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State of the Industry

Resolve, Reorganization, and Rebirth

By Kim Crowley

Our annual State of the Industry report highlights the products, applications, and issues transforming the large format print industry. In recent years, the report revealed a market influenced by technological advances, environmental concerns, mergers, and a slow economy.

The subhead of the 2009 report, A Year of Innovation and Rejuvenation, mirrors the optimism the industry wanted to convey. This year, market-leading manufacturers from hardware, software, media, and ink segments define the industry with a resounding call for resolve, reorganization, and rebirth.

The industry is moving forward, not merely returning to what is was a few years ago. "It is rejuvenating and evolving in accordance with technical innovation and the new approaches we all develop to address emerging business opportunities," states Jennifer O. Kigin, marketing operations manager, 3M Graphics Market Center.

With the ease, speed, output quality, and on demand nature of large format digital hardware, the technology may soon eclipse traditional screen and photo print methods. "If you’re not using digital or at least looking at digital today, you won’t be around in a few years," says Mark Overington, VP of marketing, EFI.

Influences
New Channels
Marketers use far more than large format banners and billboards to draw attention to products. The Internet, social networking, email marketing, quick response (QR) codes, and personalized direct mail are now alternative methods.

Large format print volume remains strong, as these new channels complement rather than diminish paper. Those who utilize multi-channel marketing understand the importance of print in their marketing mix. "The use of the Internet coupled with multi-channel communications increases the demand for large format, supporting complex and timed advertisement campaigns," says Moshe Zach, CEO, Bordeaux Digital PrintInk Ltd.

The Internet paved the way for an influx of large format. Web sites and online ordering drive new business and help streamline production. "The Internet allows customers to investigate, compare, and buy products in a much different way than they did five to eight years ago. The myriad of applications has a positive impact on overall demand, and social networking allows potential buyers access to actual owners. It is healthy for our industry," shares Pat Ryan, GM, Seiko I Infotech.

"The Internet and multi-channel communications reduced the lifespan of printed materials because the exchange of information happens so fast. For print buyers, this means printing more often in lower quantities, to keep up with advertised special offers. The quantities may be less, but print frequency is up," states Jeffrey Nelson, product marketing manager, inkjet equipment and software, Sericol unit, Graphic Systems division, Fujifilm North America Corporation.

Modern technology alters the way we market and communicate. Advances, such as the Apple iPad and mobile devices, influence product development. "Using wide format print as a primary communication vehicle is not valid. We exist in a multi-channel world and need to apply our products as such," explains Steve Urmano, marketing director, Mimaki USA, Inc.

"Multi-channel marketing, the Internet, and large format print complement each other in the sense that people need an extension to multimedia communication. Today advertising and marketing is a mix of media," says Sébastien Hanssens, VP, marketing, Caldera Graphics. At FESPA in June, Caldera launched Costview 2.0, which monitors printing jobs on the Apple iPad. Caldera positions the solution as the ultimate dashboard for a shop manager sensitive to production costs.

Print service providers (PSPs) adopting new communication technology and marketing media will experience growth and future success. "Instead of seeing them as a threat, PSPs can use these new communication channels as a way to sell broader marketing initiatives to clients. So that large format applications create synergies between what is seen in person and online. For example, QR codes and augmented reality are used in conjunction with large format prints at events or in a retail environment," says Don Knox, U.S. director of sales, large format printing, Hewlett-Packard (HP).

Sustainability
The industry’s impact on the environment is a hot topic. "Green" is important to print buyers, PSPs, and consumers.

"The industry is quickly moving to environmentally friendly ink and substrates," states Dan Barefoot, president, Graphics One, LLC (GO). "This is illustrated by the movement towards water-based inks such as latex, SEPIAX, and certain fabric inks combined with substrates that meet the same criteria." GO offers SEPIAX ink, a water-based resin, targeted for users looking to print on standard or unique substrates with no coatings.

Environmental sustainability is widely driven by the popular demands of end users, but many print buyers do not want to pay the extra cost associated with buying an eco-friendly product. "Unless there is a specific requirement for a sustainable solution, these products and services are more likely to be adopted if they also provide a clear performance advantage over existing products or cost savings," notes Kigin. 3M continues to provide environmentally friendly options, such as the recently launched 3M Wall Decorating Film IJ86E and 3M Scotchcal Luster Overlaminate 8908 and Matte Overlaminate 8909.

Economic conditions did not help to expand the usage of environmentally friendly products, but it may improve as the economy recovers. "Sustainability seemed to go out of favor. It is back on people’s minds and is a part of most every business now," says Scott Fisher, VP, sales and marketing, Fisher Textiles, Inc. Fisher Textiles recently brought three new green products to market, including GF 9101 Equality Stretch, GF 8725 Crepe, and GF8874 Tri Poplin.

The focus on green technology is much greater in Europe than in the U.S., although some states are instigating change. "CA and other states will most likely ban solvent printing, due to chemicals, not to mention the hazardous impact on employees," says Overington. As of March 2010, EFI’s VUTEk QS Series r ink is approved by the Nordic Eco-Labeling Board.

"Print providers find that being environmentally sustainable is not only good for the planet, but it’s also good for business, reducing the cost of materials, energy consumption, setup time, and disposal costs," says Nelson. "Our focus in the past year was demonstrated through our Sericol UV inks and the rigorous research and testing we are conducting to offer customers PVC-free media solutions. The Acuity Advance HS and UVISTAR series offer less of an impact on the environment."

To address environmental concerns, Seiko introduced ink without cartridges to reduce landfill waste, reformulated inks for better health, and lowered the amount of waste by-products their printers produce. Its product highlight of the past year is the ColorPainter V-64s printer, targeted for vehicle wraps, outdoor banners, graphics, signs, and point of purchase.

Bordeaux introduced new PLASMA PLMF flexible LED curable inks for Mimaki LED printers as part of its Mix & Match line, which is seamlessly interchangeable with original inks.

Some vendors question what defines green. "There is still much misperception in the market. For example, an ink technology like latex may be environmentally friendly but the carbon footprint of the equipment may be greater than a competitive technology. Sustainability needs to be looked at end-to-end to determine what’s best," points out Randy Paar, display graphics product manager, Océ North America.

Sustainability has moved beyond marketing buzzword to practical reality. "Beyond touting percentages of recycled content in a product, many print providers take a holistic approach to the issue. Factoring clean manufacturing in the production of print media as well as the amount of water, ink, and heat used are all considerations that make up a sustainability policy," says Jeff Sanders, digital sales manager, Pacific Coast Fabrics (PCF).

"The ever-growing attention to textile printing has resulted in media manufacturers creating different materials with specific coatings that allow for a multitude of applications," shares Roland Biemans, sales and marketing manager, Hollanders Printing Systems (HPS). HPS focuses solely on digital textile printing. New additions include the ColorBooster XL 320, a 3.2 meter wide format, modular, direct to textile device.

Recession Rebound
Many report feelings of confidence in regards to the economy, especially in the last six months. "It’s not as much of a rollercoaster ride. We’ve seen the bottom, and things are starting to slowly pick up month after month," states Chris Howard, senior VP, sales and marketing, Durst Image Technology US, LLC.

However, large format print providers are hesitant. "Customers are still very price sensitive. They are cautious about spending and demand the best returns when they do spend. If customers are in the market for a printer, they do not want to take any chances," explains Paar.

Bordeaux believes today’s market is still suffering from overcapacity and under utilized digital printing equipment. "Successful end users should go back to basics and do the things they do well. This way, they can achieve profitability," states Zach.

Fujifilm has begun to see a recovery. "Our business reflects this trend, and we see it in both screen and digital ink. We attribute this sales increase to the economic recovery and increased demand in display graphics and promotional activity. Point of sales graphics are also improving and consumer confidence continues to strengthen. We are not where we were before the economic downturn, but we are getting there," adds Nelson.

Business has increased substantially in the last 12 months for GO. "Opportunity is in vertical markets where there is a complete solution—turnkey business proposition," says Barefoot.

A strong detector of large format print activity is ink sales. HP saw a quarterly increase in consumption rates, even when accounting for seasonal fluctuations. EFI also experienced high ink sales, with quarter one of 2010 their second highest quarter of ink sales ever.

Epson expects a continuous upward swing over the next 12 to 18 months. "We see more users upgrading their printing equipment to higher quality, more environmentally friendly technology. As large format print providers move up to a new generation of technology, they are exploring a wide range of opportunities in display graphics, vehicle graphics, and fine art reproduction," explains Mark Radogna, group product manager, professional imaging, Epson.

In response to the economy, many PSPs look to streamline the way they do business, focusing on cost and workflow. "A number of our customers are not just buying our printers but also buying our workflow MIS systems. A cohesive, intelligent, efficient, workflow solution from one supplier is the secret to truly maximizing the profit potential of every job. The ability for improving the visibility into quotes, pricing, and an understanding of the actual cost per job is definitely becoming a strong demand in the market," says Overington.

Dean Derhak, product director, ONYX Graphics, Inc., shares that print shops voice strong demand for RIP software improvements to help reduce costs and stay competitive. "For many, the status quo just isn’t working anymore."

ONYX responded with the recent announcement of version X10 for its ProductionHouse, PosterShop, and RIPCenter products. "To create version X10 we not only talked with print providers, we also watched how they worked in production," he adds. Core improvements in version X10 are based on improving workflow automation and reducing production costs.

Changing Faces
The past year involved mergers and other activity that changed the face of our industry. In January 2010, Agfa Graphics finalized its acquisition of Gandinnovations, further expanding its wide format inkjet portfolio. Agfa showcased the rebranded :Jeti Aquajet direct to fabric printer, along with the first :Jeti device to utilize Agfa technology—the :Jeti 1224 UV HDC printer—at the International Sign Expo in April. The show was the public’s first introduction to Agfa’s newly expanded portfolio.

Mergers are sometimes disruptive to the relationships built between equipment manufacturer and print provider. "For some companies, mergers and acquisitions are strategic in terms of how they will gain market share and growth. Our philosophy is to do it organically, from within, and stay focused on customers and long-term relationships," states Durst’s Howard.

In 2009, Fujifilm North America brought together imaging, electronic imaging, motion picture, and graphic systems divisions with Fujifilm Canada, Inc. Then in January 2010, Fujifilm Sericol U.S.A. joined the Fujifilm Graphic Systems division. For the past five years, the global Sericol business was owned by Fujifilm and over the past two years, Fujifilm integrated many of the Sericol units around the world into corresponding Graphic Systems companies.

"The creation of Fujifilm North America Corporation allows Fujifilm to build a stronger presence in North American markets and realize greater collaboration between businesses to take full advantage of the skills and knowledge of our people," states Nelson.

In October 2009, INX Digital International Co. formed, merging former joint venture partners Anteprima, Megaink AS, and Triangle Digital INX. Companies like INX Digital anticipate future market growth and took the opportunity to capitalize on a soft market, introducing new products and increasing market share. This year the company launched color- and chemistry-compatible MLD mild-solvent inks for wide format machines. Eco, bio, and true solvent versions are planned for the end of 2010. Customers can change out one cartridge at a time, saving on shipping costs.

"Our customer base is trying to save every dime they can, and they don’t want to throw away half-empty cartridges," says Karla Witte, VP of business development, INX Digital. The company aims to save customers 35 to 50 percent over OEM ink.

Earlier this year, Canon U.S.A., Inc. acquired a majority shareholder position in Océ. Paar says that to date, it’s business as usual at the company. "We are optimistic going forward."

PCF added an Eastern U.S. distributor for their premium digital print fabrics—ITNH, based out of Manchester, NH. This enables the manufacturer’s textiles to be warehoused and shipped more efficiently and economically to the East coast.

Hanging On
In the past we’ve asked if any technologies have outlived their usefulness. Touring large format production houses, printers are found that could be called dinosaurs, but still play a vital role in the workflow. Experienced PSPs work to get every dollar out of the hardware, fine tuning and repairing, and finding new ways to efficiently use the equipment.

"Older technologies rarely disappear completely but instead seem to get relegated to niche applications, such as fine art," says Paar. "Once the commercial standard for the best image quality, low cost of output, and highly productive imaging speeds, the Océ LightJet photo imaging printer is now being eclipsed by UV inkjet. However, photographers and galleries still demand LightJet prints."

Screenprinting technology is diminishing, shifting to digital. In general the industry is undergoing an important transformation. "We’re seeing the largest demand in traditional screenprinters augmenting their capabilities with digital technology," says Overington.

Discussion occasionally arises about solvent disappearing, but most still feel it has a place. "Although full solvent inks are declining due to regulations and environmental awareness, we still see demand for these," says Zach. "On the other hand, demand for oil-based inks declined to a level that almost does not justify the small orders we get from the field."

Ryan states that while non-solvent ink technologies garner a lot of interest, many of their technology claims turn out to be false. "Consequently, there is now a shared industry realization that low-solvent printing still offers the best print quality, lowest costs, and highest reliability/return on investment. There is a large resurgence in buying and replacing solvent printers in the market," he says.

In media, several vendors note that calendered vinyl is taking share from cast vinyl. "The axiom of cast as a manufacturing process being better than calendered vinyl is dead, as proven by the many customers who now use calendered vinyl successfully in applications where cast vinyl was once the standard," says Rick Moore, director of marketing, MACtac Graphic Products. MACtac’s newest products capitalize on growing market segments for wall and floor graphics. The company introduced two new slip-resistant floor laminates as well as the MACmark 8900 series product line for interior home décor and difficult drywall applications.

What’s Next?
Large format print is no longer just signage. It expanded into several markets this year. Print providers now produce textiles for fashion and home décor, digital wallcoverings in hospitality and restaurants, fine art reproductions, packaging prototypes, and more. Equipment and consumable manufacturers release new products to address these opportunities.

Fisher Textiles plans to introduce several fabrics with pressure-sensitive adhesive. The release liner peels off to enable the application of the fabric to many surfaces. The adhesive does not leave any residue and is repositionable. This will be available for both dye-sublimation transfer fabrics and solvent/UV direct print.

Neschen Americas is developing a new laminator to address the entry-level finishing market. "We hope to knock down the barriers some customers may experience in their efforts to go digital while offering our premium SEAL quality and performance at a competitive price," says Angela Mohni, VP of marketing, Neschen. In regards to media, the company also plans to release a new optically clear mounting adhesive intended for use when mounting inkjet, photographic, and other types of printed images to Plexiglas or glass.

Despite these new announcements, Rick Scrimger, VP/GM, Roland DGA Corporation, advises the industry make a cautious recovery. "While we see both equipment and consumables showing upward trends, economic uncertainty in the stock market can dramatically change the current outlook. In addition, unemployment, housing, and several economic indicators are not seeing the uptick that would indicate a full recovery. So we need to proceed cautiously throughout the remainder of 2010, and all of 2011 and 2012," he recommends.

Keeping pace with the competition, Roland introduced the VersaCAMM VS-640 64-inch metallic inkjet printer/cutter and the VersaUV LEC-330 30-inch LED-UV inkjet printer/cutter this year.

Resolve, Reorganization, and Rebirth
The large format print industry is transforming. As print volumes begin to ramp up, equipment manufacturers and print providers are reorganizing. With the aid of new technology, steps into new markets, and wise business decisions, we see the resolve of focused print professionals, rebirth, and the revitalization of large format print.

Aug2010, Digital Output

 
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