Are tiles and water bottles really print?

A new trade show makes the case for the affirmative

Last issue I wrote about how Print 17 pointed to a new definition of print and indicated that SGIA a few weeks later would perhaps have keener insight to offer about that proposition.

And so it did.

The SGIA Expo in New Orleans was the largest trade show I have attended in North America in more than a decade. The energy and a good mood on the floor were marred only by the dense October humidity. But more than its sheer size, SGIA clearly indicated how print is being redefined and expanded.

A spin around the show floor – I walked more than 18,000 steps one day – turned up lots and lots of inkjet devices printing just about everything: wood products, wallpaper, flooring, furniture, ceramics, plastics, glass, car wraps, thermoformed creations, promotional products, metal and all manner of textiles from flags, to dresses, to pillows, to couches and so on. If someone had figured out a way to hold a cat still, one of the exhibitors could have printed on it.

No one had an offset press, and no one – at least I couldn’t find one – had a toner-based press. Neither of these technologies, nor the market segments they serve, has been part of SGIA in the past but in a nod to the evolving industry that is about to change.

One of the most buzzed-about announcements in NOLA was new alliance between SGIA and NAPCO, U.S.-based publishers of Printing Impressions and In-Plant Graphics, to create a new one-stop event that brings all those technologies and market segments together – offset, digital, inkjet, commercial, packaging, mailing, industrial etc. Such a show does not, in practice, exist in North America and many think it’s a change that’s long overdue.

Over the last 20 years, the graphics industry has seen huge consolidation, particularly in the U.S. where almost a third of printing establishments closed between the heyday of 2000 and the post-meltdown of 2015. Faced with a constricting market and shrinking margins on offset work, print shops had to expand their offerings to stay afloat, never mind protect their profits.

And so segments, functions and technology began to converge. The new show, Print United, will focus on the possibilities that arise from this convergence. Its first outing will be in Dallas in 2019.

This convergence has been taking shape for at least the past decade. Print United and the players behind it did not create it, but this new venture crystallizes the concept and puts some marketing muscle behind it. Whether the show is a success or a failure will depend on many factors. But the idea that the print and graphics industry has redefined itself is now firm and tangible.

Putting ink to substrate isn’t simply about communication anymore. It’s that plus finding functional ways of engaging with our surroundings and often creating those surroundings. Many of us have struggled to put a name to this convergence – is making pillows really printing? Tiles? Water bottles? SGIA made the case that yes, it is all print.