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A Year of Action

2012 State of the Industry

By Melissa Donovan

2010 and 2011 were tagged as rebuilding and recovering years. A benefit from a recession is the ability to regroup in terms of research and development of new products and services. 2011 showed the fruits of these labors and 2012 was the year they were put in action.

 

New tools—from hardware, to media, and software—are now used to create bigger and better applications. Print service providers (PSPs) are becoming savvy and thinking of their own, creative projects—which help grow the graphic arts. Other niches are finding a footing in digital that have yet to be fully experienced except by way of traditional printing. PSPs rely on previous knowledge to enact new solutions. As they endure the successes of their endeavors, many merge with peers or become acquired by bigger corporations.

 

This year’s State of the Industry takes a look at the newest technologies from 2012, predicts the next big trends, studies mergers and acquisitions between PSPs, and touches on what defined 2012.

 

New Technology

Many products were introduced to the market in the past 12 months. While some were built upon older generations, others were fresh ideas spawned by the help of active PSPs in the community.

 

Media Matters

In vinyl, films were improved to capitalize on increasing interest in window graphics. “Optically clear, durable, conformable, printable window film now enables new approaches to graphics for windows,” explains Jennifer O. Kigin, marketing operations manager, 3M Commercial Graphics.

 

Alternatively, textiles are used in applications ranging from fashion apparel to flags. Certainly not revolutionary in the material itself, what is of growing popularity is the ability to use one kind of fabric on several different printing methods.

 

“There is a welcome trend in seeing fabrics developed that print reliable and well over many different platforms. This gives print providers with multiple machines the freedom to maximize productions and better schedule projects,” says Jeff Sanders, digital print fabrics sales manager, Pacific Coast Fabrics.

 

Rethink Ink

Ink goes hand in hand with media. Fabric friendly ink is gaining traction. “During the last 12 months we were involved with several different types of new or reformulated inks. A new textile resin ink similar in performance to SEPIAX, which has no need for coatings and features good color denseness is coming to market,” shares Dan Barefoot, president, Graphics One, LLC.

 

The abilities of digital ink are unlimited and researchers are slowly unearthing the possibilities. According to Ken Kisner, president, INX Digital International Co., the use of inkjet in the industrial space is growing. “INX Digital is experiencing a huge increase in demand for new industrial inkjet applications. Inkjet is now reaching into the gravure, offset, stamp, rotary screen, and lithographic industries. The continued increase in printhead speeds, in conjunction with the native dpi of printheads now reaching 1,200 dpi, is allowing for a huge expansion in high-speed inkjet printing.”

 

With the expansion of inkjet usage across multiple verticals, the need for more than traditional CMYK emerges. Agfa Graphics added orange ink to its :Jeti 3020 Titan printer. “There is a tremendous amount of pressure on wide format suppliers to match corporate or spot colors. Many of those seem to be in the orange color range,” says Larry D’Amico, VP digital imaging, Agfa.

 

Heightened Hardware

It isn’t just the ink that takes inkjet to new heights, but the inner workings of the machinery itself. New innovations bring higher print quality, faster speeds, and quicker turnaround.

 

Terry Mitchell, director of marketing, graphic systems division, Fujifilm North America Corporation, says that the company focused on technologies such as Parallel Drop Size introduced on the Uvistar2, plus the ability to work on multiple rolls, faster setup times, and faster roll changeovers with less waste.

 

Of note is what drives UV and UV LED presses. The technology behind these devices advanced greatly in 2012 and throughout 2011 as well to offer PSPs greater variety when it comes to printing on substrates.

 

“The technology is maturing and becoming more robust, allowing for additional penetration into other forms of graphics and decorating not previously available. UV inkjet has allowed flexible substrates other than vinyl to be used in applications with a more ‘green’ option,” says Robert Rundle, viscom market manager, Ritrama.

 

“Harnessing the power of LED UV curing in a true production level printer is a game changer. The technology to integrate and establish bi-directional communication between the inkjet printing systems, RIP, and e-commerce and MIS software is equally important,” explains Ken Hanulec, VP, marketing, inkjet solutions, EFI.

 

“I think that the continuing trend of high speed, wide format UV presses are a key indicator of where the market is going. The adoption rate of these machines proves that there is market growth in the long run digital print space for large format print providers and the technology present in these machines is making them viable in critical production environments,” admits Christopher Howard, SVP, Durst Image Technology US LLC.

 

Jaime Sherman, marketing manager, Ultraflex Systems, Inc., is quick to provide the example of Novus Imaging, Inc. and how it demonstrated forward thinking in launching the Synergia H printer. “The AQ version offers a new water-based ink technology, which is a green replacement alternative to UV ink and does not require the high intensity lamp systems of UV equipment,” she adds.

 

Work On

Perhaps one of the biggest educational undertakings that went on throughout the recession and we are now experiencing the fruits of the labor is workflow. PSPs look for ways to run their businesses efficiently and they do so with integrated and intelligent software.

 

“The idea of integrated workflow solutions for digital wide format printing was certainly evolutionary over the past year. It’s an acknowledgement that there is more to digital wide format than putting ink on a substrate and finishing the material. There is a growing recognition of the value of a front end system to automatically drive artwork to these devices,” adheres Bill Hartman, VP business development, Esko.

 

This isn’t just third party software; print manufacturers are getting involved as well. Mutoh America, Inc. now offers the ValueJet Status Monitor. “It provides remote management of printers and print jobs, giving operators more flexibility and freedom during their work day, making them more productive. This can now even be done using a smartphone,” says Brian Phipps, GM, Mutoh.

 

Danielle Mattiussi, director of product marketing, ONYX Graphics, Inc., cites Adobe Systems Incorporated’s PDF Print Engine. “It pushed the envelope in the print production software space, reaching a new level of predictability and file handling, particularly when graphic designers deal with complex graphics files and transparencies.”

 

Next Big Thing

While the industry evolves, so too do the ideas coming from behind the closed doors of research labs. With 2012 a drupa year, many experienced sneak peeks at what’s to come in the future.

 

For example, Benny Landa’s nanographic printing technology made a splash, which Jim Cain, director of sales – digital, Polytype America Corp., sees as revolutionary. “The next big thing I see, if it comes to fruition may be the new nano ink technology discussed at drupa. That could greatly affect ink usage and ink cost in the future if the technology is proven.”

 

Other notable technologies are coming about in their own way, for example single pass printing. “For the large format segment, I think that the technology t present in the single pass environment will have an impact in the coming years. This will relate to both production speed in narrower width signage applications as well as utilizing some of the technology present in these systems today, such as using a pin cure with a final post cure to allow for additional options in materials and gloss effects of the prints,” claims Howard.

 

While the folks at Caldera focus on the software side of the equation, Sebastien Hanssens, VP marketing, Caldera, agrees with Howard citing how impressive the new single pass printing technologies are. “For example, the Caldera RIP is a key part of the equation of the recent Fuji-Xerox-Memjet collaboration as we are responsible for keeping pace with the high data rate that is required to run a 1,600 dpi printer at its nine meters per minute running speed,” he says.

 

Eco-friendly products are still a consideration. Working in a safe environment is essential to many print providers and also attracts certain buyers. This is why Pat Ryan, GM, Seiko Instruments USA – Infotech Division, believes “greener inks that dry faster and last longer outdoors are what most companies are working on. Hazardous air pollutant free inks have set a new benchmark for human health in the segments of the market that do not need long-term outdoor durability—and this is changing the short-term graphics market.”

 

“Ink technology continues to evolve,” agrees Phipps. “Current trends are towards more environmentally friendly solutions. While being green is important, performance and cost are still a big priority. These new inks need to not only be kind to the environment; they also need to maintain durability.”

 

Workflow and design programs are joining forces to offer efficiency. “Design applications are evolving quickly—since the same design applications used for print are often the same ones used for the Web—you have these two mediums driving one another forward in the creation of new features,” says Mattiussi.

 

The next big thing doesn’t necessarily refer to technology, but also applications—specifically those that open up new markets for PSPs to grow their business and their customers’ businesses into.

 

Rick Scrimger, VP of sales and marketing, Roland DGA Corporation, in particular sees this as the next big industry trend. “With versatile production solutions, shops can be more responsive to their customers by offering more products. They can also increase their profit margins by offering higher end products with premium finishes and high levels of customization,” he explains.

One area where digital could become a presence is in manufacturing. “Inkjet technology is still relatively new and poised to grow beyond just graphics. I’m interested to see what greater significance inkjet will have as it increasingly finds its way into manufacturing—particularly into a digital manufacturing process,” shares Randy Paar, marketing manager, display graphics, Océ North America.

 

Along the traditional lines of specific print projects, backlit and light boxes have found resurgence in popularity according to James Gay, director of marketing, Fisher Textiles. “Although they have been around for awhile, the growth of this application is several fold compared to others. This is especially true for units with silicone beading that are then put into a light box configuration.”

 

Applications for a Nation

While not necessarily new, many applications defined 2012 or came into their own in the past 12 months. This is due to advancements in media, the ability to print directly onto multiple substrates, and constant education on behalf of the PSP to share these new opportunities with their clients.

 

“Alternative digital solutions are always fighting against print. We’ve seen this in commercial printing and it will always be an influence for wide format printing. For a sign maker, they need to continuously ask the question, why do customers need me? As a result, they should always be looking for new wide format printing technologies that can provide new applications to improve their position,” recommends Mark Radogna, group manager, professional imaging, Epson.

 

Vehicle wraps continue to grow in popularity due to the ease of installation of newer media as well as more colors and textures. “Innovative media for vehicle color change and striping defined 2011/2012. The major high-end media suppliers have for a few years offered innovative cast and polymeric color change film in Europe and are now bringing it to the U.S. market. This product is a growth engine for our industry because it allows distributors, converters, and sign/print shops to push into the automotive aftermarket customer and broaden the scope of their business. The U.S. market is in its infancy regarding color change film for vehicle applications,” shares Phil LaFata, VP – marketing and international sales, Arlon Graphics, LLC.

 

“The market for wraps continues to evolve as vehicle personalization becomes more mainstream and as corporations fully realize the value of incorporating fleet and vehicles in their advertising media strategy,” adds Kigin.

 

The idea of personalization or variable data spans past vehicle wraps into other niches. PSPs and customers are figuring out the cost effectiveness of offering one off or short, limited runs of products that cannot be done via analog.

 

“Growth in versioning and personalization, which spans from vehicle graphics to advertising campaigns and from retail environments to in-home decoration, is opening up new profitable businesses all over the world for PSPs. There are new companies forming based on the fact that consumers and companies want customized output for their car, to promote their business, or decorate their home,” explains Joan Perez Pericot, worldwide marketing director, Large Format Division, Graphics Solutions Business, Hewlett-Packard (HP).

 

Packaging and labels are also a big part of 2012. “Digitally produced packaging continues to get a good deal of exposure. I would not say it was significant enough by itself to define 2011 or 2012, but it is one of the more notable applications with significant upside,” admits Paar.

 

For MACtac Graphic Products, window applications personified the year. “In addition to frosted and dusted etched glass products, which are traditionally wet apply, the IMAGin B-Free window films, which feature air egress adhesive, created new opportunities for customers to save money by saving time in installation through dry application,” shares Rick Moore, senior director of marketing distribution products, MACtac.

 

Kisner brings up the industrial side of digital printing, citing how many water-based, solvent-based, and UV-curable technologies are being fine tuned to work well on printing direct to tile. “This enables the tile industry to not only provide a much larger product offering, but also allows them to reduce inventories by millions of dollars,” he adds.

 

Merge Together

Manufacturers continue to consolidate divisions and even whole companies, this process has also come to a head for PSPs and their peers. Many shops either recognized the need to join forces with a competitor via a merger or acquisition.

 

“Much like a wildfire, where the flames consume all but the strongest trees, those companies made bigger by consolidation will survive and become stronger. The fire also has the effect of making room for new, smaller, more flexible, and above all, innovative companies. The graphic arts always leave room for innovation,” explains Reto Woodtli, GM, Zünd America.

 

“It helps the industry in a way because more serious players will invest more money to manage bigger print shops. And somehow bigger shops have to focus per application, leaving better opportunities to smaller print providers to fill the gaps,” agrees Joseph Mergui, CEO, Caldera.

 

Rundle says that in reality mergers are the result of the need to pursue expanding and bigger applications in the market—something everyone would like to do, but not everyone can.

 

“Small businesses sometimes have the toughest time, but many navigate through it with their ability to adapt quickly to changing market conditions and even grow their businesses by keeping customer loyalty a top priority,” admits Scrimger.

 

“Industries that grow ultimately undergo consolidation. This brings about a necessary benefit to many. Those PSPs who reach economies of scale are able to develop higher quality, more sophisticated systems. Emerging technologies that are historically out of the reach of many are often financially viable for the remaining, larger companies,” says Hartman.

 

“Although I’m an advocate of mom and pop sign shops, it seems as though the more capital and capacity that a PSP has, the more they can offer to the graphic arts segment. By providing soup to nuts sign making and installation services to a broad clientele, these larger shops are able to forge powerful relationships with suppliers and provide their clients with more options and a streamlined operation,” points out Sherman.

 

“No PSP wants to close their business, but joining forces with another PSP, adding equipment, technologies, and diverse customers that together make both PSPs twice as strong as they were separately, brings great benefits and advantages to both businesses,” shares Mitchell.

 

These acquisitions and mergers bring change. How PSPs design their storefronts is one example. “Contrary to the Web presence explosion, we have seen what we call a retail shop renaissance. The retail shop is a place where brands can communicate with consumers in a captive space, creating an exciting and consistent experience. Brands are seeking opportunities to create these face-to-face experiences for customers and the build out often means big opportunities for PSPs,” says Pericot.

 

Apptacular

2012 brought with it new applications spawned from new technologies. Applications are the center of the graphic arts. Throughout this article we include images from our first ever Application of the Year contest. Winners were nominated by peers and industry vendors, then chosen via our readership. You can read all about the applications seen here in our exclusive Web series, now online at www.digitaloutput.net.

 

Aug2012, Digital Output

 

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