Upward and Onward
The biggest trend of all, of course, is that as customers continue to develop new ideas, manufacturers continue to respond. This holds true now and will continue into the future. Faster, more efficient, digital, and more eco-friendly products are on the way.
“We see a strong demand for high speed and efficient textile printing as a direction that our customers will be going,” said Durst’s Howard. “The growth in the textile printing market is predicted to be quite strong in the US over the next several years.” He also sees the trend for longer-run length production being done on digital platforms as an area of growth for customers as well.
HP’s Knox agreed that a major and ongoing industry theme will continue to be the transition of analog to digital output. “Agencies and customers continue to demand shorter run lengths, increased turn-around times and, more recently, versioning, and variable data,” he said. “In addition, as margins continue to be compressed, finding efficiencies in workflow and labor costs will continue to drive PSPs toward digital solutions.” Knox said the overwhelming majority of the company’s HP Scitex FB7500 and TurboJet placements have been with screen and commercial print accounts where they have either redirected existing work or captured significant new volume on work that was traditionally printed on analog technologies. “In fact, a number of these accounts have either installed or are in the process of installing their second or third high-end digital press,” he reported.
EFI-VUTEk’s Wozny is another who anticipates the grand-format printer market taking over the analog equipment market. “Recent shifts in business have expedited this change,” he said. “Dollars spent by end users buying output off grand-format printers is highly scrutinized and grand-format digital printing delivers better economic returns than analog equipment.”
We will also continue to see an increase in the quality and speed of grand-format printers, according to Fujifilm’s Nelson. “The size and scope of work will continue to increase,” he said. “Next, I think printers will continue to look for ways to produce more for less, and grand-format equipment lends itself to this demand. Cost per square foot is less on a grand-format printer than a wide-format printer.”
As mentioned, grand-format is being affected like all other markets by the downturn in the economy, and the reluctance of financial institutions to write leases for equipment. Within this long-term event, Seiko’s Ryan believes grand-format continues to divide into two distinct sub-segments: solvent (vehicle graphics, outdoor banners, billboards) and UV (rigid substrates, and indoor/outdoor roll goods). “Dye-sub and latex are trying to get a foothold in the market, but whether they are going to be successful or not is unknown,” he said. “But we see continued evolution toward greener inks and substrates as the main direction of the market.”
Agfa’s White suspects that the grand-format printers of the future will be faster, allowing users to be even more productive and these systems will also be able to handle newer and innovative types of media and will use eco-friendlier inks with improved chemical properties that will increase longevity even under harsh conditions. He also feels developments and improvements in print-head technology will likely have a positive effect on the systems of the future. “Flexible UV inks are also very important and will provide the means to get into additional applications and offering greater latitude in finishing or post-production processes,” he said. “Overall, it’s an exciting time for grand-format users.”