Anyone who believes print is dying might be surprised by the spirit of optimism among the exhibitors at the 2014 Graph Expo trade show for printing businesses in Chicago last month. I expect to find a similar sense of enthusiasm among exhibitors at another big printing-related trade show, the SGIA Expo, which runs Oct. 22-25 in Las Vegas.
Experts I met at Graph Expo believe many in-plant print shops and commercial print businesses are on the verge of making substantial investments in new forms of digital printing, finishing equipment, and workflow automation. That’s because brand marketing and corporate communications professionals and publishers are becoming increasingly aware that digital printing enables them to do things that weren’t possible with traditional printing.
As consultant Hal Hinderliter explained at the Executive Outlook Conference prior to Graph Expo, the adoption of electronic alternatives hasn’t affected all forms of print uniformly. While the amount of “print that informs” may be decreasing due to more efficient online methods of delivering information, “print that performs” will continue to grow.
As printing is used less for everyday communications, printed documents will gain a new sense of importance.
Print that attracts attention, drives traffic to online media, makes us feel special, preserves special memories, customizes our surroundings, helps us make purchasing decisions, or expresses our individual creativity will continue to be valued. We will save printed pieces that look and feel distinctive.
A few years ago, Graph Expo featured big exhibits of commercial offset presses. This year’s show was almost exclusively digital–with a heavy emphasis on production inkjet presses and all sorts of automated finishing equipment, such as digital spot coaters and digital cutting and creasing machines that can add creative effects to prints and packages.
Before Graph Expo, HP sent out poster-sized, personalized direct-mail pieces that were scored, folded, and cut to stand-up like a tabletop display.
HP’s poster-sized direct-mail piece was delivered in a wrapper with personalized copy.
Printed on the HP Indigo 10000 digital press (which HP featured at Graph Expo), the 20 x 29-inch accordion-folded print was much more attention-grabbing than an everyday postcard.
Statistics printed on the poster noted that:
- Digital printing is expected by grow 250% by 2024
- Growth in digital packaging and labels is expected to double by 2018
- Personalized, variable messaging multiplies response rates from 2 to 5 times
HP demonstrated the capabilities of digital printing on a massive scale last summer when they teamed up with Coca-Cola to print personalized cans of Diet Coke. According to a report posted on MarketWatch, Coca Cola’s carbonated soft-drink sales rose more than 2% after they began labeling Coke, Diet Coke, and Coke Zero with the names of individuals. According to an HP executive, the high visibility of the unique campaign has captured the attention of other brand marketers who are eager to find imaginative ways to make their own packaging more remarkable.
At Graph Expo, it was clear that digital presses and equipment have been developed for all types and sizes of companies–whether they choose to do more short-run printing in-house or outsource all of their work to providers of publishing or marketing services that are equipped with higher-speed digital printing equipment.
Canon showcased its diverse portfolio of wide-format and production-printing solutions including the new Océ Arizona 6100 series of high-speed flatbed printers, the Océ ImageStream 3500 full-color continuous feed inkjet press, the new imagePRESS C800 series of toner-based digital color presses for small- to mid-sized firms, the Océ ColorStream 3900 end-to-end production inkjet printing system, the imagePROGRAF iPF785 MFP wide-format printer/scanner combination for technical documents, the Océ VarioPrint 6000+ for ultra-high-volume sheetfed production of monochrome books and financial documents, and the Niagara, high-speed, sheetfed, full-color digital inkjet press.
The printing plant of the future will be highly automated, and may include high-speed production digital presses such as Canon’s Niagara full-color inkjet press that can produce up to 3,800 duplexed B3 sheets per hour and up to 8,500 duplexed letter sheets per hour with volumes of up to 10 million letter-size images per month.
Canon’s booth also showcased the wide variety of innovative products made by Canon customers. Canon’s goal was to remind Graph Expo attendees that digital printing equipment enables “creativity without boundaries.”
Some observers believed Graph Expo attendance seemed smaller than in previous years. Perhaps that’s to be expected. As some traditional printing businesses have gone out of business, surviving companies are scrambling to not only to be more innovative, but also become more automated. The number of employees involved in selling, setting up, producing, finishing, and shipping printed jobs will fall as businesses continue to add more automated devices.
Because Graph Expo and SGIA Expo are held only three weeks apart, I wondered if it’s only a matter of time before the two shows merge into one gigantic digital printing show.
But after touring Graph Expo and mingling with attendees, it’s clear that the shows still serve distinctly different audiences with different backgrounds.
Many devices at Graph Expo were geared for printing text-centric documents in corporate offices, in-plant print shops, commercial and publishing facilities. Equipment geared for digital package printing and finishing was also on display because Graph Expo was co-located with the Converting & Package Printing Expo. (You can read more about all the digital printing devices on display at Graph Expo in the Show Daily. Digital versions can be downloaded from the Graph Expo website.)
The SGIA Expo of Specialty Printing and Imaging Technology serves many companies that started out either in screen printing, photo printing, or wide-format display graphics. The SGIA Expo attracts a broad spectrum of graphics producers, sign shops, garment decorators, as well as industrial users of digital printing equipment, including producers of textiles, printed electronics, promotional products, interior décor, and manufactured goods. The range of digital printing and finishing equipment at SGIA Expo will also be extraordinarily diverse.
And yes, some overlap does exist between the two shows, particularly in terms of marketing and display graphics. But as digital printing technology continues to mature and diversify, some potential uses of digital printing are just beginning to be commercialized.
As consumers, we are about to experience a golden age of creativity in printed communications, packaging, publications, and promotions. Enterprising individuals and visionary companies will be able to build entirely new businesses around some of the customization and personalization capabilities that digital printing can provide.
So is print dying? Not at all. It’s just evolving. Print will live on — just in different forms and formats. As a writer who has covered commercial digital color printing from its earliest days, I can’t wait to see what’s next.