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Digital Printing




After several years of challenging economic times for the printing industry, worldwide demand for print increased in 2011, resulting in a commensurate jump in technology investments as large-format customers sought to take advantage of the 6.2B sqm opportunity in the sign and display industry. The resulting boost in digital print growth is pushing print service providers (PSPs) to capitalize on new business opportunities tied to growing technologies like UV and latex.

After several years of challenging economic times for the printing industry, worldwide demand for print increased in 2011, resulting in a commensurate jump in technology investments as large-format customers sought to take advantage of the 6.2B sqm opportunity in the sign and display industry. The resulting boost in digital print growth is pushing print service providers (PSPs) to capitalize on new business opportunities tied to growing technologies like UV and latex.
The underlying analog-to-digital conversion in the large-format printing market reflects the rapid growth and development of high-end digital presses coupled with a higher demand for shorter, personalized runs. Some new solutions are capable of managing screen volumes and quality, while addressing new markets and applications that only digital can handle, such as custom QR codes and variable data. In addition, the average print job has dropped dramatically from 15,000 to 1,500 copies, driving higher rates of digital adoption.
PSP customers see major brands take a more sustainable approach to wide-format print sourcing, setting strict environmental requirements for their print jobs and applying those to the service providers that produce them. This demand for green solutions is driving the decline in solvent technologies, particularly as UV and latex devices reach new levels of performance maturity and application versatility, while offering certifications to validate their indoor environmental benefits to print buyers.

New large-format offerings and market penetration
If you are a PSP committed to making 2012 a year of growth, consider these technology trends and take advantage of the new application opportunities created.
In the retail point-of-purchase (P-O-P), point-of-sale (P-O-S) and advertising segments, expect to see shorter runs, faster time to market, personalization, and variable data printing. As advertisers look to maximize return-on-marketing-investment (ROMI), they are evaluating each piece of collateral for efficiency and effectiveness, creating an increased demand for digital. Today, approximately 20 % of retail signage is printed digitally, but this number is growing by double digits, leaving millions of pages for digital providers to capture.
Short runs and customization are also taking hold in the corrugated packaging market which, with an addressable digital market of 6B sqm, represents a tremendous opportunity for digital providers. By complementing their existing operations with digital technologies, customers can go from the digital file straight to production, making it easy and inexpensive to produce customized output and turn around packaging for a test-market by the client’s deadline.
Many customers are achieving success by diversifying beyond traditional signage applications and entering new markets, while using the same printing equipment. They are taking advantage of water-based, latex ink solutions to open a door to the decoration market, with applications such as curtains, pillows, rugs and custom wall coverings, and using flatbed UV-curable technologies for custom-printed furniture, doors, ceiling tiles and flooring (Figure 1). Certifications like GREENGUARD and AgBB are making it easier to place prints in the most sensitive environments, such as hospitals and schools. The decor market holds limitless P-O-Ssibilities and profitable opportunities. Today, many interior design applications are printed completely on analog devices. Few people are thinking about printing them with digital, in fact, sometimes no one is thinking about printing them at all!

How to produce growth
applications in your shop
Let’s take a look at how you can make the most of these trends and start producing a few key growth applications in house. As discussed, the retail and advertising signage market presents a major opportunity for customized output, be that on-demand signage for specific promotions or the use of variable data by region or store. Consider the following four applications as opportunities for growth:

display units (FSDU)
An in-store display, FSDUs can be a dynamic and creative way to draw customers’ attention and demonstrate a retail product. Typically produced on corrugated cardboard, FSDUs are most often seen in retail environments, but can also be found at tradeshows and events. FSDUs are used as shelves to hold products close to eye-level for customers and, in parallel, are used as a platform for advertising and messaging.
You can produce these displays either by printing the design directly onto corrugated cardboard with a flatbed printer or by printing on a self-adhesive vinyl with a roll-to-roll printer and then laminating the design onto cardboard. Direct printing on a flatbed device is more economical, as it reduces the cycle time significantly and eliminates the need for multiple media types and labor to laminate the design to cardboard. UV-curable flatbed devices are also preferred over solvent printers as they reduce waste and produce output that is dry and ready for finishing right away.
Manufacturers generally offer two levels of flatbed printing technology that are suitable for the production of FSDUs: entry-level products, or industrial printers for low-volume production or prototypes, or high-volume devices. Among these, solutions that offer white inks can be a major benefit to PSPs that want to print high-quality, full-color graphics directly on natural kraft board or on a colored media.
Finishing for FSDUs is simple and involves cutting the display into the appropriate shape with a contour cutting system and then folding the final product so that it’s ready to stand on its own. One thing to keep in mind when producing FSDUs is the viewing distance as this will determine the resolution of the design and the quality used during printing. Always consider how closely consumers will approach the final piece and let this guide your decisions in the quality of the output and materials used. Additionally, the flexibility of the chosen ink is important, as the wrong ink can lead to chipping at the FSDU edges or breaking when folded.

Styrene P-O-P/P-O-S signage
A tried and true application in the screen printing industry, styrene P-O-P and P-O-S signage is quickly becoming an essential application for digital printers as well. Styrene is a P-O-Pular media choice because it is tear- and water-resistant, inexpensive, bright white, and a durable alternative to paper. Styrene is also available in sheets or rolls, so it can be printed on a roll-to-roll or flatbed press.
Conventionally, styrene has been a go-to media for the screen-printing industry because of its durability and low cost, but digital printers often ran into issues with ink adhesion when it came to printing styrene with digital devices. Today, styrene is available in a digital-compatible, coated option, eliminating adhesion problems and opening the door to this profitable media for digital print shops. Furthermore, some printer manufacturers have introduced digital solutions, like specialty inks that allow for printing on uncoated styrene. With these solutions, you can use the same materials in your digital and screen printing processes and reduce costs for yourself and customers.
In terms of finishing, styrene can be cut into any shape from a rectangle or circle that is then snapped into a fixture or frame to a hanger.
Dan Kimmerly, graphics director with KDM P.O.P. Solutions in Cincinnati, OH, says styrene is one of the most common substrates used for the high-volumes of P-O-P displays the company produces (Figure 2). The substrate’s P-O-Pularity is due to the variety of thicknesses available, from 0.010 to 0.125 inches, and appearances, with translucent styrene for backlits or dead white for double-sided output. KDM’s frequent use of styrene was one of the key factors in its decision to upgrade to specialty inks late last year, as the inks eliminated any previous adhesion or edge chipping issues experienced. Now, the company can take styrene P-O-P displays printed on their printing device directly to the guillotine or die cutter with the confidence that the final output will be top quality.

Backlit displays
Another solution reflecting the benefits of digital printing is backlit displays. Prominent in department stores, airports, fast food chains and other public venues, backlit displays are a P-O-Pular option for retailers due to their high-quality appearance and the ease with which they can be changed.
These displays are printed directly onto a translucent film, with options including gloss or matte translucent films, translucent PVC or PETG, depending on the look, feel and budget the client is trying to achieve.
Today, many backlit displays are produced using a digital photographic process in which a machine is used to digitally exP-O-Se a piece of film with the desired image. While this process creates a high-quality product, it is also very expensive and does not allow for variation amongst images. As a result, the market is quickly transitioning to using digital printing processes for backlit displays, especially as this technology matures and solutions like the photographic process in terms of quality at a fraction of the cost. Digital printers can also cost effectively format backlit applications in sizes that are beyond the limits of photographic technologies and use variable data printing. In one run, a printer can produce backlit displays for a store in New York with a discount of 35 % while the store in Atlanta offers 40 % off of merchandise.
The most common challenge people experience when printing backlit signage is achieving the proper sharpness and density of the image (Figure 3). Since you are taking the printed image and flooding it with light, the print can have a tendency to look washed out if not produced properly. A washed-out print is the last thing you want to provide your customers with the high-quality output they are looking for in retail signage. Some manufacturers are addressing this problem with solutions which include built-in saturation control. With this control, you can fine tune the amount of ink used in a single pass, so that images do not lose their sharpness or clarity, while maintaining production speed.

Growth applications
beyond signage
Moving beyond traditional signage applications, the interior décor market represents an untapped opportunity
for digital printers. The age of customization is upon us, and interior décor that is printed with the homeowner’s family photo, the designer’s imagery
or the shop owner’s brand is a natural
next step.

Wall coverings
Wall coverings provide an easy entry into the realm of interior décor. Like all of the signage applications described here, the designs can be produced using the Adobe Suite or a more customized solution for wall coverings. One Web-based product is available for license and allows customers to create wall coverings on the PSP’s website. PSPs may offer their customers an existing portfolio of images or the ability to upload their own. In the tool, customers can enter the exact dimensions of their rooms and design around windows, doors, light switches and other obstacles. The final design is then sent to the PSP for printing.
There are many media choices available for wall coverings, ranging from textiles like polyester or canvas to self-adhesive options to pre-pasted papers. The option you choose should be based on the cost per square foot required and the texture and look desired. One product is a PVC-free wall paper, a pre-pasted paper that is easy to apply with water and a sponge and equally simple to take down, as it peels off in a single sheet when water is added and residual paste washes away.
When reviewing your options for wall coverings, you’ll want to take into consideration end-user priorities. Choices are mold, mildew, and flame-resistant—all important specifications for a wall covering substrate. Certain solutions can also offer environmental or safety advantages, such as contributing to a building’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design or LEED certification points—a huge incentive to environmentally-minded architects and designers.
The majority of wall coverings today are printed using analog processes, such as screen printers. While this results in high-quality output, it does not allow for customization as it requires long runs to be cost effective. With the digital print processes now available, you can print custom wall coverings on demand, perhaps providing a retail customer with a wall covering that is easy and cost-effective to install and update as promotions change. You will likely want to use technologies that produce odorless output, such as latex inks, which also provide the quality and durability needed to withstand months or years on display at a close viewing distance.
One publisher taking the wall covering business to a whole new level is Joe Garcia, CEO and president of New Era Portfolio. New Era Portfolio is a large limited-edition fine art publisher, printmaker, and artisan framer, serving design professionals responsible for the selection and installation of art in commercial and hospitality projects. The ultimate, single-source art solution for all interior design projects, New Era Portfolio routinely consults with design clients, customizing, revising and modifying image-based products to meet even the tightest budgetary constraints. New Era Portfolio is dedicated to on-time delivery and exceptional quality. The company recently took its interior design offering to the next step by introducing custom-printed wall coverings.

Diversify and
avoid commoditization
One common thread among the most successful customers is the fact that they are constantly looking to differentiate themselves and expand their current capabilities. They take the act of providing printed output to the next level—whether that means printing jobs that others turn down because they seem imP-O-Ssible, printing on unique substrates or diversifying as marketing services providers who can advise clients on more than just print and bridge that digital gap.
Demonstrating a commitment to upholding environmental standards is also key for winning print jobs, especially when leading brands are seeking to implement sustainable practices across their business. PSPs who offer recycling options, like one company’s large-format media take-back program, and provide polypropylene substitutes to PVC are more competitive. These measures also help to strengthen customer relationships, retain and grow existing accounts and even win new business. Make no mistake, your customers are taking a closer look at their own commitment to the environment, which links to what they are sourcing from suppliers. If you can prove that you’re using printing technologies and substrates that reduce their impact on the environment then you’re already meeting the requirements of many customers.
Print buyers need help achieving their corporate objectives, whether improving the ROMI of advertising collateral or going green, and are looking for knowledgeable partners to offer consultative expertise that helps them reach these goals. Many PSPs are already P-O-Sitioning themselves as print service consultants, rather than order takers. They realize the need to work very closely with their customers to establish goals, advise where improvements can be made and provide new ideas to expand marketing activities or improve sustainability efforts. These PSPs quickly become valuable partners to their customers.

What does 2012 hold?
Building on the growth and transitions of the past year, 2012 promises to be a dynamic year for large-format printing. Large-format at drupa will be exciting, not only for small-format providers interested in adopting wider technologies to diversify offerings, but also for existing large-format PSPs looking to reach new customers and improve workflow. As we have witnessed in other industries, the cloud will change how many PSPs do business, allowing them to connect their customers directly to digital printing technologies. Manufacturers will respond by paying more attention to the overall printing process with new solutions to optimize workflow, while increasing productivity and efficiency.
The year 2012 also will mark strong growth in new applications falling outside the traditional realm of signage printing, some of which we have detailed here. Advertisers will look for output that cuts through the clutter and makes the biggest impact on their customers, while driving new, personalized pages and increasing print values with versioned output. And as brands move out of survival mode and strengthen their corporate social responsibility platforms, expect to see even more businesses taking a sustainable approach to large-format print sourcing as they look to place green requirements on their printing.
This is a year of great P-O-Ssibilities, particularly for PSPs willing to grow their offerings to make the most of today’s printing technologies.

Harel Ifhar is the director of marketing for HP Scitex.


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