Editor's Note: Print's Melting Pot

As I was putting together this issue, the cover story got me thinking about how different the industry has become since I first started working in it. This year marks my 15th year—officially in July—covering the wide-format sign and graphics market. The magazine itself is starting its 20th year in production in one form or another. Sure they're have been some changes—different publishers, parent companies, editors (I'm the third the magazine's had so far), and even a name change. But the consistent message has been about the technology and how our readers can use it to the best of their ability to grow their companies, make smart businesses decisions, and turn a profit.

Back when I started, I still remember a chart IT Strategies had published about the future trends of the market—and how the industry as we knew it would evolve and reinvent itself as time progressed. Since the wide-format print segment of the visual communications market was new, change was certainly anticipated. One of the driving forces of change in the market IT Strategies predicted was the melding of industry segments.

Step back and take a look at the industry segments as they were back in the early days of the wide-format industry. Commercial printers did commercial print work with their great big offset presses. Screen printers had buildings full of huge screen printing equipment, churning out thousands and thousands of printed pieces. Sign shops were either bending neon and metal, creating permanent cement and wood sign structures, or printing small runs of stickers and decals. Reprographers were focused on the AEC markets, providing sets of blueprints to contractors and architects alike. Everyone did what they were expected to do.

But then things changed. Wide-format digital printing equipment entered the mix and PSPs discovered they had a new revenue stream and a new way of doing things.

Tick forward twenty years and where do we stand? Applications that may have been the core business for label, package, and commercial printers can now be produced on digital equipment. Projects once thought of in terms of thousands of impressions produced on analog equipment is not being produced in short runs on high-speed digital presses—and they've added variable information into the mix, too. In some cases, digital wide-format equipment has been brought in, as well.

Look at packaging as a perfect example. Wide-format inkjet is the name of the game. It is obviously true that packaging, unlike the rest of the print industry, has no suitable electronic alternative. As the market moves to short runs and variable content, opportunities for savvy PSPs grow. This shift from analog to digital is making packaging more popular among large-format graphics providers. Many die-cut folding carton and corrugated boxes can’t be done digitally without a larger size format.

Where will the next twenty years take us? I don't know, but I sure hope to be here to find out.