Executive overview of printing trends

Digital inkjet printing of textiles is one of the fastest growing industry segments. The global market for printed signage will rise to $46.7 billion by 2022. The worldwide label printing market will be worth $45.22 billion by then, and printed packaging will grow to $22.4 billion in that year. IT will emerge as a more valuable asset for many companies, as compared to commercial printers. These are just a few of the predictions from Smithers Pira and other leading print industry marketing research firms. Bottom line: To say that the printing industry will continue to be in a state of transition and disruption in most sectors for years to come would be an understatement. We asked some leading OEMs and suppliers to tell us what they think – and in what direction their industry sectors and their companies are headed.

COMMERCIAL. Jeff Ekstein, Owner and President, Willow Printing Group

I believe that inkjet printing will be the new digital. Inkjet technology will continue to be a prominent “disruptor” just like digital was 20 years ago. Plus, its quality, speed and personalization capabilities have come a long way and will keep improving. I believe that another major trend that will continue is consolidation – whether it be firms with shared synergies or companies looking for expertise in new areas. We’ll also see related sectors such as binderies, ad agencies or marketing firms partnering with commercial printers. Hopefully, a shakeout will help to restore market pricing and reverse the “race to zero.” Also, technologies such as automation (print MIS and web-to-print) will improve efficiencies while driving costs down. These savings shouldn’t be given away to customers and therefore, will improve your bottom line. Integration with all forms of digital communications (not just digital print) with print, will also play a huge role in a print provider’s success.

The one area, however, that’s in danger of being overlooked is one that’s often taken for granted – people! I firmly believe that (just as the most successful companies have gone from a commodity-based, price-driven model to a one-stop-shop integrated marketing services provider model) a printer’s staff will become the key differentiator for their customers. Printers will need to focus more on the human element. A good customer experience will rule; saving a few dollars on a printed piece will not. As Chairman of the CPISTF (Canadian Printing Industries Scholarship Trust Fund), all firms should invest in enticing the brightest and the best young people to join our industry. Why? We’re graying – while our customers are becoming younger and younger. This will become a huge disconnect over time. A donation, therefore, is actually an investment in their future as well as in the future of our industry. This investment may also give them the opportunity to choose from the best graduates on the market.

TRADE. Brian Meshkati, vice president of marketing, SinaLite

This year SinaLite (Sina Printing) is celebrating its 20th anniversary. Over the years, as a trade printer, we’ve helped thousands of print brokers and print businesses grow their revenues and reduce their operating costs. Over the next few years, I firmly believe that the largest trend for both trade printers and their customers will be a relentless drive towards product differentiation. Both retailers and businesses are beginning to use a diverse range of media to promote themselves that go well beyond traditional flyers and postcards. With so much advertising surrounding us, businesses are trying their best to stand out. The print shops and brokers that are able to increase their product offerings and meet this demand will increase their revenues, and in the end, become much more profitable and successful, primarily because they’ve become a one-stop shop for their customers. Today, trade printers play a key role in helping print shops and brokers meet this trend and succeed. For example, we’ve already expanded our range of products to include signage, banners, labels and specialty business cards. This allows printers to add products to their offerings without investing in costly equipment. In our segment, it’ll be all about differentiation and becoming a one-stop shop.

WIDE-FORMAT. Ruben Silva, Vice President of Sales and Managing Director at Agfa Graphics Canada

At Agfa, we expect that wide-format print volumes will continue to grow. Fueling this healthy top-line growth will be technological advancements such as single-head arrays and sublimation devices for soft signage. Clients will continue to demand higher levels of service, which in turn will drive steady progress in printhead development, UV ink curing technology, image processing techniques and media transport (i.e. width, automation) with the ultimate goal of faster and more efficient production. The conversion of traditional analogue printing to digital printing and new applications enabled by advancements in ink and media, are currently driving this growth.

Agfa continually expands and advances our product portfolio to meet and exceed market expectations. Our research and development efforts are focused on all aspects of the integrated inkjet solution – including the engine, software, print heads, inks, media, automated media handling, finishing and service and support – with the goal of maximizing quality and efficiency and reducing the total cost of ownership.

OFFSET. Sean Springett, Manroland Sheetfed CEO and managing director for the USA and Canada

As we head into 2019, the effectiveness of commercial and packaging printers to better utilize the Print 4.0 philosophy will continue to become more mainstream. With the introduction of higher capacity presses, it’ll be rare to see printers not divest themselves of two or three presses, and replace them with a sinlge, much more sophisticated and capable machine. In doing so, there’ll likely be a heightened sense of insecurity knowing that a back-up press is no longer an option. However, with the newer technology and the increasing ability to understand gains and losses in production minutes, this will result in a far more intensive and analytical look at the productivity and capabilities of any press asset. For example, when you combine high-performance reporting, autonomous make-readies and reduced waste (through inline colour and quality controls), the adoption of a more thorough production process around any new printing press that has faster running speeds and more process capabilities (i.e. LED UV and inline value-added processes), will ultimately result in reduced manufacturing costs – thus substantially improving the bottom line of any printer willing to adopt the Print 4.0 philosophy.

OFFSET. Ray Fagan, sales specialist for sheetfed, postpress packaging and digital, Heidelberg Canada

At Heidelberg, we see the current status of the print Industry as both challenging and opportunistic. Overall trends towards shorter run lengths, increased personalization and targeted markets dictate that workflow, equipment efficiencies and optimized production are, and will be, the keys to success.

Printers will be charged with producing a larger number of “jobs” but in lower “volumes.” This will lead to the need for a digitized workflow, including software applications for all departments and hardware that can interpret what the software is feeding to it. Inkjet and offset will continue to work in harmony and job structure will dictate the output. Heidelberg’s autonomous printing presses featuring “Push to Stop” technology and our Primefire 106 Inkjet presses are a testament to these trends. Heidelberg is also a leader in the “digitization” of the print industry, having recently launched our new Digital Innovation Center (IVC). All Heidelberg research and development is now combined in a new facility, and will offer continued development of a digital infrastructure with products such as “Heidelberg Assistant” – a platform for complete integration between customer and vendor.

Heidelberg also sees a trend where many successful companies want to focus business efforts on sales, rather than acquiring equipment capital. For that reason, as with many other industries, Heidelberg has launched our “subscription model program” for equipment procurement. This is a new and innovative way for customers to have fixed costs, modern technology and a clear path towards growth. The print industry is an exciting and rapidly forward-moving industry, albeit a smaller footprint in terms of size and employment. Technology will continue to drive innovation, and the industry most needs bright young individuals that see the graphic arts market that way. Talent will be a big challenge going forward.

DIGITAL. Norm Bussolaro, senior director of marketing for Konica Minolta Business Solutions (Canada)

Over the past 20 years, we’ve seen steady growth in the adoption of digital printing technology, and we predict 2019 will not buck this trend. As digital continues to take over a larger share of the market, the question becomes “how will printers use technology to differentiate in such a commoditized marketplace?” The answer, as we see it, is through value-added printing and services.

Having the ability to offer things like embellishment, variable-data printing, lamination, mounting, and printing on unconventional surfaces, will help printers compete beyond price alone. This is where we see the most potential for growth in the near future. Printers must continuously re-examine their technology to ensure they have the capabilities to meet the needs—known and as-yet-unknown—of their customers. By introducing new and innovative applications beyond “toner/ink on paper,” you open the door to a much stronger relationship with your clients.

TEXTILE. Lucas Crossley, Mimaki regional manager for Canada

Based on the growth forecasts for this segment of the market, the future looks very bright. So you’d better put your shades on! The Digital Textile Printing Market Report, published by Allied Market Research, forecasts that the global market was valued at $1,245 million in 2015, and is projected to reach $3,943 million by 2022, growing at a CAGR of 17.9% from 2016 to 2022. The polyester segment held nearly 25% share of the global market in 2015.

In recent years, textile industry printing systems have been changing from conventional analogue printing to plate-less digital printing to meet market demand for high-mix-low-volume print production capabilities and faster delivery. Accordingly, production settings are changing from remote areas to city areas closer to consumers. Since 1998, Mimaki has been known globally for its innovative development and manufacture of textile inkjet printers. More importantly, as a global company we have the advantage of seeing what’s happening in other markets around the world.

We feature a broad range of digital printers and inks that allow users to create home furnishings, apparel, soft signage, interior décor, banners, exhibit graphics and much more. The acquisition and integration of well-known industry leaders like Rimslow La Meccanica, combined with strategic partnerships with companies such as Coldenhove, have, I believe, placed Mimaki at the forefront of this growing market segment.

PAPER. Victor Barsoum, president, The Paper Express Shoppe

Obviously, the paper industry (and perhaps the print industry in general) does have many overarching trends that are causing change. However, no single trend is as overwhelming and as urgent as what some other industries are experiencing (such as the car industry struggles with electrification). Unless something new is introduced, 2019 and 2020 will see a continuation of existing trends at a reasonably predictable pace. This is actually good news because you can anticipate it and plan for it. So what are the trends in the paper industry?

Well, first is the continued focus by corporations to eliminate non-value-added paper such printed invoices, monthly statements, forms, and any single-use items that just ends up being archived. This overall trend should somewhat balance out the cost increases we saw in 2018, and result in stable bond pricing in 2019 (with potentially a small decrease towards the end of the year).

On the growth side, there are two key areas to watch. First is the resurgence of multi-touch and multi-channel marketing campaigns. In recent year, marketers have been distracted by online channels and lost their focus on the printed medium. However, there’s growing research indicating that traditional marketing channels are still effective, especially when coordinated with an online campaign. Print marketing budgets should grow slightly, and stabilize after many years of decline, translating to stable pricing and volumes in paper traditionally associated with marketing campaigns – i.e. coated glossy and silk papers.

The second growth opportunity is related to online sales, and specifically to packaging and pressure-sensitive stocks. The continued growth of online sales is diverting sales from traditional stores to delivery and parcel services. This means growth in shipping labels, small labels for barcodes, packaging and so on. In addition, the growth of Etsy and other hand crafts and specialty websites means that more home-based creators are selling their products directly online, resulting in an increased need for small-run packaging, product labels and related creative services.

Internally, the print industry is continuing to consolidate print volumes at large trade printers. Trade printers are handling small runs more efficiently and passing those savings on to their customers, resulting in even more jobs being diverted to them. This will result in a shift from digital cut sizes to larger sheets and rolls. In reality, this trend has minimal impact on a paper supplier’s customers, other than the occasional inventory shortage in digital cut sizes – because, unfortunately, the mills sometimes choose to prioritize higher-volume larger sheet sizes.

In retrospect, everyone involved can agree that 2018 was a crazy year for the paper industry. It was a perfect storm year with several cost increases, tariffs on US stock, frequent stock shortages (some accidental and some engineered) and shipping cost increases. I anticipate—and hope—that 2019 will be much more stable.

TEXTILE. WIDE FORMAT. Tim Check, senior product manager of professional imaging at Epson America

If the GDP growth rate stays at about 3% for the next few quarters, we predict that many companies will continue their investments in visual communications. With that growth we’re predicting that more companies will outsource their printing to local print service providers and encourage them to offer customized, on-demand promotional products, personalized textiles, impactful signage and so on. Digital textile printing has become a major growth area for many print shops, and I predict it will continue to grow over the next few years. For example, we’ve already seen steady growth of the Epson SureColor F-Series dye-sublimation and direct-to-garment printers. In the last year, Epson launched a new direct-to-garment pretreatment solution for polyester garments opening the industry to ‘active wear’ apparel and sweat-resistant garments, while further opening the doors for direct-to-garment t-shirt printers. In the wide-format category, an increase in nozzles and larger printheads (arrays) will likely lead to physically smaller products that are capable of faster production levels and print speeds. This offers printers the ability to produce larger print jobs in-house with less capital equipment expenditure.

FINISHING. Michael Steele, sales director at Sydney Stone

The world of print finishing in 2019 is full of new product offerings for short-run jobs – specifically products to add embellishment to an already digitally printed output. For example, as a leader in specialty lamination film, our latest soft-touch OPP films not only have a luxurious feel, but they can be printed directly on with toner. We’ve also developed a durable and affordable range of foiling products called InstaFOIL, which can be applied over a printed toner using most tabletop and single-sided laminators. Previously, this technology was a true specialty finishing process and required either large volumes, or was too costly for short-run applications. That’s why we’ve seen these types of films and foils at the quantities and prices that today’s short-run printers need to create high quality print embellishment in house, continue to roll off our shelves.

WEB-TO-PRINT. PRINT MIS. IT. Jim Schmidt, partner, Document Direction Limited. (DDL)

Twenty years ago, businesses used analogue copiers and fax machines. Today, in-plant printing has evolved tremendously, using multi-function printers and even cut-sheet, continuous-feed and wide-format production printers. They’ve also had to rely more heavily on IT services while improving their internal workflows. Responding to these needs, successful commercial printers will realize that they too must evolve and offer many, if not all, of these types of services to their customers.

Three that will play a major role are web-to-print, print MIS and IT services. For example, a scalable portfolio of web-to-print solutions will enable you to view orders on a single screen, simplify scheduling and tracking, and catch billing errors before jobs are produced. These solutions should also integrate seamlessly with any eCommerce or other in-house application or process.

Today’s sophisticated print MIS solutions better manage day-to-day business operations while also allowing a centralized view of all key in-shop operations. The technology reduces inefficiencies by removing human touch points, improves internal processes and ultimately, reduces costs. Plus, it can also support ordering, billing, payments, shipping, marketing and much more.

Finally, acquiring IT services can be an effective means of gaining the specialized sales and support expertise required in our world of digital disruption. A recent study by Quocirca showed that, by 2025, most businesses will favour IT service providers over traditional print suppliers! As such, the most successful printers will expand their IT expertise – likely by partnering with experienced IT service providers. These are the trends DDL has noticed as we serve the Greater Toronto Area (GTA).


Tony Curcio is the editor of Graphic Arts Magazine.