With Costs Falling as Digital Technologies Achieve Near Off-Set Quality, More Print Buyers Begin to Take Advantage of Opportunities Across the High End
As we come to the close of another year, it’s natural to start thinking about, and making plans for, the next one. The year 2016 has been tumultuous for many reasons—prominent and unexpected deaths, a heated election that our country is still deeply divided over, increasing racial and class tensions, just to name a few disruptions. So heading into 2017, the uncertainty around where business will go next is understandably higher than usual.
But with all the questions, debates, and fears, there is also hope, especially right here in our industry.
Production print, in particular, is poised to continue the incredible surge it is currently experiencing. Digital technologies have reached a point where the quality is nearly indistinguishable from offset, and with costs falling as the quality rises, more printers of all stripes are making investments. And more print buyers are starting to take advantage of the creativity and innovation these technologies allow.
Substrates is one area that 2017 will strongly push forward. One of the reasons print buyers will still choose offset is the sheer breadth of options when it comes to the substrate choice. But press manufacturers and paper mills have been steadily increasing the range available for digital equipment, with a combination of coatings, new inks, and print heads, and new ways to treat the papers.
And it’s not just paper, either. Flatbed printers have been experimenting with printing on objects of all sorts from doors and windows to metals, to plastics. We’ve already seen previews of new direct-to-object printers, which open opportunities up to even more unusual substrates—such as cans and bottles.
While there have been some successes and failures, expect 2017 to continue to see more innovation on the substrate front overall. There will come a time in the not-so-distant future when literally anything can be printed on—and that creates a wide range of exciting possibilities.
And speaking of printing on some unusual surfaces, industrial print is another massive trend that will only continue to pick up steam in 2017. The term “industrial print” refers to a range of printing for everything from wallpapers to fabrics for couches or chairs.
Industrial print is a category with nearly limitless possibilities. Look around your office or your home—every object, every surface is a target for some kind of print. This segment is still in its infancy, and the applications tend to be more proof-of-concept installations than real-world projects, but it’s only a matter of time until this market heats up, and 2017 may be poised to be that time.
The Dealer Opportunity
Sure, the production print market is lined up for growth in many surprising areas in 2017, but what does that mean for the dealer channel?
First and foremost, the trend of consolidation will absolutely continue in the new year. And not just consolidation within the market, but the consolidation of types of printers. Traditional offset shops are buying digital shops, and digital shops are buying wide-format shops. No one is off limits right now, and that will continue for the foreseeable future.
Dealers will need to continue to find ways to be relevant with these increasingly diverse mixed-print operations. Just like the print buyers, these shops are starting to look for more than just vendors. They want partners who can help them grow their businesses. Dealers are specifically looking for experts they can turn to for advice on ways to maximize the equipment they already own, and suggest opportunities they could explore with new investments. Dealers who position themselves as more than just hardware providers and servicers have a real opportunity to not only capture more business, but also to get in deeper with the shops they work with.
But there is an opportunity on the hardware side as well. As more shops look to expand their product offerings into the production print side of the business, they will likely look first to their dealers for suggestions on equipment to invest in. Dealers who expand their offerings to include these machines—digital presses, wide-format inkjet, even flatbed equipment—can continue to be the one-stop-shop for printers who are used to having one source to deal with, and who don’t want to start having to deal with multiple vendors every time they want to get something serviced.
In addition, there is also the opportunity to expand post-press offerings. Smaller format equipment often has the finishing built in, from stapling to collating to folding. But production print equipment often has those functions as separate pieces, even when they are run inline. (Here’s a quick primer for those in our audience who may not be familiar with the terminology—inline finishing is attached directly to the printer, and the jobs are fed directly into it without operator intervention. Near-line or off-line finishing are completely separate, and they require an operator to physically move the job from the press to the post-press machines.)
For dealers looking to expand into the production print market, offering post-press equipment alongside the printers themselves further increases their value-added proposition to the shops they work with. It is also a great way to work in a more consultative approach after a printer has purchased a specific machine. This creates an opportunity to talk to them about the finishing options and explain the different types of work, instantly making you a knowledgeable expert in their eyes.
There is a lot to look forward to in 2017, with opportunities for print shops and dealers across the industry spectrum. Be open to exploring new markets and ideas, and be ready to offer expert advice, and the next 12 months offer the potential for record opportunity and record profits.