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Directions in Aqueous, Solvent, and UV-Curable Printing

By Tim Greene, InfoTrends

At InfoTrends we think the large format digital printing market, and particularly the wide format inkjet market, has developed into the fourth phase of major growth. The first phase was when wide format 24–100-inch inkjet printers replaced pen plotters in the technical market. The second phase was when color inkjet printers entered the wide format color graphics market, replacing electrostatic printers on the way. The third was with the development of new ink and print head combinations that made it possible to produce outdoor durable graphics using solvent and UV-curable inkjet printers. The growth of these technologies has impacted the volumes of cut vinyl in the sign market in particular. The fourth phase of market growth will be based on the greater sophistication of those print head, ink, and media combinations, along with enhanced workflow and data stream functionality coming out of the RIP. We believe that the fourth phase will be more challenging for new market entries, but more profitable for end users with the skills to use and sell the improved capabilities.

Part of the fourth phase of market growth is what we would call a correction, or at least a return to a concept called best resource. What we mean here is that while it is certainly possible to produce indoor graphics with solvent-based equipment, we increasingly hear that certain types of print buyers resist solvent-based inkjet output, especially for retail environments. We think that this will have several implications for the wide format printing market.

Worldwide Wide Format Aqueous Inkjet Printer Shipments
First, we believe there will be renewed interest in aqueous wide format printers for producing POP materials. Also, because there are new aqueous printer platforms that are faster with better image quality and with smaller drop sizes that improve the running costs of aqueous inkjet, it is now much more feasible to produce POP materials. We project five percent annual growth in the production aqueous inkjet market that is largely based on 42- and 44-inch-wide printers.

We also see continued growth in the segment that we call desktop wide format printers, where users are adopting popular models like the Canon ImagePROGRAF 5000, the HP DesignJet 100 and 130, and the Epson Stylus Pro 3800. InfoTrends projects nine percent CAGR in the desktop market as our research shows strong interest by corporate users, photographers, art studios, and other small graphics establishments in taking wide format printing in-house.

One of the areas that we are watching very closely is the wide format technical inkjet market. Hewlett-Packard (HP) dominates the technical inkjet market and has recently launched new wide format technical inkjet printers. For the last year and a half Canon has also been reinventing its product line and has achieved a large measure of success in the wide format technical market. Additionally, Océ’s TCS color inkjet printer models are aimed at the high-volume color technical market. Armed with high-speeds, Océ’s controller technology, and the powerful Océ brand, the TCS models are doing quite well in the wide format technical color inkjet market as well. InfoTrends expects the technical color inkjet printer market to continue to grow as the applications that demand color printing continue to grow.

Worldwide Wide Format Solvent Inkjet Printer Shipments
A continuation of the best resource theme is in the wide format solvent inkjet market, where InfoTrends is projecting fairly strong overall market growth. This is one area where market segmentation is critical because there is still substantial growth in the low-end of the market but important limitations in the high-end of the market. This is because of the dramatic improvements we are seeing out of comparable and competitive UV-curable inkjet printing equipment. Overall, we project seven percent annual growth in the solvent business, but that growth rate factors in strong growth at the low-end as well as double-digit declines in high-end unit shipments.

Worldwide Wide Format UV-Curable Inkjet Printer Shipments
The technology we believe is developing and growing most rapidly is wide format UV-curable inkjet. InfoTrends is projecting better than 20 percent annual growth in the UV-curable inkjet market, with all segments seeing double digit growth over our forecast period.

In developing those strong growth numbers for the UV-curable inkjet market, especially in relation to the aqueous and solvent numbers, we have taken into account several major developments that we think will change the market. First, some of the biggest companies in the printing business are

now engaged in UV-curable inkjet technology development—Agfa, DuPont, Fujifilm, HP, Kodak, and others. These are billion dollar organizations that are investing heavily in the future of UV-curable inkjet, so we can more safely project some of the technical improvements that we believe are required in order for the market to grow. For example, 3M’s introduction of flexible UV-curable inkjet ink now makes it possible for UV-curable printers to produce applications that may be stretched, which has been problematic for UV-curable output in the past. Another issue that we believe will get resolved is running costs. Some of the numbers that we have seen from NUR indicate that their UV-curable inkjet inks provide exceptional coverage, which means less ink is required, changing the running costs dramatically.

The Down Side?
There are three major issues that represent a downside to the wide format digital graphics market—pricing, environmental issues, and potential replacement by digital signage systems.

To us, pricing remains the single biggest concern because there is a lot of wide format printing capacity, which has already driven down the average selling price per square foot in many areas of the world. It seems we are seeing more focus on environmental consideration as it relates to the printing industry, and this will somewhat lift sales of aqueous inkjet printers, provide opportunities for greener solvents, and drive sales of UV-curable inkjet printing systems. Regarding digital signage systems, we recently completed a study that indicates very strong growth in that market as well. That study concludes that digital signage systems are almost universally complementary to printed signage in retail or out-of-home environments and that the impact of digital signage is likely beyond the five-year forecast horizon. We believe that digital signage systems are widely adopted in certain applications and are often used as part of other marketing efforts, such as in tradeshow booths, but their influence on the wide format digital printing market to date, if any, is negligible.

The Fourth Phase
In each phase of wide format market growth, inkjet has grown while other wide format print technologies have declined. The fourth phase of market growth has screen printing in its sights. Today, screen printing technology is used in four primary application areas—graphics, textiles, industrial applications, and specialty or pad printing. At FESPA this year, it was clear that the next phases of inkjet growth are coming largely at the expense of screen printing technologies. In each of those screen printing segments, there are inkjet-based technology companies attempting to penetrate those markets.

The chart above shows just a few of the major manufacturers working on screen printing segments. The point is that screen printing will eventually be pushed into narrow segments of the market that are not growing, but are slowly eroded by developing technologies.

At InfoTrends, we call this phase of market growth Wide Format 4.0. One of the things that really excites us is looking back at how far the wide format market has come, and how quickly we have gotten to where we are now. With the developments that many hardware, print head, ink, and media manufacturers are working on now, we believe there is still tremendous capacity for growth in the wide format market.

Tim Greene is responsible for covering all large format printing technologies for InfoTrends. Greene develops InfoTrends' annual Worldwide Large Format Digital Printing Market Forecast and conducts primary research on the professional large format digital printing market in numerous market segments and application areas. He is often published in large format industry publications and has presented market trends and analysis at major industry events such as PMA and On Demand.

Aug2007, Digital Output

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