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State of the Industry

A Year of Innovation and Rejuvenation

By Kim Crowley

There is much to be optimistic about regarding the future of the graphic arts. The past year was marked by increasing demands for innovative ideas, effective marketing and graphics, and better solutions for efficient processes. Technology and diverse applications help large format print service providers (PSPs) generate new revenue streams and find success.

In our State of the Industry report, leaders in large format printing—hardware, software, media, and inks—share their latest product introductions, exciting new applications, thoughts on the past year, and insight into the future.

Hardware
A number of advancements in hardware productivity are shaping the transition from analog to digital in the large format print space. Increasingly fast turnaround drives these improvements.

Hewlett-Packard (HP) strongly believes in the overall transition of the printing industry from analog to digital. “Analog printing processes continue to decrease as market need and end user demand shift towards shorter runs, faster turnaround times, environmentally sound solutions, and options for customization and regionalization. Digital printing captures this shift with enhanced print substrate versatility while moving the break-even points of cost per copy and productivity up,” states Santiago Morera, VP/GM, large format printing solutions, imaging and printing group, HP.

HP’s Scitex FB7500 represents the transition from analog to digital in the graphic arts. “It is for PSPs looking to produce high-volume jobs digitally at an attractive cost per sheet,” adds Morera.

Improvements to LED curing technology are also leading the transformation. “Curing technology is an important industry breakthrough and it is clear to us that UV printing’s future rests with LED,” shares Rick Scrimger, VP/GM, Roland DGA Corporation. “The advantages are tremendous, and include long bulb life, low power consumption, and the ability to work with a variety of materials that cannot withstand high temperatures of traditional UV curing.”

The VersaUV LEC-300 UV inkjet printer/cutter is a recent entry from Roland. The 30-inch printer uses low-heat LED lamps and prints CMYK + white + clear on a wide range of substrates. It is ideal for packaging prototyping, proofing, and short-run production of labels, decals, POP displays, and posters. It also creates original patterns and 3D domed corporate logos directly onto synthetic and natural leathers.

Steve Urmano, marketing director, Mimaki USA, Inc. says the company’s most significant releases of the last 12 months involve UV LED flexible and rigid inks cured by light emitting diodes. “This widens the scope of printing materials and available applications,” he adds. Mimaki offers the 64-inch UJV-160 UV LED hybrid and the newly released JFX-1631 LED flatbed printer.

INX Digital International introduced a new UV-curable printer at FESPA in May—the Milano DXN1, which is engineered by Anteprima, now part of INX Digital—and manufactured by Italy’s Neolt in a joint venture. The Milano DXN1 features speeds of up to 1,300 square feet per hour.

EFI VUTEk’s GS3200, GS5000r, GS2000, and QS3220 printers were created with a focus on bringing new applications and revenue streams to customers. “Customer response is fantastic,” notes Chuck Dourlet, VP of marketing, EFI VUTEk. “The GS3200 and GS2000 are hybrid UV machines with a dual resolution capability, featuring a 12- or a 24-picoliter variable drop chosen by the operator between prints. What it means is you can get a true 600 dpi resolution with a 24 picoliter drop—a high-quality drop size for superwide—or you can go down to a 12 picoliter drop, which delivers a true 1,000 dpi resolution.”

EFI partnered with Epson this past Spring to introduce the new Proofing Edition Series. Based upon Epson’s Stylus Pro 7900 and 9900 series, these units ship with EFI’s Colorproof XF version 4.0.

“We worked closely with EFI to develop a unique, front end workflow to move the proofing industry forward in both the commercial and flexo segments. It is the first time that the packaging industry has had a wide format inkjet printer that is this aggressive,” explains Mark Radogna, group product manager, professional imaging, Epson.

Christopher Howard, VP, sales and marketing North America, Durst Image Technology US LLC, believes high-volume industrial printing is an exciting opportunity. “It represents a strong growth area for digital printing and allows shops to apply digital print production to much longer run length projects. This provides PSPs with the capability to increase margins and flexibility as it relates to higher volume projects,” he says.

Durst’s new Rho 500R and Rho 1000 UV inkjet platforms launched at FESPA feature high production speed. The Rho 1000 produces over 100 four- by eight-foot sheets per hour in retail quality production mode and features automated loading and unloading systems along with Durst’s continuous board printing feature.

Also new is the Rho 800 HS, which builds on the Rho 800 Presto platform and effectively increases production speed by 80 percent, allowing it to produce 34 four- by eight-foot sheets per hour in its retail quality production mode.

“The past 12 months were a progression on developments such as new UV ink formulations, more use of grayscale printhead technology, and LED curing systems,” says Randy Paar, marketing product manager, Oce North America.

The Oce Arizona 350 XT and Oce Arizona 300 GT are the latest printers from Oce. The 350 XT targets at established companies looking for a high-quality, oversized UV inkjet with white ink capability, while the 300 GT is ideal for companies entering UV printing looking for an affordable machine with a solid upgrade path.

“Over the last year, our company observed lots of improvements and refinement in printhead technology, finishing hardware, LED curing, and inks,” agrees Deborah Hutcheson, senior marketing manager, wide format and commercial segments, Agfa.

Agfa released three printers—the :Anapurna M2, :Anapurna Mw, and :M-Press TIGER—this year. The :Anapurna M2 offers several new automated features, including a fastscan motor and six Konica Minolta printheads. “Printhead technology improvements are exciting because of increased speed capability and productivity boosts. These have a major impact on turnaround times and sales,” states Hutcheson.

Media
Media manufacturers create new products tailored to specific applications. “This helps our printing community differentiate more effectively,” shares Rick Moore, marketing director, MACtac Graphic Products. “For example, two of MACtac’s most successful 2009 product launches were StreetRAP, a product designed specifically for sidewalk graphics, and RoughRAP, for rough textured concrete wall graphics. These products focus on applications in emerging graphics market segments,” he adds.

Avery Dennison now offers smaller roll configurations to aid their customers. “All Avery cast digital and overlaminate products are available in 25-yard roll configuration options so that sign shops and converters can order the right amount of media and reduce inventory. We also offer discounts on product bundles for specific applications such as Avery MPI 1005 Easy Apply RS, and Avery DOL 1030 Gloss overlaminate for vehicle wrap projects,” says Lance Hutt, global product manager—digital, Avery.

The above example from Avery illustrates vendors addressing tightened PSP budgets with specially priced products. 3M Graphics Market Center’s new options include Scotchcal Graphic Film with Comply v3 Adhesive IJ170Cv3—an economically priced product for vehicles with moderate compound curves. It provides customers with quality at a value price.

Oracal USA offers ORACAL 2-GO vehicle wrap packs. The bundles include 25-yard half-rolls of ORAJET vehicle wrapping media with matching ORAGUARD laminating film and a free felt-tipped squeegee. “It’s just enough material for a typical car wrap at a price that’s easier for smaller shops to handle,” comments David Grant, VP of marketing, Oracal.

Inks
With the introduction of latex inks and the overwhelming benefits of UV, several vendors predict that solvent ink technology is losing ground. “In general, the solvent markets are beginning to transition to UV,” says Dourlet. The company continues to invest in existing solvent lines, for example adding the Fusion solvent-based dye-sublimation (dye-sub) option to the 3360 solvent roll-to-roll printer. The Fusion option enables users to switch between traditional solvent ink or dye-sub ink with the flip of a switch.

“Eco-friendly inks are becoming more popular as folks worry about the long-term effects of solvent ink,” explains Randy Rickert, VP/GM, Mutoh America, Inc. Mutoh’s ValueJet 1608 64-inch “uses MUBIO ink and is very affordable,” he notes.

HP’s Designjet L65500 printer with HP Latex Printing Technology delivers flexibility with innovative new technology for indoor and outdoor applications on a variety of substrates.

“We work closely with the new latex ink printers and are excited with the outstanding color our engine produces from this environmental-friendly ink platform,” notes Dean Derhak, product director, ONYX Graphics, Inc.

Epson considers UltraChrome GS solvent inks environmentally friendly. “This is a new generation of solvent ink. We reduced the odor to the point where it is almost impossible for the worker to smell or detect volatile organic compounds in the air. As a result, no ventilation or air purifiers are needed,” explains Radogna.

The demand for UV printing continues to grow into new markets, for example flexible substrates. “Until recently, UV technology was primarily geared toward direct to substrate printing using flatbed printers, but the advent of new inks and curing methods opened up flexible substrate possibilities. This is particularly true in the packaging market. With low temperature LED curing UV, users are able to prototype bags, thin film labels, and folding cartons,” shares Scrimger.

INX Digital has a new line of LED UV-curable inks well received by OEMs, illustrating their commitment to develop hardware for new digital markets. This includes films for packaging, advertising specialties, and other new applications.

Eco-Forces
Environmental awareness and regulations affect the way we create, use, and dispose of print products. These issues are driven by numerous individuals and groups—print buyers, print sellers, equipment manufacturers, consumers, and government agencies—with a common goal of production without destruction.

The “green” movement is a force driven by end users and manufacturers. “While the current government administration is certainly playing a role in driving more green business initiatives, it’s likely that print sellers and print buyers will ultimately dictate just how much of an impact this has on us and other industry manufacturers,” states Grant.

Economics take a toll on good environmental intentions. “The economy placed the green movement on hold at least in the mid-range wide format digital market,” admits Mimaki’s Urmano.

Paar agrees. “Many green products are priced at a premium and the bad economy slowed the trend.” The production of Eco-friendly products may be at a standstill, but vendors continue to carry out environmentally friendly endeavors.

Tom Black, marketing operations manager, 3M, notes that often people won’t pay extra for sustainable products and output, and they are not willing to sacrifice quality or performance for it. “Sustainability is more than the product, it’s about the company involved—everything from factories to suppliers.”

“Sustainable printing is much more than just the print,” stresses HP’s Morera. “It’s about the processes. It is an opportunity to reduce capital costs such as ventilation, emission permits, and other operational costs such as waste disposal, landfill fees, and energy bills. Often employees are behind better environmental practices as it improves the working environment and productivity,” he says.

Many companies provide recycling programs and implement environmental standards in their plants. HP customers are able to return printed large format banners and flags after use at no cost through HP’s Planet Partners program.

Howard says Durst customers look at detailed aspects of printing systems and how they relate to their environmental goals. “We support our customers in all areas of environmental standards to help them meet goals. For instance, our UV ink is free of all solvents and other carcinogens, which provides a great benefit for customers and their clients.”

“The green movement is a major subject for all in the print industry,” states Brad Kisner, president, INX Digital. “INX Digital makes an aggressive effort with sustainability from top to bottom—new products, an R&D commitment, inspections, and a dedicated group of managers.” The company also has a Web site and quarterly newsletter focused on the environment—www.greenINX.com.

Staying Strong
Technology vendors, distributors, sign shops, and print buyers all feel the pinch of the U.S. economy, but the industry remains strong and optimistic. Manufacturers aid PSPs through the economic twists with marketing tools, discounts, financing options, buybacks, and other initiatives.

Budgets are tight across the board—from manufacturer to print seller, print buyer, and consumer. “Even though many companies are completing mergers and acquisitions, changing or updating signage is delayed. Many large and corporate jobs are on hold. Converters and sign shops are delaying equipment purchases and expansion due to constrained cash flow,” notes Avery’s Hutt.

Despite these delays, there is cause for optimism. New large format providers may crop up as a result of the economy, strengthening the industry and creating healthy competition. “We expect growth from start-up companies entering the digital printing market for the first time, particularly this year as unemployment rises and people strike out on their own. These customers will likely invest in equipment in the 30- to 54-inch range,” says Roland’s Scrimger.

“What’s good about the sign industry is the diversification. You can offer a vehicle wrap to digitally printed tablecloths for local restaurants. It’s never a bad time to get started in the sign business,” comments Mutoh’s Rickert.

Sign shops that diversify are poised to find their way through the economic situation. “Customers producing customized, as well as short-run or short-term advertising, experience substantial increases in sales,” shares Agfa’s Hutcheson.

Personalization and speed to market are important to surviving and thriving. “While the economy impacted the graphics industry, the changing business environment places more pressures on brand owners and marketing agencies to find effective marketing solutions. Campaigns are more targeted and try to influence behavior at the moment of purchase; and turnaround time is crucial,” says Morera.

Derhak says there is an increased need for consolidation in sign shops and finding ways to maximize efficiency in production workflow. ONYX PrepEdge Pro software is a job preparation tool designed to help shops cut production workflow costs and shorten lead times.

Several manufacturers offer programs to help PSPs succeed. For example, Oce supports new customers with applications consulting, education, and support materials to boost business. “We also offer creative financing programs such as step leases that allow a business to first get its footing before being faced with large monthly payments,” states Paar.

Roland offers existing SOLJET PRO III XC-540, VersaCAMM VP series, and AdvancedJET product line customers a free Pure Print Performance upgrade featuring Roland Intelligent Pass Control technology. The company also permanently lowered its extended warranty pricing. “Roland users of two or three year printers operate free from concerns over unscheduled maintenance costs,” says Scrimger.

Aggressive financing is available for INX Milano printers and Kisner says it allows, “customers to get the newest technology with greater speed and more profits.”

3M’s Black sees a turnaround in the future. “The economy is coming back. 3M is dedicated to helping sign shops recognize new business opportunities. We focus on teaching the customer how to sell—where the applications are, how to grow those markets, and how to expand business within their current customer base,” he says.

Growing Applications
UV printing, textile printing, fashion, and interior design are all growing market opportunities PSPs should consider.

“UV printing has crossover opportunity in package design, industrial/specialty applications such as surface decoration, to custom building material decoration applications,” notes Urmano.

Paar sees large format graphics equipment used to manufacture a variety of unique, high-quality products. “A printer and digital cutter could be used to manufacture furniture, instrument panels, or children’s games,” he says. “The base technologies used—inkjet—are more easily modified for use in different sectors, such as conductive inks to produce electronic circuits by printing.”

“Digital textile printing allows customers to provide additional products to the marketplace. It will be interesting to watch the trend for dye-sub printing as new technologies for high-quality fabric printing begin to come into market,” says Howard. Due to their ease of installation and eco-friendly nature, this printing practice is already experiencing increased demand.

“We see growth opportunity in non-traditional markets such as home decor and automotive restyling. This home market represents a large potential base of new customers for the suppliers and PSPs who can market and tailor their services effectively,” says Oracal’s Grant.

Black believes advertisers must work hard to succeed. “Advertisers are looking for unique ways to break through the clutter with applications that stand out to promote brands—such as textured surface advertising,” he comments.

Despite the current economy, PSPs are offered opportunities to grow. To find success make adjustments to workflow, add applications, market creatively, and invest in new technologies.

Aug2009, Digital Output

 

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