Graphics Blog

Will all signs be digital?

times-square-digital-signage.jpgThe term “digital signage” can be confusing. To a screen or offset printer, it may mean large signs and displays produced using digital printing technologies such as inkjet, toner or liquid toner. The process is digital but the end result is still on paper, plastic film, translucent material for back-lighting, rigid sheets or even textiles.

However, the term digital signage increasingly is recognized as referring to signs that are completely electronic, where the display medium is on-screen LCD or LED and the advertised content is controlled by cloud-based software that can publish a new message to multiple locations within seconds. And content can be varied and localized; for example, bulky items such as whitegoods might cost a few dollars more in remote rural areas due to freight costs.

It goes without saying that the rise of all-electronic digital signage is of concern to businesses involved in putting ink on various materials for use in retail, exhibition, display, safety and information markets. But is this phenomenon a threat or just another avenue in the multi-channel approach to inform and influence consumers with persuasive messages?

Fujifilm (and therefore its customers) depends greatly on the revenue from inks, printheads, equipment, software and substrates used in the wide-format printing area. Many of the products produced end up as signs and displays for both interior and outdoor use. Still more wide-format production is for the décor market—including wall coverings, architectural panels, curtains, furnishings, vehicle wrapping and even wrapping of entire buildings. Shrouding is another large market where safety “mesh” netting surrounds a building under construction or renovation, but is printed with graphics that might convey the completed project or the name of the construction company. Such applications are near impossible to replace with all-electronic signage.

Nevertheless, as the world’s most innovative imaging company, Fujifilm has taken a position in the all-electronic digital signage sector with its FujiVISION systems and Signagelive cloud-based software. In Australia, rollouts for major retail chain Harvey Norman and telecom company Vodafone have already happened. So, what is the backstory on this? The differences between all-electronic and printed signage warrant careful analysis.

Digital signage: US$20 billion by 2020?

Few would doubt that digital signage is on the upswing. The evidence is on every freeway, former billboard sites, menu boards inside McDonald’s—even the venerable Sydney Opera House now uses multiple LED screens to advertise upcoming concerts, whereas three years ago they were posters inside glass frames; changed by hand when new concerts were announced.

Research company Markets & Markets estimates that digital signage is increasing at 8.18% CAGR and will reach US$23.7 billion globally by 2020.

Contrasting this with wide-format printing, Markets & Markets also reports that sales of wide-format equipment will reach US$9.17 billion by 2020, indicating a total market of $27.6 billion since industry conventions show this sector is divided approximately by one-third equipment, one-third ink and one-third substrates. CAGR is forecast at 6.69%.

When considering the overall comparison of digital and printed signage markets, keep in mind that digital is up-front capital expenditure heavy in that the “network” of screens and video walls needs to be established before advertising can be streamed to the sites. Some of these sites, particularly outdoor, may require local council or Roads & Traffic approvals. With printed signage, production costs are low but the products must be distributed by trucks, rail or air and then manually positioned by human labour.

So, we have two markets—digital and print signage—both growing at healthy rates serving retail, automotive, healthcare, finance, safety and other industries. How can this be so if digital is “cannibalizing” printed production?

The answer must surely be that it is not. Digital screen-based signage with content delivered via the cloud is a great new medium that offers many advantages to brand managers, retail campaign directors and organizations and it complements printed signs, displays and POP.

Just as we use TV, radio, the internet, mobile devices, cinemas and print media in general, we now have another medium that offers “narrowcasting” of advertising messages that can reach consumers in-store, on-site or outdoors within seconds. Indeed, many POP displays are now featuring an LED screen and a printed, constructed surround to add attractiveness and get away from the “screen/monitor” look. We are surrounded by screens of every size and research shows that many consumers in advanced markets are becoming desensitised to pure monitor-based information.

Screens and monitors require power and they generate heat, are heavy and the initial investment is high when compared to, say, a B1 hanging sign. They are uni-directional unless twinned back-to back. As RGB devices, Pantone and special colours are hard to match and device-to-device colours are often different. On or over roads, the bright colours and moving graphics can be distracting.

Sometimes, static is good

This brings us to another aspect of the comparison between digital and printed signage: static versus moveable display. Some advertising actually benefits from being static. This is because a printed billboard conveys the same brand awareness 24/7 for as long as it is there. When market researchers measure “impacts” (i.e., the number of people who have been exposed to the sign), they can confidently say for example, “1.3 million motorists saw the XYZ sign during March.”

With all-electronic digital billboards, the content changes. The site owner can sell, say, five campaigns to different advertisers so, a motorist passing the billboard at 60kmh may not have seen XYZ company’s message at all. Sure, the sign can be made to be static but that defeats the object of streaming from the cloud, in all but the physical erection of a new sign.

There are other considerations when comparing all-digital and printed signage, such as the rigid nature of monitors and video walls compared with the flexible nature of “soft” signage. POP displays can be engineered into amazing structures that engage consumers and present products in a way that a flat-panel screen cannot. Some materials, such as aluminum composite panels, double-up as structural components as well as graphic displays.

Another powerful channel

But the power of “narrowcasting” digital signs cannot be overlooked as it enables marketers to respond to competitive attacks almost instantly and grab the attention of shoppers where they make most of their buying decisions: in-store.

The contrast is well-explained as far as the trade show market is concerned by Tony Castrigno of New York’s Design Contact, in his article for Exhibitor magazine.

As Castrigno succinctly puts is: “Both mediums have plenty of pluses and minuses. To determine which option is right for you, consider how you intend to use the graphics. Then, given the aforementioned pros and cons, assess your needs and ultimately match the medium to your objectives.”

Fujifilm is a world-leader in both digital and printed signage systems and applications. If you would like to find out more about either FujiVISION/Signagelive or our extensive range of wide-format roll and flatbed print production technologies, please contact us below.

As a sign producer, it may be a good idea to have a foot in both camps!

Ask a Rep - Fujivision

Topics: Digital Signage, Digital

how to make money From wide format printing
Contact a Graphic Systems Representative