With less than six months until the doors of the world’s biggest printing industry trade fair opens—drupa in Düsseldorf, Germany from May 31 to June 10—organisers have already started exploring new areas where print and related businesses might discover fresh opportunities to make money from printing, as traditional four-colour on paper markets begin to soften and dwindle.
Perhaps no other industry has had to adapt to technology shifts for so long as the printing and graphics industry. The trend began more than 30 years ago with the introduction of the Apple Macintosh and PC computers, the LaserWriter and publishing programmes such as PageMaker, Quark and later, InDesign. Suddenly, everyone could be a publisher of sorts and in 1985 the term “Desktop Publishing” was coined by Paul Brainerd, founder of Aldus (now part of Adobe).
Since then, printers have been in an ever-accelerating warp-factor overdrive of keeping up with emerging technologies to do what they already do, plus a quest for new ways to profit from graphic disciplines. In this quest, the drupa (German portmanteau for “druck und papier”—print and paper) trade fair has charted the changes, reflected new dynamics of where printing fits in an increasingly online world and attempted to inform printers worldwide of what to expect next.
One thing that has emerged from recent research is that there are many “hidden” print market sectors, where printing most assuredly takes place, but the participants barely know they are in the printing/graphics industry. Furthermore, many printers won’t even address these markets; adhering to long-defunct definitions of segmented specialist areas. “I’m a web offset printer,” or, “Oh, that’s like screen printing, slow and small dollars,” or, “We are not a photofinishing lab so why should we do photobooks?” Even this: “Labels? Not for us, we are sheet-fed offset.” Even worse: “Print 100 mouse mats? You’ve got to be kidding!”
As they bemoan that “business isn’t what it used to be,” they pay scant attention to change and new directions that offer to make business what it will be in the future—alive and successful.
Discovering new hidden print markets requires 360-degree vision and courage. Who, for example, would have expected news from the world’s largest print and paper trade fair saying, “Conductive inks are a critical component in printed electronics, with unique properties required for inkjet and other printing processes. PVNanoCell (an Israeli company) was initially focused on the photovoltaic (PV) market, developing its Sicrys portfolio of single-crystal nanometric conductive nano silver and copper inks for inkjet printing on flexible substrates. Now, the company has branched out into a wide range of end uses, including sensors, RFID, touchscreens and printed circuit boards and 3D printing.”
Yes, inks can be conductive and that means that printed electronics, solar panels and flexible functional screens can be printed. At drupa, visitors also will see how deeply the printing world is addressing 3-D printing for components, prototyping and even body parts. Functional printing, as drupa calls it, is a growth area where the application of inks, films and nano-substances can be made onto an increasingly wide variety of materials—or even be the materials themselves.
Printing on anything
Printing is commonly linked to paper but paper as a substrate for carrying printed graphics is actually decreasing in consumption while other materials are increasing. In the wide format inkjet UV sector, vinyls, polypropylenes and polyethylenes are popular in both rigid and roll formats. Fabrics and textiles are also on the rise and, while these may have a cotton base, they are often combined with polyester or 100% spun polyester.
Many products today are printed directly with inkjet rather than having transfers applied. Everything including mugs, mouse mats, keyings, *iPhone covers, luggage, pens, ceramic tiles and even soccer balls can be decorated.
Using edible inks, a niche inkjet market has even developed for birthday cakes decorated with a photograph of the subject.
Yet another example is industrial print, in which the printing is secondary to the main product. Examples are mattress covers, cushions, other fabrics, decorated guitar cases, wallpapers, window safety graphics, flooring, doors and so forth. Mostly using flatbed UV printers, industrial printing can be so hidden that an everyday printer may not even know that a neighbour in the same area is printing high-quality decorative products and making better profits doing so!
The best way to find these and other hidden printing markets is to use the Internet and social media to access millions of prospective customers. This will require an interactive Web-to-print strategy and internal workflow that automates at every turn: The fewer human hands that touch a job, the better the profits.
Fujifilm XMF version 6 workflow is such a system; powerful, versatile and able to connect with all devices. Fujifilm also have a wide range of inkjet printer solutions for most applications.
At drupa next May and June, Fujifilm’s main exhibit is a large area in Hall 8b (it has another stand in Hall 1 to support partner company Heidelberg). It could well be the visit that uncovers hidden print markets for your business!
* Iphone is a trademark of Apple INC., registered in the U.S and other countries