Wide Format Digital Printing to the Trade
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beginner's guide

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Introduction to Wide Format Digital Printing

Blue Ridge Art & Graphics has been involved with wide format digital printing since 1992, when we acquired our first HP Wide Format Printers. Twelve years later, we now have over $2M of digital printing and finishing equipment and often run this equipment 24/7 to keep up with the demand for our services.

Making the leap from cut vinyl to digital may seem daunting. Welcome to your Virtual Digital Print Shop. You provide the creative materials and we manage the technology, hardware and software to bring your concepts to fruition. You may find that our VDPS application will provide a digital stepping stone to acquiring your own printing equipment, or simply as a logical extension of your current offerings, without the training and capital investment required to produce wide format graphics in house. You may have existing digital printing capabilities and use us for large scale jobs you cannot practically do in house. You will find, however, that because of our economies of scale, we can often provide you with finished graphics for less than you could do them yourself.

If you are new to the world of digital printing, there is a confusing array of inks, media and finishes. The simple solution many digital printers make is to limit their offerings. We have a complete range of products to fill every possible requirement.

We offer virtually every type of ink, media and finish currently available. The following is a short overview on inks, media printing and finishing.


There are three basic types of inks used in wide format printing: water based dye, water based pigment and solvent based pigment.

Water based dye has great color range but is fragile and has a low fade resistance and requires a UV resistant lamination.

Water Based Pigment doesn't deliver quite the color range but had much higher fade resistance and is more robust. Depending on the application, a UV resistant lamination is recommended.

Solvent Based Pigment has the highest fade resistance, is water proof, damage resistant and is used for all outdoor applications. Solvent inks can print on many different types of media and actually bond with vinyl. True solvent printers have many EPA requirements including scrubbers, minimum space requirements, etc., and are beyond many small print shops. We have a building dedicated to solvent printing.

A recent development is the "Eco Solvent" ink. This is an attempt to provide an acceptable level of solvent without running afoul of EPA regulations. Results are typically no where near that of a true solvent ink. We do not use Eco Solvents.

UV Cured

UV cured inks are at their infancy. They are essentially a plastic, cured by exposure to strong UV light, They are ideal for printing on flat surfaces, as they tend to chip and peel and consequently do not lend themselves to a web based offering which must be shipped.

Based on your selections in our web applications, we will select the most appropriate inks for your application and we will also include the lamination when required.


Inks and the Printing Process

We are all familiar with desk top ink jet printers. Our wide format printers are essentially desk top printers on steroids! Where the print head (usually built into the ink cartridge) on your desk top may be 1/2 inch square, and there may be 3 or 4 colored inks, some of our printers have heads that are two feet square and have 9 or 10 colors of inks. However, The basic principal is the same. All of the millions of colors available are produced by blending micro sized droplets of various colored inks together. This is very different from working with solid colors as one does with cut vinyl.



We offer over 45 different media, all selectable through your Virtual Digital Sign Shop application. When you sign up, you will be provided with swatch books which will help in selecting the best media for your project. Note that most media is ink specific. We will make recommendations based on your stated requirements, based on our many years and extensive experience in matching inks and media.


Digital Images

There are two basic types of digital images: Raster Images and Vector Images.

Raster Graphics

A digital photograph is the best example of a raster image. Zoom in and eventually you will see the individual colored pixels that make up a digital photograph. Raster images allow us to produce photographic quality images with millions of colors and smooth gradation from light to dark. The main disadvantage of raster graphics in large format printing is the size of the raster graphic. Files can sometimes exceed 500 MB but 50 to 100 mb are not uncommon. In addition, raster graphics are not easily scalable and will lose quality if scaled over a certain percentage.

There are compression algorithms that significantly reduce the size of raster graphics. Some, like .jpg, introduce loss in image quality while others are "lossless". We recommend that you work in a loss less format such as Adobe RGB PSD or TIF and then convert the image to an Adobe CS .jpg at the highest settings of 10 or 12 prior to transmitting give the optimum in file quality versus file size.

The minimum required resolution of a raster graphic is based on a number of factors including final printed size, type of sign, and acceptable quality. Often if the resolution is too high, it may produce muddy images, too low and there is obvious loss of detail and "pixilation".

The standard resolution for press and magazine printing is 300 ppi (pixels per inch) which is approximately double the actual screen used on the plates. Most press work is designed to be seen from a fixed distance which makes it easy to recommend parameters. Digital prints may be viewed from a block away or a foot; consequently there are no hard and fast rules. Viewing distance is the critical parameter. A billboard graphic may be as low as 25 or 50 ppi while an image printed to photographic master print quality may require a graphic at 250 ppi or even 300 ppi.

Some basic guidelines are:

Photographic Quality 250 PPI
5-10 feet Viewing Distance 150 PPI
10-20 feet 100 PPI
20+ 25-75 PPI

Vector Graphics

Vector graphics are a set of mathematical instructions that direct the drawing of outlines and then the filling of those outlines with solid colors. Vector graphics are extremely scalable and have very small files. All vinyl sign making is based on vector graphics and are ideal for rendering solids, but cannot produce subtle shading or the colorful photorealistic images so much in demand today. In most instances, vector graphics are best produced in vinyl; however, we can often print complex vector graphics in a fraction of the time it would take you. In addition we can print combinations of vector and raster graphics at the same time.


The Best Format for Submission

Obviously, one of the constraints we face is file size. If you have an extremely large file (100 MB), you can overnight it to our office in California, but the most time effective solution is to use the optimum format, resolution and file size for your particular application.

As mentioned above, the "high quality" jpg produced by the CS generation of Photoshop produces a highly compressed, virtually loss less image approximately 20% of the original raster graphic. Other less efficient formats are compressed TIFFs and GIFs (Best for limited color ranges). Remember that the these raster formats have to be sized close to the final output and in the appropriate resolution (PPI) for the intended application. Any significant upsizing will result in loss of image quality.

Since type is initially rendered in most graphic design software in vector form, it would be ideal if once could maintain the vector nature of type when used in a raster based graphic. An excellent option is the PDF produced by Adobe Acrobat. Most graphic applications have the option of saving in Adobe Acrobat. A PDF preserves the vector nature of type while rendering the raster image in various resolutions. Thus, if a graphic must be scale upwards, even if some quality is lost in the raster image, the type will remain needle sharp and give the overall illusion of a sharp image. It is important that you are familiar with the operation of Acrobat in order to produce PDF files which contain the fonts required as well as saving the raster portions of the image in the appropriate resolution. It is quite easy to produce a PDF which is totally unsuited for reproduction.


Color Matching

Color matching is quite easy in the commercial printing (press) industry. If you need a specific match, say Winston red or BMW blue, one simply mixes inks to produce that color and run it as a spot color where required. In cut vinyl, you either have a roll of the right stuff or you don't. In large format digital printing, all colors are blends and consequently, it can be difficult, if not impossible, to match an exact color. Digital printing can match up to 70% of the Pantone colors. And this is only if the art is created in a vector software and saved in a PS, EPS or PDF.

We can attempt to match a Pantone color, or the CMYK, RGB or LAB specifications, but it is often problematic. If color matching is critical for a specific job, please provide us with the RGB, CMYK, LAB value for the required color. We have a full range of color matching tools in our Felton, CA office and you are welcome to send us a swatch for analysis.

A Pantone match is also helpful. We also suggest you take advantage of our hard copy proof option. This will give you a very good indication if the color match is acceptable for your customer's requirements.

Note that the lighting conditions under which you attempt to identify a color match can have a dramatic effect on a perceived match. Indirect daylight is the best light source to use for matching.



Lamination is often necessary for UV or water protection but is also used as an optional finishing step to provide extra mechanical protection, rigidity, strength or surface finish. Some laminates may affect colors, while others will enhance color saturation by providing a less refractive surface.

Based on your selection of inks and papers, we will automatically include lamination where required. Other types of laminations are available as options including textures and encapsulation (sealing front and back).

All of our media and laminates are made by world leaders in their fields. In addition, we offer media and laminates manufactured in Europe and not available in the United States.



Wide format digital printing will open a whole range of business opportunities not available to the typical cut vinyl shop including:

  • Vehicle wraps

  • Full Color Banners

  • POP/POS graphics

  • Floor graphics

  • Full Color Cut Decals

  • Trade show Graphics

  • Display graphics

  • Fine Art Reproduction

  • Large Scale Stage Graphics

  • Wall Coverings and Murals

  • Building sized graphics

  • Billboards


Blue Ridge Art & Graphics, your digital printing partner, has the capability to give you a complete presence in this emerging $16B industry.

Don't get left behind!