In the past, the printing industry was relatively uncomplicated. Companies would put in large orders for high volumes of printed materials at a time, and print service providers would spend days gearing up for that project, complete it, and be onto the next job.
Customers no longer want bulk orders of the one thing. Instead, consumers have shifted their focus to smaller orders that are more specified and tailored to their target audience. Print service providers (PSP) have to accommodate this change in demand by updating their equipment.
This is where digital printing comes in. Digital printing is far superior to traditional printing methods for such shorter runs and for more timely utilization, and as such, is taking over the game. Studies show that traditional methods of printing are on a steep decline. It is estimated that digital printing will own 21% of the printing market globally by the year 2018.
This increase almost certainly goes hand in hand with the decrease of market share for sheet-fed and web offset printing. And, because of technological advances, two different markets are now possible, narrow format which has taken over for most of the print up to 11 X 17, and large/grand format that has allowed 3 ft to 15 ft. graphics to be handily done in a single pass, and profitably for even single copies
Studies also show that digital printing will continue to boom upwards and grow as much as 26% within four years. In one study done by Canon, the year 2000 saw nearly 40% of printing runs doing over 10,000 copies at one time, and by 2020 this number is expected to drop by 15%. In 2010, short runs were sitting at 48% on the market, and by 2020 that number is expected to rise until over half of all printing runs are done in volumes of 2,000 copies or less.
The opportunity to capitalize on the outlook of digital printing is glaring. Wider large and Grand Format printing is also growing significantly from a small base, and especially digitally printed fabrics. All in all, there may be 8-12% growth, still a nice target, but for fabrics, a growth of over 30% is predicted for the next few years, creating a large opportunity. Given the immense cost reductions for installation and freight for digitally printed fabrics, there comes expanded opportunity that is still developing to change the message more often for lower cost and easier installation.
The move towards personalized advertising is going to continue to grow. As it does, printing demands will do the same. The days of sending a blanket message to consumers are over, and with the data available on consumers browsing and buying habits, ads are being targeted with pinpoint accuracy.
With large format print, coupled with personalization, it is now possible to provide unique messages in different geographic locations, better couple trade show graphics to the event’s audience and more.
Consumers themselves are also sending in higher volumes of personalized printing requests. For example, a calendar with a personalized photo on it, coffee mugs, t-shirts, and more in the narrow format realm, and posters, wall murals, wallpaper and more in the wide format realm. With the newer inkjet technologies, the opportunity is in the eye of the beholder.
As digital printing continues to grow and spread its roots, more people are eager to be involved. Print service providers are not hesitant about making the switch and are doing so at record speed. Even though the outlook of digital printing is promising, things won’t just take care of themselves. Meaning that it’s not enough for a print service provider to simply buy a new digital printer and call it a day. There needs to be a comprehensive plan in place that provides detailed goals and instructions from the inception stage all the way to the end.
There are many variables to consider when buying a digital printing machine such as the print finishing aspect:
- What kind and sizes of substrates will you be printing on?
- Are these substrates able to be cut easily by scissors, razors, guillotines and other manual means?
- Are there cut shapes rectangles or long sweeps, or do they contain complex graphics?
- How many people will be required to handle all the cutting?
- Would a digital finishing solution that adds routing/milling for rigid substrates be required to handle quality and/or volume?
- Besides cutting or routing, do your product needs require creasing, such as for corrugated and packaging?
- Do the edges need to be polished and/or sealed, making a case for having laser capabilities such as for polished edges on acrylic or sealed edges on fabric? What about etching?
The end product needs to be clearly understood and planned to avoid costly hang-ups in the process. These can dramatically increase labor, quality, or cost if not considered seriously at the same time as deciding to purchase the digital printer.
Time is another important factor to take into consideration. Digital printing is much faster than traditional offset printing along with dramatic changes in the size of printed materials, yet many companies still buy the printer and worry about finishing requirements downstream. This creates a bottleneck in productivity when products must be cut or finished before they can be delivered to the customer. Finishing needs to be foreseen and accounted for by print service providers looking to capitalize on the full potential of digital printing.
Digital printers who make finishing a profit center and ensure they have the proper kind of digital finishing capacity are generally twice as profitable as those who don’t. They can make more on the finishing aspects than on the printing as a graphical image is more valuable than just a square foot of print. A digital workflow should be developed from beginning to end. What use is it to be utilizing a Ferrari of a digital printer if the finishing end of the process is incapable of keeping up with the printing process?
Digital printing is here, providing larger, faster and higher quality prints on more and more kinds of substrates, and it’s not going away. Those who shy away from change and innovation will fall by the wayside; while the leaders of the industry embrace it. Printing is undergoing a phase-shift as print runs are shrinking in run length but dramatically increasing in complexity and size.