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A Sequence of Events

State of the Industry 2013

By Melissa Donovan

 

Every component in life is impacted by something else, causing a series of events. The same holds true for the graphic arts. A logical sequence of cause and effect, action and reaction continues to heighten growth in this vertical.

 

New ink types are formulated to adhere to a variety of substrates, increasing the types of printed applications. Printers’ productivity levels rise, which heightens the need for finishers to keep pace. As such, workflow software improves to offer an automated, true end-to-end process.

 

We take a look at these factors and more in this year’s State of the Industry. Leading vendors, suppliers, and manufacturers provide their insight on the last 12 months and what they foresee as drivers in the future of large format.

 

In addition, the article is complemented by imagery from our Application of the Year winners. Their accomplishments exemplify innovation in the graphic arts. Congratulations to Iconography Studios for its first place win—as nominated by industry peers—regarding its accordion wrap. Read more about all of the winners and their nominated projects online at www.digitaloutput.net this August to learn about each application in detail.

 

Impactful Components

Each segment of the graphic arts industry regularly introduces new products, tools, and solutions that directly impact how print service providers (PSPs) run their businesses.

 

Ink

With a focus on cleaner and “greener” printing, it’s no surprise that both UV and latex ink sets are still holding their own, blazing a path of not only healthier alternatives but simultaneously growing color gamut and substrate compatibility.

 

“The UV market continues to expand at the speed of imagination. We are constantly amazed at the variety of applications and the creativity found from our UV customers,” admits Rick Scrimger, president, Roland DGA Corporation.

 

“UV LED printing continues to create new opportunities by giving PSPs the ability to print on substrates that can’t withstand the heat of traditional curing or drying methods. It definitely is a part of the market with momentum,” agrees Ken Hanulec, VP of marketing, EFI.

 

“Latex technology allows printing to both coated and uncoated media, which introduces products that were typically only printed on UV equipment in the past to be run on the latex platforms,” shares Joseph M. Rooney, director of sales and marketing, McGrann Digital Imaging.

 

Specialty ink types continue to grow. Recent hardware introductions allow for easier integration of both white and metallic. “These inks are opening doors for new creative possibilities. However, they are also creating challenges for PSPs, who look for software solutions to provide easy control of these inks without having to compromise their high standards for color,” explains Bryan Manwaring, director of product management, ONYX Graphics, Inc.

 

Media

New substrate formulations are created in response to ink advancements. For example, Robert Rundle, viscom market manager, Ritrama, points to the growth of latex ink as directly affecting economy pressure-sensitive media. “It’s experienced an increase in use. Less shrinkage long term over economy media printed with solvent ink has changed the way people buy and use their media,” he states.

 

Vinyl is moving into other markets, gaining recognition as a viable substitute for paint on vehicles, in interior environments, and retail display. “Instead of just seeing vinyl as a way to create signs, vinyl is a way to replace color. When you start to take these products and mix them with digital media or with digital print processes, the sky is the limit to what you can do,” acknowledges Chad Russell, director of business development, Arlon Graphics, LLC.

 

Much relates to innovations in adhesion and clean removal capabilities. PSPs are not as concerned about damaging underlying surfaces thanks to improvements in glue-based products, liners, and facestocks.

 

According to Rick Moore, senior director of marketing, distribution products, MACtac Graphic Products, “new digital media offerings drive creativity, productivity, and quality to new heights at a tremendous value. There is little need to sacrifice quality for price in today’s environment—functional products can be found at a good price. Paying too much or buying a product that is just good enough is not necessary for the graphic arts.”

 

Hardware

Breakout speeds on large format devices are a central focus. With productivity rising, vendors up the ante by simultaneously providing heightened image quality. Printhead advancements, vacuum bed tables, and more are all part of this achievement.

 

“New hardware enables PSPs to print finer quality at faster speeds allowing production costs to decrease while increasing revenue due to more jobs being processed faster,” explains Jim Cain, director of sales – digital, Polytype America Corporation.

 

Mark Radogna, group manager, product strategy, Epson, sees the move to providing outstanding print quality while reducing turnaround times as a significant trend. “The newest offerings in our industry are opening doors to exceptional print quality, allowing PSPs to expand products and services for greater profits.”

 

Thanks to this, more PSPs are moving away from traditional technology. “High-volume digital printers are helping continue the trend of the displacement of analog print for a more flexible digital workflow based upon the production speeds they attain along with the quality levels we are able to achieve with them,” says Christopher Howard, SVP, Durst Image Technology US LLC.

 

To keep up with the efficiency of the printers, finishing devices are becoming more productive. “Productivity is the name of the game. There is tremendous demand for even faster throughput and higher levels of automation and, at the same time, for greater diversity in substrates and increased automation,” adds Pete Alsten, product manager, Zünd America, Inc.

 

Size is also essential to finishing hardware. Matching wider print widths, more cutter and router manufacturers are introducing finishing hardware at the same size. “3.2- and five-meter width grand format printing systems are installed at a rapid pace as the benefits of printing wider become more apparent. There is a silent burden placed on finishing departments to complete more jobs at a faster pace than before,” explains Nikolai Mikkelsen, president, MCT Digital.

 

Software

Running an efficient print shop means moving to a truly automated workflow. This is becoming a reality for more PSPs as they recognize the benefits of prepress and workflow automation solutions.

 

“As PSPs strive to increase revenue, they look at maximizing production capability and driving costs out of their business. Production workflow solutions enable automated repetitive production tasks, reduce time to first print, and minimize dependencies on skilled labor; this helps reduce overall costs,” advocates Manwaring.

 

Terry Mitchell, VP of marketing, graphic systems division, Fujifilm North America Corporation, explains that to meet the needs of versioning and variable data requests, new workflow software incorporates easy-to-use applications that communicate with entered data effortlessly. He also refers to new color management software—found as a part of an entire workflow—as enabling color matching across multiple print platforms to accommodate color shifts.

 

Software extends beyond traditional workflow and into design solutions and job ordering capabilities. “Structural design applications provide virtual 3D prototyping so that many people in multiple locations can review designs. This helps collapse the cycle time. Applications such as Web-to-print (W2P) help receive metadata for jobs much quicker and lead to faster job processing—particularly with an all-digital workflow,” shares Bill Hartman, VP business development, digital finishing, Esko.

 

The cloud continues to play a defining role, specifically in extending customer reach. “New cloud-enabled software is redefining the role of software in the print business workflow. Print providers want software to not only increase productivity, but help bring in new customers and business. The cloud makes that possible in ways traditional desktop-only software can’t,” says Dean A. Derhak, product director, SA International (SAi).

 

“New requirements are more about how to control and monitor print processes than to get the latest machine. The main goal is to make work and business more reliable. By using new kinds of workflow solutions PSPs communicate and outsource specific print jobs,” shares Frédéric Soulier, CTO, Caldera.

 

Looking to Applications

PSPs are becoming application-centric in their thinking. Offering out-of-the-box opportunities, there is no limit to what can be created. New avenues are now accessible beyond traditional signage.

 

Industrial

New ink types and media handling capabilities allow for printing to a variety of untraditional substrates. While we have discussed this at length over the years, namely pointing to items such as glass, aluminum, and even wood—this was all used for signage. Recently, PSPs have taken it a step further, printing to tiles and other ceramics, which presents a range of possibilities.

 

“The growth of these industrial fields gives new opportunities to graphic arts applications. New kinds of media and ink are now available and the success of these new market segments rely on ink and media construction,” explains Soulier.

 

Randy Paar, senior marketing specialist, Canon Solutions America (CSA), believes part of the demand is based on the recognition that the nature of flatbed printing—where nearly anything small enough to fit the device can be printed on—allows for a vast range of experimentation and diversity of applications.

 

“The industry is seeing a surge of very fast printers, which are opening new fields of productivity in industrial inkjet printing. The speed of these printers allied to the flexibility of digital printing is pushing for more conversion from traditional printing methods,” agrees Christophe Bulliard, commercial director, global inks group, Sensient Imaging Technologies LLC.

 

Bulliard explains that it’s how new inks respond to the high-performance demand of industrial printing processes that really changes the landscape of digital print. “When developing a new ink, it is important to understand the full application process—nature and properties of the substrate, pre- and post-treatment operations, use, and expected properties of the finished goods,” he continues.

 

Related to industrial applications is interior décor. Digitally printed tiles—direct to print or sublimation—are used in private residences, hotels, and corporate offices. The same can be said for wallcoverings.

 

“Working with wallpaper and accent graphics has traditionally been a decorator’s biggest challenge. However, repositionable, custom designed, and contour cut media has changed the market. One reason the application is flourishing is the recent introduction of wide format technologies that meet today’s strict environmental standards,” explains Scrimger.

 

Fabric-Based

Digitally printed textiles are used in interior décor for wallcoverings, curtains, and flooring. Jason Bartusick, product development, Media One Digital Imaging Solutions, LLC, says that much of this momentum comes from price decreases. “Lower cost direct to fabric and specialty coatings are allowing dye-sublimation direct, solvent, latex, and UV to enter this rapidly growing market.”

 

“As ink technology moves forward it allows for a wider variety of substrates to enter the market,” points out Jeff Sanders, digital fabrics sales manager, Pacific Coast Fabrics (PCF). “Thin, lightweight fabrics that could never be used in years past due to issues with ink saturation or penetration are commonplace. Likewise, as improvements are achieved in textile coatings, ink becomes brighter and is distributed better, creating a higher quality look as well as cost savings,” he continues.

 

Digitally printed apparel is another consideration. Heat transfer technology has advanced on a smaller scale, with desktop and tabletop products positioned for the lower end of the market. “Working with printers that image transfer media up to one sheet every two seconds has enabled truly on demand printing for products,” explains Christian Sam, marketing, Graphics One, LLC.

 

On the higher end, wide format digital print is used for prototyping apparel. “Prototyping and sample production of apparel with many different ink solutions is increasing as the market in North America is beginning to source this work in house instead of waiting for overseas sampling, which could be several weeks too long for prototyping,” says Paul McGovern, marketing and promotions manager, Mimaki, USA, Inc.

 

Advancements in textile coatings allow for the increased usage of fabric outdoors. “Media advancements have gained momentum in outdoor applications. Fisher Textile’s dye-sub fabrics are ideal for outdoor tent application as well as awning/banner applications. The water repellant features in these medias help the fabric to endure the elements and are constructed to withstand strong wind currents,” shares Scott Fisher, president, Fisher Textiles.

 

The surge in textile usage affects finishing hardware. “This continued diversification in substrates makes it even more important for PSPs to have multi-tool, multi-functional finishing equipment, capable of handling the full gamut of applications easily, reliably, and productively,” adds Alsten.

 

Windows

Clear vinyl and films—perforated and unperforated—change window décor. Used as both an advertising tool and in design, this media continues to gain traction thanks to white and clear ink, which allows for adhesion on the inside of a building, versus the outside.

 

“Window decoration is becoming more widely employed due to city regulations regarding outdoor signage since windows decorated from the inside are often exempt from these types of regulations,” says Mitchell.

 

Hardware also changes what materials are used, expanding the range. “Newer generations of machines and the ink systems have led to the ability to image onto materials other than PVC. When the first UV inkjet machines were introduced it opened up a variety of existing polyester and other materials to be printed for glass decoration. The introduction of UV LED has made the process easier with the reduced need for heat in the drying process,” explains Jim Halloran, VP sales and marketing, Lintec of America.

 

Media now equipped with easier removability options—especially for the non-experienced—is also propelling this application. “Ease of installation is driving adoption. PSPs produce the graphics and ship them to individual retailers for installation by the current staff. Many of these media products eliminate the need for third party installers and the costs associated with them,” suggests Angie Mohni, VP marketing, Neschen Americas.

 

Wraps

While not as new to the graphic arts as industrial-focused markets, wraps—whether it be on a car, boat, or train—are still a go-to application.

 

“Vehicle wraps continue to grow and expand. Success has opened the door to another application that has been gaining momentum, building wraps. Look for more retailers, realtors, and advertisers to take advantage of the architectural landscape that is available for promoting products and services,” shares Brian Phipps, GM, Mutoh America, Inc.

 

Jennifer O. Kigin, marketing operations manager, 3M Commercial Graphics, believes the wrap segment is still viable for two reasons—improved image quality and installation performance, partly enabled by advances in printer and ink technology.

 

“UV inks are impacting the industry. Improved flexibility and durability are accelerating the adoption and increased use of UV inks with flexible media for a wider variety of applications including wraps for vehicles, boats, and walls,” adds Kigin.

 

Additional Areas of Interest

Magnetic-based mediums and packaging and prototyping are additional applications finding a place in print shops.

 

Manufacturers such as Magnum Magnetics strive to keep up with today’s hardware advancements by introducing new products. “The newest product Magnum Magnetics offers is the next generation in printable magnetic technology with a printable film, for digital and offset presses,” shares Nicole Sheridan, marketing manager, Magnum Magnetics Corporation.

 

Current digital-based PSPs adapt all of the above applications into their arsenal of services. In addition, many converters integrate digital. This is predominantly seen in relation to packaging and prototypes, with users creating short runs, concept proofing, and personalization.

 

“Both for corrugated converters looking to add digital printing capabilities and digital printers interested in moving into packaging, there are many new ways to grow in this market,” recommends Joan Perez Pericot, worldwide marketing director, large format sign and display division, Hewlett-Packard (HP).

 

Lease or Buy

As the economy picks up, more PSPs look to purchase new devices, phase out older models, and ramp up production. Cost is a concern, as well as return on investment; every situation is unique.

 

According to Hanulec, some companies might purposely lease knowing they will need to return and upgrade equipment once a lease ends. “From that standpoint, if a business really hits the right niche and sees an aggressive growth pattern, the flexibility they get in returning and upgrading at the end of the term might make up for any extra costs they incur with a lease arrangement,” he suggests.

 

Cain says at Polytype, about 70 percent still prefer to lease and 30 percent purchase outright. Durst’s Howard on the other hand reports a near split between lease and buy from its customers.

 

“Many PSPs are using a bank line of credit versus a third party because of the low interest rates. So they borrow money from the banks to purchase a printer outright versus leasing,” explains Larry D’Amico, VP digital imaging, Agfa Graphics.

 

“If anything, the lenders have been more frugal since 2009; however, the money supply to small businesses should loosen up as we get further along in the recovery, more hiring takes place and the subsequent increased demand translates into more printing work,” adds CSA’s Paar.

 

Mikkelsen provides insight from the point of view of a PSP looking to purchase finishing hardware. “The investment in finishing equipment pays for itself many times over in labor savings alone. It is not unusual to see cutting systems installed ten to 15 years ago still running and making money today. The average digital print provider changes out digital printers every three to five years, while a digital finishing equipment owner can expect that to last ten years.”

 

Out in the Real World

The introduction of new equipment and application possibilities places some strain on PSPs as they strive to offer expanded portfolios with high-quality service and output. To successfully adapt to these changes they must rely on manufacturers, distributors, and peers to show them how to successfully use these tools in an efficient manner.

 

Traditionally, PSPs in the graphic arts—especially in North America—are secretive about sharing ideas. PCF’s Sanders believes it is because print providers invested many hours perfecting their craft. Through trial and error they learned a variety of tips and tricks that set them apart from the competition.

 

“Print providers are not all printing the same and tend to not include detailed information when searching for support. The mentality is to be cautious and contact the user directly, and not through an affinity group to get more information to provide solutions,” adds Rooney.

 

Regardless, “print businesses are increasingly looking for new ways to make money with the hardware and software the already have,” explains SAi’s Derhak. This is where the Internet comes into play—from both user forums found via social media and a vendor standpoint.

 

“There is more information than ever before. The entire social media explosion is facilitating a much broader access to information. For general questions and answers, people can find just about anything,” says Hartman.

 

“Many of our customers are sharing information, discussing problems, and asking questions through a variety of online groups and forums. PSPs are looking to their peers for help and advice as they solve issues, learn about new applications, and identify suppliers. The world is simply becoming more social and companies really need to listen and be involved,” suggests HP’s Pericot.

 

“There is no question that social media marketing has impacted the print industry in a big way. Immediate access to product reviews, how-to videos, media coverage, customer opinions, and interaction with others has brought a new dimension of knowledge,” shares Radogna.

 

In regards to vendors, they not only offer a range of Web-based tutorials but also educational events to instruct and train. “While the trend of online communities, social media, videos, and Webinars will undoubtedly continue, it isn’t a replacement for hands-on training and dialogue directly with the manufacturer or reseller. The best way to keep up with industry trends is a balance of online resources and direct communications with those in the industry,” recommends Mohni.

 

D’Amico says Agfa’s applications group is in real demand. “As media profiling becomes more complicated and expands application capabilities, as well as the need for accurate color matching and profiling, these application people are needed.”

 

Distributors are best equipped to assist PSPs and help guide them to new opportunities that they may not have been able to capitalize on before, cites Jaime Sherman, marketing manager, Ultraflex Systems, Inc. “Aside from personal visits to the printer’s facility, many distributors offer educational events such as road shows, demonstrations, and trainings to promote their knowledge and offerings to the customer and help them grow and compete,” she continues.

 

With PSPs seeking more training, Kigin believes this should too be capitalized on. “The more important opportunity is not merely to show customers how to use products or to send out information. It is that we can now easily converse with and learn from more customers,” she suggests.

 

In turn, these PSPs gain a confidence in working with the technology and what they are capable of creating with it. Once they have the tools and the knowledge behind them, users graduate to understanding the more minute nuances of their production workflows.

 

Mike Monarque, president, Qué Media, Inc., believes that as PSPs take charge of their print configurations they simultaneously clean their workflows. With learned practices, PSPs become responsible for processes such as color profiling, not relying on box profiles.

 

“Giving a person a loaf of bread is much easier than teaching them how to make one, but it allows the person to be more self reliant. We would much rather take extra time in training someone on how to run a good print process rather than make them wait for us to develop a box stock ICC profile and send it so they can crutch along,” explains Monarque.

 

Other Topics of Influence

Many other topics influence the graphic arts and how it is currently positioned. For example, the movement toward greener media products takes a more prominent position after being pushed to the sidelines during the recession.

 

“Governmental regulations are becoming a driving force behind new evolutions of print media. Media companies are adjusting the chemistry in product formulations and integrating more REACH compliant and green alternative type products into portfolios. In doing so, it allows products such as PVC banner material to be used in places where it may have been banned in the past,” explains Sherman.

 

The perception tradeoffs are needed in order to use more eco-friendly and socially responsible products is disappearing. “If you are a brand owner, designer, or printer tasked with meeting a sustainability specification, your options are greater,” shares Al Bobst, senior sales representative, technical and specialty papers, Monadnock Paper Mills, Inc.

 

Consolidation is occurring for both vendors and PSPs. Bartusick foresees the acquisition of more distribution companies further down the road. “Distributors have relationships with end users. Manufacturers aren’t set up like distributors and the added margin is enticing but with distributors getting easier access to Chinese goods, these manufacturers are losing advantages. Value-added distributors are the future and consolidation is coming,” he believes.

 

For PSPs, “consolidation is occurring throughout the industry as larger companies purchase bigger, faster machines. There is less demand in the smaller shops for these devices. Over the last two to three years, as bigger printers have entered into the industry they’ve either bought out or rolled these smaller companies into their fold,” shares D’Amico.

 

To prevent this from occurring, W2P—or ecommerce—solutions allow smaller companies to expand market reach and attract new business. “It opens the door for new applications and product offerings. Web tools that help these customers get there quickly, easily, and affordably will be key to turning small businesses into large revenue partners,” says Phipps.

 

Rapid Development

Ink, media, hardware, and software play off of each other, pushing the former and the later to grow. The result is increased productivity and a range of applications that expand on a regular basis. To keep pace with this, PSPs are presented with options including training, demonstrations, online Webinars, and peer groups that allow for the facilitation of information. The ability to lease or buy hardware is a flexible method that offers low-cost of entry. All of which allow a PSP to stake a claim in this rapidly developing market.

 

Aug2013, Digital Output

 
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