Editor's Note: In part two of the 2010 State of the Industry Report, we'll focus on the future of the market, including: the top growth markets, what technology will drive change forward, and where we see ourselves in one year's time. You can find part one of the 2010 State of the Industry Report in the October 2010 issue of Wide-Format Imaging which covered the current state of the wide- and grand-format industry and addresses the biggest challenges in the industry today.
As outlined in Part One of this two-part series, while the wide-format industry has not been immune to the economic factors that have caused so many challenges in the market over the past 12 to 24 months, many industry experts believe that the worst is behind us. According to InfoTrends' director of wide format, Tim Greene, "Conditions are improving, but I would definitely say any existent overall wide-format graphics market recovery is fragile."
While caution seems to be the operating mode everyone is working under, many experts also believe that there is a great deal of potential—and technological expertise—that will help to get the market back on its feet and drive it forward.
Advances in ink technology, printer technology, as well as a focus on workflow / automation solutions and green technologies are key areas where experts see real opportunities for the market to expand.
"From a printing standpoint, in the past the wide-format market has taken huge leaps and bounds when new ink formulations have come to the market, whether it is pigmented water-based inks, solvent and eco-solvent inks, UV-curable inkjet inks," said InfoTrends' Greene. But it's more than just ink—at least as far as he's concerned. And other experts agree. Ink and substrate compatibility as well as new substrate options will have a huge impact on the market.
"Most of the innovations will stem from improvements in ink/substrate interaction. Notably as companies which make their own inks including EFI/Vutek and Agfa are making strong advances on UV-curable inkjet inks. HP has introduced its Latex inks which have been well received in the market. We expect others will follow with similar innovations," said Marco Boer, vice president, I.T. Strategies.
As Boer noted, HP's Latex ink technology has proved to be a driving force of change in the durable aqueous inkjet market. "I see major innovations coming by way of new inks," said Michael A. Andreottola, president and CEO, American Ink Jet Corporation. "I totally love the HP Latex inks. You can print on virtually any substrate and there are no serious volatiles emitted. I think that we still have a way to go on the so called ECO-inks as I see them being developed from derivatives of other organics rather than corn or soy. I believe that in order to be classified as a true Eco ink that this is what is needed. Is it possible? Time will tell."
"Aqueous durable (latex) is also interesting and is projected to increase rapidly at the expense of low- and eco-solvent as well as aqueous technologies," said Sal Sheikh, vice president, marketing, Océ North America. "The energy required to dry latex inks today is a major factor in limiting this technology today."
"The technology that will likely continue to evolve the fastest, and provide the biggest leap in innovation is pigmented ink. The market wants high performance inks with greener characteristics, but does not want to give up the key market requirements of color, glossiness, light-fastness, dry-time, cost, or adhesion," said Patrick Ryan, general manager, Seiko Instruments USA. "As we have seen in the marketplace as new technologies evolve, each step forward on the green front comes with a sacrifice. Both UV and Latex style inks have made some in-roads into the solvent-dominated outdoor graphics market, but the weaknesses of both types of inks leave the market still searching for a better alternative. So the opportunities to engineer new types of inks is where the greatest innovations will be during the next five years. Printers and substrates will continue to evolve, but ink is where the action is."