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A3 vs A4: The balanced approach

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A4 is clearly the most utilised paper size for daily office use – however, the number of applications that use A3 paper is growing, writes Thierry Boulanger, country manager: IPG at HP SA.

Applications that are associated with A3 media size are varied. These include marketing collateral, technical drawings, banners, databases, marketing & project planning charts, large tables, and diagrams. With the A3 versus A4 debate continuing in businesses, the most important issue is ensuring that businesses adopt a balanced approach.
This approach is not necessarily achieved by demonstrating the importance of A3-size printing, but through optimising your businesses hard copy strategy to meet the needs of your business. Of course, this means balancing the need for A3 with the larger demand for A4.
An increasing number of A3-size printers and Multifunction Printers (MFPs) are being launched into the market in North America, Europe and Africa. A3 output from shared/workgroup copiers and workgroup printers is slowly gaining acceptance and increasing its presence. Although copier-based devices offer finishing options and printer based devices do not, the gap seems to be shrinking gradually as vendors instigate application tools to support A3 usage.
Currently, the demand for the A3 paper option does not warrant the expense that vendors would incur through training users and creating tools for them to maximise their use of A3-size paper.
The debate regarding the need for A3-size paper in the office will continue as long as manufacturers provide sufficient education to end-users regarding the maximised functionality of the workflow and the ease the use of A3 devices, whilst encouraging users to use these devices by providing them with easy-to-use tools and applications.
An end-user study conducted by InfoTrends in late 2006 revealed that 11 % of paper estimated to have been printed on monochrome office laser printers was A3-size paper, while A3-size colour output, at 11.9%, had a slightly higher usage rate. On the copier side, percentages of A3-size paper used are higher (as expected) and are estimated to be 13.1% for mono copiers and 14.3% for colour devices.
The same study revealed that while the requirement for A3 paper is of importance to office users, other paper attributes that relate to quality and using the proper substrate for optimal colour output are higher on the priority list.
As part of a long list of document management attributes that are dependent on hardware and software solutions, the A3 versus A4 paper size debate is of importance, mainly due to the efforts vendors need to expend to justify their choice of portfolio. It is a discussion that involves product developers and end-users.
The availability and potential benefit of using A3 paper has been referred to in marketing strategy papers as a requirement and it is also used as a differentiating factor when evaluating fleet management alternatives; however, due to the relatively low usage of the A3 paper size, vendors should be smart in the way they implement A3 into their offerings.
Manufacturers must consider the importance of a balanced product portfolio and the need to support A3-size output. Support for A3 is critical, but it is only a small part of the total document output strategy. The end user study conducted by InfoTrends indicates that this fact supports the theory on the importance of having a blended portfolio, although confirms that A4 support is much more critical than A3. InfoTrends maintains, however, that A3 support cannot be eliminated entirely.
As colour usage grows, the importance of an A3 paper size option on output devices will grow and the potential use of A3 paper is also expected to grow.
Manufacturers whose product portfolios consist mainly of printer based devices have already started to develop marketing strategies that include A3 products. This trend began when printer vendors realised that they needed to come up with a competitive set of features to gain market share from copiers.
The balanced approach is, therefore, an unavoidable blend of A3 and A4 products. The importance of A3 paper size is expected to develop and demand is expected to grow, however, on top of the natural maturity process, vendors could impact the growth rate by creating application tools for users and educating the market on the benefits of using paper formats other than the standard A4-size.
A3 printing and copying does not represent a large percentage of print volume, but vendors have to support it because there is a need for it. Only a small percentage of customers view A3-size printing as critical to their business, but close to 100% of users print or require at least some A3-size documents.
Several copier vendors are introducing new A4-size printer-based MFPs this year, and this will help create a balanced product portfolio. In short, printer vendors are over-saturated with A4-size machines, and copier vendors are over-saturated with A3-size machines. Both will begin building their product lines in the appropriate areas to maintain a competitive stance and provide a balanced product portfolio.