Exploring Wide-Format Options for Geospatial Output

by | Feb 7, 2013

Refer to this simple checklist when shopping for a wide-format printer to ensure the right machine for your organization's needs.

By Andrew Vecci, Canon Solutions America (http://csa.canon.com), Chicago.

Organizations that require hard-copy output from their geographic information system (GIS) and related geospatial applications”topographic maps, population overlays, aerial photographs, etc.”need to select a printing solution that maximizes operations. But what goes into printing geospatial applications, and what are the primary considerations for selecting a large-format printer that will help organizations optimize output?
Identifying Basic Needs
GIS users can spend a lot of time managing, modeling and manipulating geospatial data for a given project. The final step of the process”printing a usable representation of the refined data”can be the most daunting. Unlike printing routine documents to a common printer, where almost all document preparation is automatic, geospatial applications typically require operators to consider a variety of settings to ensure optimal output, including the following:
Printing Method
For a single file, or multiple pages contained in a single file, files usually are submitted for printing from within an application by using a print driver. When larger-scale print production is needed, files are saved in print-ready formats, such as PDF or TIFF, and sent to the printer via a client or Web-based print submission tool.
Output Size
Geospatial information can be output to a variety of standard and custom sizes, depending on the information represented and the intended use of the printed output. Most organizations have adopted standard sizes, such as those found in the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) paper size specifications; others have defined custom sizes. When printing a set of files there may be a requirement to print multiple sizes, which may require media of different widths.
Choosing the correct document quality settings influences output readability, the required media and print time. Selecting a lower-quality draft setting speeds up print time but diminishes output quality, which can render output unusable. On the other hand, a higher-quality print setting increases print time but retains information and ensures usable output.
The print quality desired and intended use of the output will influence media selection. Although a print with light coverage or printed in draft mode can be output to an uncoated bond, heavy coverage or a higher quality can require a coated media or even a photo-based product. If the print will be used outdoors, the media must be able to withstand rain and snow without becoming unusable, making the ability to print on Tyvek invaluable. Perhaps an adhesive-backed material will need to be used to mount the print to a board for use in a presentation.
When printing multiple files or multiple sets of files, users will benefit from output being neatly stacked and collated. If there are a large number of files, a stacker may need to be selected as the delivery destination to keep the prints in order. Some applications require the use of an online or offline folding solution to finish the prints into a folded package for storage, mailing or use by field personnel. Such decisions often are influenced by the features and capabilities of the printing devices an organization uses, which is why it's critical to select a large-format printer that has the specific capabilities your organization needs.
Evaluating Specific Needs

There are a wide variety of large-format printing devices. Although most share common features and benefits, there can be differences”and limitations”in specific capabilities. Such limitations can lengthen output time, leading to project delays. When selecting a large-format printing device, it's critical to evaluate the following areas:
Print Submission
Your printing device should be flexible, offering features and settings that are compatible with your organization's applications/operating system and easy to use. This includes the ability to adjust print settings like scaling, rotation and media selection from within the selected print tool and apply these settings to individual files within a set, without affecting other files. The device also should offer a preview to help ensure files print correctly the first time, with the ability to process large, complex files quickly and accurately.
Media Handling
Like print submission, media handling should be frustration-free and intuitive. Your printer should have capacity for multiple rolls of different sizes as well as the ability to detect the end of the roll to help prevent partial prints and to switch between rolls without user intervention. Media loading and unloading should require minimal effort, and the device should automatically be able to detect width and trim the leading edge.
The final stage of document output shouldn't be overlooked when selecting a large-format printing device. Ensure the device eliminates manual work by neatly stacking and collating multiple prints and multiple sets and automatically folding documents when necessary. Available stacking options for high-volume print production also are critical to reduce the need to break up large print jobs and eliminate frequent trips to the printer to prevent the output area from overflowing. Also, ensure multiple delivery destinations can be selected from within the print submission tool, eliminating the need for manual configuration for each destination.
Additional Considerations
Organizational support of a printing solution often is overlooked when discussing capabilities. System uptime, ease of use and the printer's  ability to support technology and business advancements are critical to ensuring maximum productivity. This support can fall into the following categories:
The system's routine operation should be quick and easy to understand, reducing the learning curve for new employees and eliminating the need for print experts. In addition, the system should seamlessly integrate into an organization's infrastructure without special modifications or configurations. Changes to the system configuration shouldn't have to be made on the printer itself, allowing for remote administration. Also, the status of consumables and indicators should be communicated to users without the need to visually inspect the system, eliminating delays and frustration because of an unavailable printer. Consumables also should be easy to replace quickly to reduce downtime and increase productivity.
The system should require minimal user maintenance and collaboration, which otherwise would cause quality issues and increase downtime. Contracted and manufacturer support should be available for maintenance, repair and print application configuration to ensure worry-free operation and provide expert support. Also, consumables should be part of the maintenance service provided by the manufacturer to eliminate the need for the additional funds necessary to keep a stock of maintenance items on hand.
Manufacturer Support
Depending on an organization's size and scope, support can be the most critical factor in successful print production. The manufacturer should provide support for the lifetime of the system to avoid orphan equipment”the printer operates fine until there's a maintenance issue and creates a critical situation. Ask your printer vendor if they provide ample warning by the manufacturer before discontinuing service or support on your machine. You'll need this time to plan for the migration to a replacement. Supplies, maintenance and migration to replacement parts should be available for the lifetime of the system to avoid the need to purchase a new printer due to supply availability or minor malfunction. In addition, firmware/software updates always should be readily provided for newer versions of applicat ions and
operating systems.
In short, by following the simple advice provided here, your organization can select a wide-format printer that maximizes productivity and supports new technology and processes.


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