New Hampshire In-plant Seeing ‘Crazy’ Wide-Format Growth
Wide-format printing continues to be a growing, lucrative opportunity for in-plants. Just ask Brandon Karcher, Print & Mail Services manager at the University of New Hampshire (UNH), in Durham.
“Wide-format is growing like crazy; we see it, we feel it,” he says. “That’s why we invested in equipment, because we know it’s a good option for us.”
The 10-employee in-plant has been offering wide-format printing for years, and the technology Karcher credits for opening more opportunities in this market has included a 48x96" Canon Arizona 1360 GT LED flatbed printer, purchased in June 2021, a 63" Fujifilm Acuity LED hybrid printer, and a MultiCam-Celero 3153 CNC cutter/router. The shop also runs an HP Latex 560, an Epson Stylus Pro 7880, and a 43" GBC Titan 110 hot laminator.
According to Karcher, one of his operation’s biggest sources of wide-format work has been UNH’s Undergraduate Research Conference (URC), an event where students showcase the results of their research and creative projects. The shop produces roughly 700 posters for this event. That work, he says, was previously printed on an HP Latex 360, then mounted onto foam core or laminated. That laborious process inspired the in-plant to look at the Acuity in 2016.
“That machine completely changed our wide-format,” reports Karcher. “All of a sudden, we’re not sending out lawn signs and other things we couldn’t print. It just brought a ton of work in. The Fuji paid for itself in probably six months, which is crazy, and it just blew our wide-format up.”
Next Step: A Flatbed
With that momentum, Karcher says the team knew it needed a flatbed, and that’s what led to the eventual transition to the Arizona. Once limited to running foam core, Coroplast, and lighter rigid substrates, the in-plant can now print on aluminum composite materials like Omega-Bond and Alumalite, along with IMAGEMAX, Neenah’s greener alternative to foam core, which is used for many of the URC posters. This has been an important move for the in-plant, as the university promotes utilizing recycled or FSC-certified products.
Additional substrates the in-plant uses include Spartech Styrene for producing ads hung above stadium boxed seats, as well as permanent label adhesives for outdoor bus shelter ads. Along with posters, Karcher notes the applications in highest demand are banners that are continually changed out on campus for events, along with thousands of lawn signs.
Though he says the in-plant installs a few jobs here and there, he doesn’t have the staff for offering full installation services.
“After COVID, we lost a ton of people from the university and it’s been hard hiring people,” says Karcher.
“Facilities are shorthanded [and] we lost a couple of positions we weren’t allowed to fulfill. So, a lot of the time, the end user is installing.”
A Proven Money Maker
Overall, Karcher estimates wide-format accounts for 25-30% of his in-plant’s revenue. “We make a ton of money on wide-format,” he notes.
To stay competitive, Karcher says the in-plant — which also insources work from local schools, businesses, nonprofits, and churches — keeps an eye on the market to check current product pricing. “We try to stay under what the local, even online, vendors are doing,” he adds.
While much of the shop’s work funnels through the school’s communications and public affairs group, Karcher says he spends a lot of time talking 1:1 with customers about the in-plant’s capabilities and educating them on different aspects, such as paper options. The shop also promotes its work on social media (Instagram: @UNHPrintingServices; TikTok: @UofNH.PrintandMail).
While wide-format continues to be a booming business for UNH Printing & Mailing Services, the operation still prints plenty of more traditional work — everything from letterhead, stationery, and envelopes to brochures and books, both perfect-bound and saddle-stitched. It produces a lot of direct mail for Admissions, Alumni, and other departments on campus with runs averaging 18,000-20,000, and up to 40,000.
“If we can print it on our digital equipment, we run it,” says Karcher.
One of its current projects for Admissions is a swag box, which the in-plant is assembling and mailing to 5,000 admitted students.
Beyond wide-format, the in-plant’s other digital printing equipment includes two Canon imagePRESS C8000VPs, one with in-line knife trimming for finishing saddle-stitched books; a Canon imagePRESS C810 with long sheet capabilities; a black-and-white Canon varioPRINT 115 with an in-line punch; a Xerox D125 used to produce book work, OSHA manuals, and manuals for the Crimes Against Children Conference; and a Xante En/Press envelope press.
Though the in-plant’s plate remains full, Karcher says, “We’re hoping to branch out and start doing some crazy stuff eventually.”
Specifically, he’s interested in utilizing the Arizona to print swag, such as cell phone cases and hockey pucks. “Anything we can personalize that we can fit on that table,” he says. He’s also discussed the prospect of producing cornhole boards — printing on the material and cutting it with the MultiCam-Celero 3153 — but notes there’s a learning curve with this process.
“There’s a lot of steps involved there, and it’s just time we haven’t had to invest in that. Eventually we’ll get there,” he adds.
Karcher says he’s also been contemplating getting into T-shirt printing, and he would eventually like to acquire a digital press that offers a fifth color unit for adding clear or metallic embellishments. He hopes to add this when the lease is up on the in-plant’s older Canon imagePRESS C8000VP.
The need for this feature was further emphasized by a recent run of 30,000 saddle-stitched books the in-plant printed for Admissions. The shop had to outsource the cover to a local company that utilized its Xerox Iridesse to create clear and metallic effects.
“It really came out nice, so that’s something we have to do,” says Karcher. “Whether it’s offline or in-line, I’ll look at it when the time comes.”
Related story: Video Tour of New Hampshire In-plant