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PSPs continue purchasing products

By Steve Aranoff and Robert FitzPatrick

The year 2008 is over and announcements regarding new products and market consolidation cover various segments of the digital print marketplace. Vendors anticipated a slow Fall 2008 trade show season due to significant decreases in spending over the Summer months. However, after visiting Labelexpo Americas in Chicago, IL; the Specialty Graphic Imaging Association’s (SGIA) show in Atlanta, GA; and Graph Expo in Chicago, IL, it was evident that excitement—and action—exists over purchasing new print technologies in large format digital print.

Many attendees expressed interest in purchasing products as soon as possible, so they could still procure equipment under the accelerated accounting rules in the Economic Stimulus package for 2008. Alternatively, others prepared for this year’s production needs. Vendors made solid sales in time to report a positive year end in the record books. Sales were high, indicating less cut backs as buyers move back into the market.

We talked with members of the leasing community who were actively seeking equipment to finance. Signs were strategically placed throughout Graph Expo’s venue—McCormick Place—touting, “we have money to lend.” While leasing companies indicated that money was a bit tighter, there was strong evidence that it is still available to print service providers (PSPs). One leasing company, in particular, was willing to provide financing to a new digital business if the company—without an excellent credit history—would put up 15 percent of the funds.

Arrivals and Acquisitions
SGIA displayed its own brand of optimism. As was the case for years, many wide and superwide format vendors filled the show floor. Offshore manufacturers from China and Taiwan searched for market, distributor, and PSP acceptance. The maturation process continued with the announcement of the consolidation of Raster Printers Inc. by EFI, resulting in the re-branding of Raster products under the name Rastek.

At the same time, a new Korean entry—DYSS—arrived on the scene with high-quality UV roll-to-roll and flatbed printers, as well as a new line of multifunction cutting and finishing tables. DYSS decided to change the direction of the company. After 20 years of building high-quality specialized screenprinting equipment for the manufacturing needs of many of the world’s largest companies, DYSS now bets its future on the digital print revolution. The quality of the company’s machines and the use of the Western distribution market entertain the possibility that they differ from many other market entries.

Screenprinting Disappears
The eclipse of traditional screenprinting devices by narrow and mid-format digital printers was also reflected on show floors. Digital easily satisfies the speed and quantity needs of work once screenprinted. One sign shop owner shared that screenprinting is now a bother. Handling the screenprinting presses is demanding work and this printer in particular had a difficult time finding anyone educated enough to run his shop’s presses. This screenprinter is eager to buy new digital printing capabilities renowned for quality and ease of use. He plans to spend upwards of two million dollars to re-establish himself as a digital print house, complete with digital finishing capabilities. This upgrade significantly provides him with more job flexibility because of the ability to handle print runs from one to 1,500 or greater.

Looking to traditional manufacturers, we also saw finishing innovations. At SGIA, both Agfa Graphics and Triangle Digital INX Co. displayed digital finishing alongside printers and encouraged dealers to bundle print-and-cut solutions for short-run digital printing.

At Graph Expo, Xerox Corporation took it a step further by showing a new application with the capability of producing custom greeting cards for attendees. Utilizing both types of personalization—variable data printing (VDP) and variable cutting capabilities—visitors to the Xerox booth were able to leave with a pop-up greeting card. The card was personalized with a name across the front. A contour cut personal picture on a custom background popped-up in the center of the card when opened. While VDP capabilities are not new, the ability to take them to the next level of customization shows PSPs the available opportunities that utilize combinations of hardware and software.

Kodak’s Graphic Communications Group, at Labelexpo, showed an approval prototyping system. Using approval prints, a small format finisher contour cut packaging prototypes for review and acceptance with clients. This opportunity, while not yet widespread, allows designers in an advertising agency or a graphic design house to print and cut prototypes of packaging and small point of purchase products for approval by the brand owners without having to go outside their shop. Perhaps this competes with a PSP, but it is a further indication of how far digital printing and finishing capabilities have come.

Wide Format Immersion
Another topic of discussion is Graph Expo’s Wide Format Pavilion. At this trade show exhibitors in the wide format category display their products—if they chose to—in a separate area. Today, print providers offer all types of services. Offset alone is not a growing part of the business world, so survival depends upon providing narrow format color as well as B&W and wide format color.

We’re not suggesting that the opposite is true; there is still a very large opportunity to start and/or build wide format digital-only businesses as a number of market opportunities continue to expand. Clearly, many digital-only print PSPs are happy, and continue to grow through the innovative use of digital printing capabilities. However, now the options are even broader, from consumer Web-to-print, to business Web-to-print, to walk-in print. There are so many possibilities. On the business side, new competitive support teams provide the necessary savvy in purchased services to help businesses re-purpose customer variable data information for use across all Web and print opportunities.

Market Growth
If you attended any of these events, you saw opportunities that combine technologies and create solutions for every concept imaginable and at any price/performance range that may be needed. As seen at all three venues, the opportunity for PSP growth through digital innovation is alive and well. Vendors responded with products that work and are able to accumulate high returns on investment immediately. Ideally, 2009 will be known as the year the economy turned around. The opportunities flowing forth from the digital print market won’t disappear for lack of use.

Jan2009, Digital Output

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