by Frank Mallozzi, EFI
Production print has been hot in the last few years. Print in the office has been declining and many BTA dealers have turned to production print for business growth. Manufacturers have focused efforts and delivered digital presses that have helped dealers address this market competitively and profitably. Production print will keep giving growth opportunities for quite some time, and for good reasons.
Commercial printers and in-plants have been turning to digital print devices as demand increases for short run, color and customized print on demand – things that offset isn’t capable of doing. The Smithers Pira report, “The Future of Offset vs Digital Printing to 2018” showed digital printing (toner and inkjet) was 9.8 percent of the 2008 market and was expected to be 20 percent in 2018. That growth includes continuous feed and B2/B3 cut-sheet devices that manufacturers target with their direct sales organizations. However, we expect the same growth, possibly more, in production markets that BTA dealers serve or can serve if they choose.
Here are some other trends that we think bode well for production print and its growth.
Color is king
Color will remain a growing opportunity in production print. We’ve seen manufacturers invest in this by expanding their production color device lines, with some introducing their first color production offerings. Those that have expanded added higher-end, higher-speed devices and lower-cost color production printers. The lower-cost devices have slower throughput speeds but their output is production quality, and they have many of the same features as their higher-end counterparts. Some use the same or similar finishing options and can handle a wide variety of media. For those dealers and print providers who felt they couldn’t afford to get into production color, these lower the investment needed and open additional market opportunities.
Another trend is the use of a fifth toner station, which multiplies what can be done on the final print. Using neon, white or clear toner gives print providers a way to give more “pop” to a print, creating more eye-catching pieces for customers. Printing white toner on silver-colored media, adding a neon color to a black-and-white print, using a clear toner to give the print a classy 3D look, or creating a customized color to exactly match a corporate logo lets the print provider tailor the output for a specific customer. This type of specialization used to have to be done on an offset press.
Digital front ends are going to remain important for delivering high-quality press color management and output. They’re also important in providing the workflow solutions a commercial printer needs to create, print and deliver their product. G7 certification is an emerging requirement to demonstrate the manufacturers’ and print providers’ commitment to quality end color print output.
Inkjet is emerging in this segment of production print. Yet, toner-based machines still reign. In transactional, book printing and direct mail, inkjet continuous feed or inkjet B2/B3 cut sheet is an economical digital process to use. However, right now inkjet lacks the wider media support that toner-based digital presses have, which may limit its use in the production print areas a traditional BTA dealer has access to at this time. With that said, inkjet technology will more than likely find its way into this part of the production print space over the next few years.
Black and white
Black and white may not be as “sexy” as color, but it’s still a viable and valuable part of the production print market. Did you know that InfoTrends estimates the majority of pages (63 percent) produced on cut-sheet production machines are black and white? We know many of those pages are made on color devices, but demand remains for black-and-white prints from production black-and-white devices. Not every print application requires color. For “workhorse” types of applications like manuals, books, reports or high volume utilitarian forms, a black-and-white production printer may be more productive and economical to use. They are much faster than color production printers with some reaching over 300 ipm, so throughput efficiency is extremely high. If a company’s need for invoice and statement printing has been reduced using digital presentment, a black-and-white printer may be all that is needed to print any invoices and statements that still need to be printed. We’ve seen some of the major OEMs introduce new black-and-white production printers just this year, so that tells you there is still demand and opportunity available in that segment.
We see wide format as a continuing opportunity for dealers in production print, offering a growing selection and flexibility for customers. With better image and process controls, high-quality output and a wide variety of media support, the new wide format devices supply print providers with a path to create new products for their customers such as display graphics, signage and banners. Print providers, like BTA dealers, are searching for new products and services that will grow their business. Wide format provides that opportunity to dealers and their customers.
Another growth trend we see is with customers who have been outsourcing their specialty printing. Lower cost entry points and more choice and flexibility in wide format devices let these customers print high-quality, full-color signs, pull-up banners, posters, shelf labels and more on demand. They can now do in-house what was once outsourced. This can give them better control of their costs, turnaround times and content and reduce risks of damage from shipping to better meet the demands of their clients.
Other things we see picking up steam are display, packaging, textile and tile printing. You have to think outside the box and not view these printing applications through an industrial-volume lens. With the rising number of boutique-type businesses such as microbreweries, local wineries, farm-to-table eateries, interior design services, travel services and more, print providers are getting specialty print requests. These requests may be for stand-up displays for retail or events, short-run artistic labels, smaller custom tile jobs, vinyl wall panels or wall-sized logo decals. These applications are needed by the boutiques but not in industrial sized quantities. Print providers are either handling these requests through other vendors or turning away this business entirely. Either way, there’s opportunity for dealers and print providers with wide format.
More than hardware and clicks
To add differentiation and value and move away from the “best price on the hardware and click charge” decision, we’re seeing OEMs increasingly provide programs and applications that dealers can use to help their production customers build their business around the use of production print solutions and services. These can range from print operator training programs to solution selling training including how to assess a print customer’s needs, overall operations, and business financial education.
Print providers know they must also offer marketing services to their customers now. We see cross-media marketing and campaign management continuing to trend upward. The good news is that print is a big part of those cross-media campaigns. The Content Marketing Institute says that about one-third of B2B and B2C marketers use print. The B2B marketers consider print to be the third most important channel only behind email and LinkedIn, while the B2C marketers place it just behind email and Facebook. The personalization of content drives the need for variable data printing (VDP), use of QR codes, personalized URLs (PURLs) and other specialty URLs among many other items. There’s also a need to manage campaigns across platforms. This is an opportunity for BTA dealers to offer services that help print providers with those types of services.
End-to-end production print workflow automation is a topic that needs to be addressed if a dealer wants to become a credible trusted advisor. We believe that the vast majority of commercial printers have automated one or more processes in their print workflow. However, more print providers will want to automate the entire workflow process from web-to-print to fulfillment. There are a number of solutions that are positioned to help them do this. Dealers who take on the investment of time and capital to fill this need will find their relationships with print providers deeper and stronger, making it harder for competitors to unseat the dealer from the account.
The movement of pages from offset to digital platforms is going to continue. Production color keeps growing, and with the introduction of lower-end light production models at affordable price points, the ability for dealers to enter the color production market is more appealing than ever. Yet, there’s still a need for black-and-white production devices. Wide format offers a great opportunity for print providers and dealers to expand their businesses. Cross-marketing campaigns that need to be managed and that require VDP solutions, which are impossible for offset to provide, will keep increasing. Workflow automation solutions, particularly those that provide end-to-end workflow management, bring new ways to add value and services. All these trends point to good times ahead in production print.
This article originally appeared in the April 2018 issue of The Imaging Channel.