, airports, ship and train interiors there are a broad range of other testing standards, often widely different even around Europe. Choosing a substrate with the appropriate certification will potentially save a lot of time and money, although for some special applications, additional lab tests might be required by the authorities. Keep this in mind from the very start of the creative process.

Staircase_Wild format

Show Your Real Colours
Wide format printing often uses more than four process colours, so it comes as no surprise that the gamut of inkjet prints, depending on substrate, is often much wider than traditional commercial print. When other printing technologies with a smaller gamut are part of a campaign, it might prove necessary to define a smaller, but shared colour space to ensure consistency. Inkjet printers usually don’t do spot colours, though there are inks sets that are able to reproduce most of the Pantone library.

UV-cured inks are able to print on virtually any reasonably flat white or coloured surface. It is often difficult to properly render unusual surfaces into a screen proof, so what you see on the monitor can be deceptive. Do make sure to request a sample print on the actual substrate for early inspection, preferably under standard light conditions, D50 or D65 as applicable. Alternatively view samples under the actual light conditions for which your wide format print will be used. Metamerism effects, where colours look different under different lighting conditions, can be quite extraordinary with some ink sets and substrate plus light combinations. To make sure you aren’t lead astray, look at the print from different angles and, if in doubt, multiple light conditions.

Digital printing and cutting tables developments lately have opened up a whole new world of short-run packaging and sales display opportunities that many wild format fans are exploiting. For a traditional print designer, as well as a printing house experienced primarily in wide format poster printing, a 3D object with crease lines and complicated cut-outs might cause some problems. Among others, Esko and SAi, offer a range of software to help with designing folded 3D objects and ensure that the data is ready for digital print and cut, including crease lines and crop marks.

Form Follows Function
Wide format inkjet has made possible a plethora of stunning applications previously not imagined. But designers and print buyers are well advised to keep in mind that, not only the potential impact, but also the dangers to the public can be quite substantial. What needs to be considered for a 50m-wide format High Street poster or gorgeous wallpaper in an airport arrival hall, are rather more complicated than considerations say, for a few thousand A5 flyers – obviously!

So, a wide format project not only requires creativity, curiosity and some courage, but also a lot of team work alongside colour management and substrate handling expertise, and mindful of legislative and security guidelines. Or, as Luis Sullivan said in 1896, “Form Follows Function”. This has never been more true in the graphic arts industry than with wide format printing.

– Sonja Angerer