Wide-Format Roadmap 2018, Predictions for the Wide-Format Market
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Wide-Format Roadmap 2018, Predictions for the Wide-Format Market

Wide-format printing has been for decades the mainstay of printing high-quality digital output in several key industry segments, including photography, office color, technical printing and especially in sign and display. This versatile printing technology has now widened its reach.

By Steve Urmano, Director, InfoTrends, a division of Keypoint Intelligence

A range of new opportunities became available for equipment manufacturers, as well as ink and media suppliers. This has been evident on both the sell and buy side and is illustrated by the wide-format industry trade shows.

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  • Wide-format is pushing past its original sign and graphic boundaries and is now embracing décor surfaces such as textiles, panels, glass, packaging and a range of emerging industrial applications. Many of these developments are driven by new material developments in ink, media and printer technologies

    Print service providers (PSPs) offering wide-format printing services are now engaged in offering new additional services such as garment printing, ad specialty and other decorative products. The commercial printing industry and franchise printing companies are also embracing and offering these services, creating dynamic tension with the early wide-format digital printers.

    These PSPs are successfully integrating state-of-the art printing technology with workflow enablement tools such as electronic job submission. Websites are being optimized for shopping using tablet computers and smartphones.

    2017 Year in Review
    The 2016-2021 Keypoint Intelligence InfoTrends Wide-Format Forecast is signaling a slowdown in hardware placements. This is an indicator of market maturity as well as the continued improvement in productivity and is reflected in the continued growth in media and ink sales. Wide-format UV-curable, dye sublimation, latex and new aqueous durables continue to make textile-related printing a key growth area. Exhibit graphics and décor applications are key growth drivers.

    Multi-Client Wide-Format Study: Looking for BIG Opportunity in Graphic Communications and Specialty Printing
    The following are some of the insights obtained by our recently released multi-client study, which is available from Keypoint Intelligence.

    Demand and Profitability
    Wide-format printing is a growth market! The share of surveyed firms reporting volume increases outnumbered those reporting decreases by 17 to one.

    Top industries that purchase wide-format include retail, advertising, education, real estate and construction.

    Application Purchasing
    The most popular traditional wide-format products include banners, vehicle graphics, signs, window graphics and backlit displays.

    Newer applications include wallpaper, soft signage, industrial products, floor graphics and apparel.

    Operations Trends
    Three-quarters of respondents report increasing demand for short turnaround; the majority require production in less than 24 hours.

    Many respondents are outsourcing to meet expanding customer demands; the most commonly outsourced applications include flags, billboards and ad specialty items.

    Social media is an important venue for promoting and expanding wide-format business opportunities.

    Investment Plans
    Respondents most commonly plan to purchase UV-curable flatbed, latex, eco-solvent and aqueous printers.

    Wide-Format Volumes Are Increasing
    UV roll-to-roll and flatbed devices had the highest monthly volume output, often two to five times greater than most other devices.

    Over 75% of Wide-Format Output Is Produced on Flexible Media.
    Commercial printers and ad specialty providers most commonly used paper and banner vinyl.

    There were several industry advancements in 2017 - let us review some of the trends that advanced the industry:

    Continued Expansion of UV-Curable Printing
    Keypoint Intelligence's Wide-Format Tracker and annual forecast research indicate continued growth in the 2016-2021 forecast period, 7.5% compound annual growth rate (CAGR) for UV and LED UV wide-format printers. The key drivers of this growth are personalization and product versioning, which are part of the overall mass-customization trend. Ad specialty as well as point of purchase (POP) and packaging become part of the mix application with approximately 40% of PSPs indicating the market is still growing.

    AEC Technical Production and Reprographic, once considered a discreet segment, is now merging towards graphic production.

    Growth in Latex Printing
    Aqueous durable inks (latex) continue to penetrate the dye and pigment segment while further offsetting solvent sales in North America and Europe. Growth in placements is proven out by the acceptance from PSPs and sign shops. According to the 2017 Keypoint Intelligence Wide-Format Forecast, latex placements grew approximately 6% while print volume is forecasted to grow to 6.5%. While this trajectory has slowed significantly due to market penetration, it is still a 2017 market leader when compared with -2.5% solvent market placement growth.

    Latex continues its lead position in hardware sales, displacing a large aqueous and solvent market segment, although we started to see a slowdown due to market saturation in the below 1.6-meter (64-inch) durable printer segment. Even though sales numbers were impressive in this segment, overall market segment is basically flat when you factor in the market erosion of aqueous and solvent wide-format printers. The slowdown in sales is mostly due to the maturity of aqueous and solvent technologies, where various surveys have shown roughly three printers owned by most shops with this category, making this a replacement market.

    Dye Sublimation and Pigments
    We predicted that early 2014 would be big for dye sublimation. Well, it is best to say that 2017 was another big year for dye sublimation, with placement growth of 4.2% CAGR based on the Keypoint Intelligence Wide-Format Forecast. Larger and faster machines continue to enter the market from vendors like Durst, EFI, MS Italy and Reggiani. While it was expected in 2016 that new pigment type inks would eventually hit the market, it still did not happen in 2017. While pigment inks for DTG (direct-to-garment) did appear from Kornit, they are still slow in entering the general textile decorating market place.

    Developments in Soft Signage
    Sublimation print volume is forecasted to grow in 2016-2021 at 9% CAGR. Latex's 10% and UV's 12% CAGRs continue growing as flex ink addresses the exhibit and sign graphic soft signage applications with greater outdoor durability. Soft signage is evolving due to new capabilities of printing technologies. Today, soft signage solutions are available for UV, latex and sublimation printing technologies. Flexible and lighter substrates are used for backlit banners, flags and a range of other applications. These provide several options to PSPs who are looking to migrate from solvent into other environmentally friendly ink sets as well as new innovative substrates.

    Promotion in the Wide-Format Market
    The two largest sign graphic/industrial graphic shows in the United States are the SGIA Expo and ISA International Sign Expo. SGIA has announced that, starting in 2019, the SGIA Expo will become PRINT United, a joint venture with NAPCO Media, an industry publisher. The new event, which will launch in Dallas in October 2019, will feature a newly expanded format to include packaging printing technologies.

    This new PRINT United format will totally change the US wide-format market trade show landscape, which saw a division in markets between commercial and wide-format printing by Graph Expo/Print in Chicago. PRINT United is tasked with bringing these two segments together under one roof.

    The 2017 Road Map had 10 predictions. Some of these predictions proved to be on target, while others did not. Below, we will focus on some of the top predictions.

    While mergers and acquisitions may have slowed, the wide-format printing market continues to show signs of maturity with the general slowdown in wide-format printer placements.

    Single-Pass Wide-Format Printing
    For the past several years we have been tracking the single-pass wide-format market progress. HP has seen considerable movement in its XL Series 8500 and 4500 and the newly released 5000 in 2017. It is important to note that single-pass printing is appearing across the whole wide-format printer industry and the high-end industrial products have embraced this technology. HP has reported that more than 5,000 HP PageWide XL Series single-pass printers have been sold. Keypoint Intelligence's 2016-2021 Wide-Format Forecast has discerned that a significant portion is being used in graphics applications such as posters and indoor and temporary signage applications.

    Memjet-based wide-format printer sales were still slow in selling. Keypoint Intelligence believes it is largely ink-related, as more durable inks have been slow in coming. Potential remains for this and other page-wide inkjet printers as well as for wide-format printing. This is due to the technology proliferating in the fabric graphics and high-end UV products entering the marketplace. Memjet had announced its new platform based on the DuraLink printhead in 2017 as well as new pigmented ink to meet the market demands. We expect to see this technology integrated into a range of printing solutions during 2018.

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    Predictions/Trends for 2018

    Wide-format printer technologies compete for share.

    Wide-format printer sales factoring all printer technologies is essentially flat. While there are pockets of growth in latex and UV, the wide-format unit placements have slowed considerably due to market saturation. Many developed regions are in a replacement market condition, which requires heavy discounting and rebates to retire older units. We do not see this improving even though newer, more capable durable printer technologies such as single-pass, LED UV and latex continue to grow.

    Copier segment players expand reseller network into volume production units.

    Ricoh takes a page out of Canon's playbook by expanding its wide-format product offerings into higher volume segments. The recent reseller arrangement with EFI offers both companies a winning strategy. Complexity of the full system sales approach and the value-added process has put pressure on the low-end graphic sign dealers. Dealers that sell the lower end are finding the market moving upward, whereas the more sophisticated value-added dealer has the edge in cultivating larger system sales. Support requirements for PSPs entering into wide-format volume production increase along with their hardware investments.

    The size and throughput of wide-format printer products have been increasing unit volumes and further putting pressure on the commodity, lower-volume machines. Many grand-format solvent roll printers have now switched to LED UV technology. UV and LED UV printers in flatbed and hybrid forms have both a higher price tag and discount dealer participation is limited due to factors based on end user higher demands for service response times.

    System training and the growth of finishing in the "Total Product Solution" sale and support model favor the direct model. The demand of the spread of the channel footprint continues to be felt where the once separate copier dealers are eyeing the wide-format high ticket offerings and consumable sales to augment and consolidate. The copier channel is expanding to fill in the gap.

    Small-format UV tabletop printers broaden ad specialty/personalization applications.

    Last year we reported on the diverse, smaller platform LED UV narrow-format printers - how they are creating a new classification and augmenting existing wide-format shops. Personalized product portfolios that are run on relatively inexpensive small UV tabletop and some larger flatbeds fit with jigs are interfaced to print on a wide range of items from golf balls to tablet/smartphone cases, and various other items. Larger flatbed UV printers can run even larger materials like sheets of plywood, cardboard, and any other material that will fit on the print bed.

    The ad specialty area blends nicely with the local silkscreen trophy shops. This runs somewhat parallel to the experience of finding engravers to personalize a myriad of items, but this time adding photo-realistic personalized decoration. Vendors like Mimaki and Roland DG are also augmenting their printing offerings with additive 3D printers, contour cutters, engraving and milling machines that are adding to the capabilities of this category.

    Ultra-large-scale 3D printing vendor includes super-sizing to capture customers' attention.

    Massivit is beginning to make strides in its "Larger than Life" 3D imagery. Different surface preparations can create stunning results reminiscent of early roadside imagery for "tourist traps." The Massivit 1800 3D printer can print larger-than-life objects with accurate scale and visual appeal for increased customer engagement. During the 2017 SGIA Expo, the company displayed two large-scale 1.3-meter (4.27-feet) busts that welcomed visitors to its booth. During live, in-booth demonstrations, the large 3D printer produced speeds of up to 35 centimeters (13.7 inches) per hour. Using dual printheads, this device can produce two individual models simultaneously, boosting workflow efficiency and providing greater productivity.

    For owners of wide-format print and sign businesses, this enables extended application capabilities, competitive differentiation and the ability to expand into new markets. Enterprising sign graphics companies offering this 3D printed deliverable note that additional services as well as finishing and painting are required to make the final deliverable.

    Material science advances as media and ink trend continues.
    Textile media growth from wind feather flag to front and backlit media now mimic the performance of translucent films. Textile media vendors have expanded, and many types of media, including canvas, backlit and frontlit polyester, linen, felt floor mats and even carpeting, are available for digital printing.

    Specialty media growth - from window clings to floor graphics, metallic foils and adhesive labels - all are part of the arsenal of the digital print shop. We expect these multiple media trends to expand to ever wider printing surfaces.

    Specialty labelling materials like Tyvek and oil-resistant media are finding their way into industrial and digital print shops. Packaging materials such as cardboard and corrugated also have found a place, where POP can segue into browsers and short run cartons.

    Finishing has become a prerequisite for a final product.
    Today's finishing technologies are becoming more important, and this is largely due to the sheer number of wide-format printing devices that are currently being sold. Although the number of finishing vendors in the United States is low at this time, these solutions are primarily classified as roll and flatbed cutting and routing devices. New vendors are entering into this category and shops today are involved in some level of finishing, whether they handle it in-house or contract it out.

    Whether it is lamination, grometting or sewing pockets for poles, today's needs are becoming more complex. Finishing can become a bottleneck, unless the chosen equipment and staff can keep up with the work. Today's cutting/router tables have several types of tools from contour cutting, routing wood and metal, and even creasing used to create cardboard package designs. Robotics solutions are beginning to be shown where handling of large and heavy media is required. These can be used for both the printer and cutting material handling. In textile printing, a calendar roll-to-roll heat press and clam shell for garment printing are required. Sewing and heat welding banners, as well as soft signage, are also growing in popularity. The demand for sewing is a real issue as many of those jobs left with the apparel industry. This is often solved by hiring part-time seamstresses or training someone in-house to sew.

    Industry 4.0 and Print OS emergence and effect on wide-format shops.
    Cloud-based printing solutions promise to automate the workflow as shops scale up in volume and printed product complexity. There has been discussion and introduction of cloud-based services for many years now, and everything from media design, raster image processing, finishing, archiving and proofing are all migrating.

    All facets of workflow should be under review in every print shop.
    Several vendors have solutions to meet the needs of virtually all industry players, from mid-sized sign shops to mega-sized commercial printers. The capabilities of these solutions run the gamut, covering onboarding and tracking jobs as well as evaluating the return on investment (ROI) on these jobs. For 2018, we expect that even more application programming interfaces (APIs) will be introduced, enabling a greater range of print shops to build the workflows that they need.

    InfoTrends' Opinion
    Predictions are exactly that - our view of the future. Sometimes we are on target and other times, we miss. Nevertheless, we support our predictions by our forecasts, research and what we are seeing in the marketplace.

    Steve Urmano is the Director of InfoTrends' Wide Format Printing Consulting Service. As Director, Urmano develops InfoTrends' annual global market forecasts for hardware and supplies used in the wide format printing markets. He is responsible for conducting multiple primary research studies annually in the wide format market both on a custom basis and as part of InfoTrends' syndicated research.

    This article appeared in the SGIA Journal, March / April 2018 Issue and is reprinted with permission. Copyright 2018 Specialty Graphic Imaging Association (www.sgia.org). All Rights Reserved.

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