‘The Real Potential of Printing Beckons Us’

The printing industry has come a long way over the past few years, undergoing radical changes for the first time in a long time.

PCQ Bureau
New Update
printing industry

- Minoru Usui, President, Seiko Epson

The printing industry has come a long way over the past few years, undergoing radical changes for the first time in a long time. These changes have introduced new possibilities across a wide range of industries; and this is set to continue. As a whole, the global printing industry is predicted to be worth $980 billion by 2018, driven primarily by growth in packaging and labels.

Further, with 3D printing becoming an increasingly talked about technology and expected to become a $16.2 billion industry by 2018, printing overall is beginning to outshine its original ‘purpose’ and is blossoming into a vehicle with overwhelming potential.

A significant driver of this evolution is inkjet technology. Inkjet technology is enabling a shift from analogue to digital, which is altering commercial print industry processes – those that have largely remained unaltered for many decades. This technology is shifting the production landscape, allowing for cheaper, faster and easier applications, along with shorter lead-times and print runs as well as greater flexibility and the opportunity for personalization.

According to INPRINT 2014 Show Report and Market Analysis, 39 per cent of businesses identify inkjet printing as the dominant form of single print technology for the future, followed by a combined use of technologies, 3D printing and screen printing.

While there are many inkjet technologies available, Micro Piezo is gaining popularity– a technology by which an electric current is applied to a ceramic element, ejecting ink from the print head. This technology offers greater flexibility than other inkjet technologies (such as thermal printing technology which heats ink until it bubbles in order to eject it) as there are few limitations to the liquid that can be printed with or the materials that can be printed on.

And while 3D printing has immense potential but the the majority of consumers, office spaces and commercial applications remains, for the most part, in two dimensional printing innovations.

The industrial world

The growth of industrial print is happening in parallel to changing consumer demand and an increased desire for personalized products. This particular trend is creating the need for businesses to look for ways to be much more versatile within their production process. And there is a clear business case to do so. A recent Bain survey demonstrated that out of 1,000 online shoppers, 25-30 per cent would be interested in creating customized products and are in fact willing to pay up to 20 per cent more for them, an option that not only helps improve brand loyalty but offers a competitive advantage. The packaging industry, one that’s set to grow to reach sales of over 1 trillion US dollars by 2018, is similarly fostering new opportunities for greater creativity and innovation. Lower cost and shorter run label solutions offered by inkjet technology are allowing for more bespoke solutions for both commoditized, volume products and for artisan or cottage industry goods. Not only do these solutions allow for an element of individuality, they also help reduce costs and waste, as well as allow converters to respond more quickly to changing demands.

The textiles industry is also reacting to and meeting consumer demands for individualized and personalized goods. Thanks to developments in printing technology it has been made possible for some of the smaller players to grasp the opportunity too. Products such as our SureColour direct-to-garment and F-Series dye-sub printers are examples that are capable of producing one-off prints in a cost-effective way. One company that has seen particular success with this business model is UK-based YR Store, which has launched pop-up shops within Selfridges, Liberty and Topman in London, offering customers the chance to design their own personalized t-shirts. YR Store’s Tim Williams believes “the future of fashion is in carefully curated live garment creation.”

Within the wider textile industry, inkjet technology is aiding the resurgence of printed textiles.

Digital printing on fabric has steadily gained importance since the 2000s, reaching 420 million square metres (sqm) in 2013. Growing at an annual rate of 25 per cent this is predicted to be over one billion sqm by 2017. The textile industry is booming. In 2013 alone, it was worth $1 trillion, with printed textiles making up 16 per cent of this. Inkjet technology is providing on-demand flexibility that traditional analogue print can’t, as well as superior design flexibility, higher quality output and production flexibility. Because of this, digital inkjet print is rapidly being accepted by the market and growing at over 10 per cent year on year.

For the Como district of North Italy, famous all over the world for extremely high-quality printing on silk (including production for all the major high-fashion brands), the upgrade to digital printing has already been realized. Spurred on by the desire to stem the production-drain to the Far East and conscious of the need to focus on creativity, the Como district took the initiative to invest in cutting-edge digital printing technologies and now uses a large number of digital printing systems. Digital textile printing in the region grew from 2 per cent of total production in 2003 to 58 per cent by 2013 and is predicted to reach 81 per cent by 2017. This means that 8 sqm out of every 10 sqm – that’s 80 per cent – of all fabrics will be digitally printed.

Enabling entrepreneurs and high-street businesses

In-house print capabilities used to only be a reality for more large-scale operations but today, new print technologies and solutions have enabled new business opportunities for the small- to medium-sized business too. To smaller businesses this means removing the need to outsource to highly skilled operators and being able to service growing consumer demands, such as the requirement for personalization. Smaller high street retailers such as digital photo labs and copy shops can now bring print equipment to the shop floor, offering an extended range of products cost effectively, with ease and on a wide range of media such as textiles, t-shirts, wall coverings and greeting cards.

At the same time, new players are able to enter the market at relatively low cost, offering bespoke solutions and on-demand print jobs across multiple media.

For designers and other creative service business owners who were previously limited by long lead times or unable to produce small print jobs due to cost implications, inkjet printing has enabled better cost efficiencies, increased innovation, enhanced speed from ‘paper to print’ and elevated creative possibilities. The risks associated with making a design mistake are dramatically reduced as the cost of printing is lower, allowing creative juices to flow more freely.

Inkjet technologies also enable printing to take place on a range of other applications such as ceramic, glass, wood, plastic and laminate.

Streamlining the office place

But it’s not only within the commercial print industries where inkjet printing is changing the norm.

There is a shift away from the traditional laser printer, with businesses increasingly looking to benefit from the improved efficiencies, cost reductions and cleaner processes that inkjet technology can offer; as well as an average 80 per cent reduction in power consumption.

The RIPS (Replaceable Ink Pack System) products are gaining traction and can deliver up to 75,000 pages of uninterrupted print, without the need for a consumables change, and look to challenge the previously accepted centralized print model within the office by offering the convenience benefits of a localized printer fleet, but with the predictable costs of a centralized model.

They are also designed to address the impact of printer downtime and maintenance issues within the workplace. Right down to the individual and within home printing, new technologies are transforming the way we print. In line with the aforementioned RIPS technology, the EcoTank is a new printing model that combines affordability, convenience, quality and reliability, as well as up to two years’ worth of printing without ever needing to replace an ink cartridge.

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Predictions for 2016

1. Inkjet printing to remain dominant form of single print technology for the future

2. 3D printing expected to become a $16.2 billion industry by 2018

3. According to IDC the inkjet will account for 25 per cent of the total business printer market by 2017