Sarit Tichon, Senior Vice President of Worldwide Sales at SAi, offers her opinion on the various challenges and opportunities faced by today’s sign making companies and large format print businesses.
HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE THE STATE OF THE SIGN AND DISPLAY AND WIDE FORMAT PRINTING MARKETS TODAY?
The market feels like we’ve gone back to a growth scenario, and printers and suppliers are facing the new conditions and demands of the post-Great Recession world. There is more optimism than there has been for a while; there are also some major changes that successful sign and display printers should pay attention to, and new strategies are needed for success. Niche markets are growing, and new attitudes and technologies are making a real impact.
TELL US MORE ABOUT THE MAJOR CHANGES THAT YOU THINK SIGN AND DISPLAY PRINTERS SHOULD PAY ATTENTION TO.
One is that green issues are moving up the agenda for brands, governments and printers. In Europe, these issues have been part of the scene for some time, but now, in the vast markets of the US and China, concerns for the environment are becoming a major factor. The environmental impact of print production is affecting the decisions of sign and display and large format print buyers, and also affecting sales of new printing equipment. Also, HP’s increasing focus on the sign market with its HP Latex 300 printer series–featuring SAi Flexi RIPs–is changing the landscape.
As a result, we are seeing the rise of UV-curable, latex and other printer technologies, with a consequent decline in solvent printing. This is one of the trends that sign and display printers should watch closely when investing in new equipment.
WHAT DO YOU MAKE OF THE SUGGESTION THAT TRADITIONAL SIGN MAKING IS DEAD?
At SAi, we have access to customer data that currently covers some 21 million jobs worldwide, and that’s growing by two million each month. While it might surprise some, we have learned that 56% of all jobs still involve vinyl cutting. This shows that after 20 years, digital printing is adding to the overall sign and display market, and not replacing traditional methods on anything like the scale anticipated. There are many characteristics about vinyl that end-users like, ranging from the depth of colour, to weather and abrasion resistance. A lot of signage is still simple lettering; letter cutting is fast and pieces are easily mounted. Also, no printers are needed and there are no ink costs.
WHAT ABOUT DIGITAL SCREENS FOR SIGN AND DISPLAY APPLICATIONS? IS THAT A THREAT?
Digital screens are most effective where they provide information that changes. In certain markets, they can be found everywhere: in supermarkets, subways, airports, train stations, shopping malls and sports venues. Traditional signs remain the best and most cost-effective solution for information that does not change. Again, I think it’s a case of being a supplemental technology, not a replacement one.
It’s not uncommon to see a digital screen surrounded with traditionally printed signage. This is a great way to provide static information while providing current and changing messages. It’s a powerful combination and I think we’ll see more of it.
DO YOU SEE OTHER AREAS WHERE THERE IS PARTICULAR GROWTH?
Non-traditional areas for large format printing are growing rapidly. Changes in business strategies as a result of the economic downturn; innovations in technology, and new marketing trends are driving the growth of non-traditional markets.
Systems are being developed for areas like textile, ceramic and glass printing. In China and other parts of Asia, textile printing represents 5-10% of the jobs we see printed by our customers. Much of this is soft signage, but in South America, for example, we are seeing apparel printing becoming a major component of the total work.
Other growth areas are in labels and packaging related applications where customers are looking for fewer suppliers while at the same time, large format printers are looking for new revenue streams and ways of doing more work for their existing customers.
HOW DOES SIGN-MAKING ALIGN AGAINST COMPETITIVE PROCESSES?
Apart from those processes discussed above, the enormous interest in 3D printing (additive manufacturing) has given rise to predictions that there will be a surge in manufacturing carried out by consumers. Personally, I see its real future more in smaller volume, more local manufacturing. With this I see a rising demand for packaging for these 3D-printed products. That need will be for smaller volumes of packaging, often designed specifically for short runs of products.
This is where there is a great opportunity for SAi’s customers to move into short-run or custom packaging. As such, we hope to announce a packaging-focused software solution within a year, enabling the design and imposition of folding cartons to meet this new requirement at a cost that makes sense for the supplier and printer.
WHAT DO YOU SEE THE FUTURE HOLDING FOR SIGN AND DISPLAY PRINTERS IN THE NEXT FIVE YEARS?
I think we’re already seeing a transformation of sign and display printing as suppliers offer more all-in-one solutions. Avery-Dennison’s TrafficJet™ Print System for retroreflective road and industrial signage is a good example. It’s a complete solution including substrate, inks, software and printer. HP’s wallcovering solution is another good example, bringing together latex ink, substrates, software and printers. I expect to see similar solutions for textiles, ceramics and glass, too.
While the future of sign-making looks good, it will be the sign-makers who differentiate themselves by establishing a reputation for providing at least one specialist peripheral application that will be the most successful.
At SAi, we’re confident about the future of the markets we serve: sign and display, large format, and our routing software business. While these markets are growing and full of exciting potential, the need to add value and differentiate is key to everyone’s success.
This article appears in the Practical Sign & Digital Graphics magazine.