As the migration from ‘traditional’ printing technology – predominantly offset – to digital presses continues to gain pace, it is clear that colour digital print has truly come of age. Global volumes of production digital colour, which exceeded 300 billion impressions in 2012, are forecast to grow to 720 billion impressions by 2017¹.
One of the main factors fuelling this growth is the huge variety of new print applications that digital print makes possible – from personalised direct mail through to cross-media, print-on-demand and short runs as low as one copy. These applications give print service providers (PSPs) opportunities to grow page volumes and build new revenue streams. The fact that PSPs who add cross-media services see an average growth of 14% in print volumes² illustrates this perfectly.
The growth in these opportunities has been enabled by digital print’s unique selling point — its variable data capability. With the increasing drive toward personalisation and audience segmentation in the marketing industry, as well as customisation in the wider world, the way that digital print makes it possible to customise print is keeping print relevant.
Although digital colour print is growing, assisted by more affordable digital colour production devices and reduced running costs, overall print volumes are declining. In some cases content is shared between print and online. In others, online has virtually replaced ‘hard copy’. And in some cases volumes have actually suffered because precisely-targeted, no-wastage print means shorter runs.
The opportunity lies where it always has – PSPs need to find ways to generate additional revenue by adding value to the services they provide to their customers. As digital printing becomes mainstream instead of the replacement for offset that some PSPs regard it as, this is becoming more important than ever before.
It is clear that the future of digital colour print is full of business opportunities for PSPs. Many PSPs have already identified the opportunities that work for their businesses, and in fact research conducted by InfoTrends in 2014 found that the most successful print businesses have a higher ratio of digital devices, produce more variable data and print it in colour³. They also place emphasis on value-added services, offer a greater variety of finishing and higher percentages of their print revenues come from their e-commerce and web-to-print systems.
Other PSPs are still evaluating how they can make the growth of colour digital print work for them, but aren’t quite sure of what is possible. With new opportunities opening up, moving into colour digital print is no longer about survival; it’s about either increasing revenue and profit by offering new colour applications or reducing costs by printing in-house.
Marketers are rediscovering print’s uniquely physical advantages compared to digital media and are recognising that they can impress internal and external audiences with the huge variety of applications offered by print. Online may be great for collecting customer data and tracking behaviour, but it cannot replicate the tactile, enduring nature of high-quality print, especially of more luxurious products that encourage consumers to read them at their leisure. Today’s digital presses can print on a growing range of textured substrates, opening up possibilities for more creative uses of media. Digital embossing is possible, and PSPs report clients asking for die-stamping and foil-blocking. With new low-cost, easy-to-use thermal laminators, PSPs can bring lamination in-house, enhancing even short-run fast-turnaround work.
Special effects combined with short-run printing are also opening up opportunities for PSPs in the packaging sector. As digital packaging printing expands beyond proofing and prototyping it is set for growth⁴. Special finishes are a powerful weapon in brand owners’ battle for shelf-impact, and both luxury and personalised packaging are rising to the top of brand owners’ wish-lists. Short run printing makes such targeted appeals possible, ticks the lean manufacturing box through Just-In-Time (JIT) supply chains, and responds to consumer demands for greater sustainability.
In book publishing, digital print has already given rise to new markets such as self-publishing and ‘books of one’, as well as transforming the supply chain by enabling ‘Automated Stock Replenishment’ and ‘Sell and Print’. The move of colour digital print into the book market began with colour charts, graphics and other illustrations in the STM (scientific, technical and medical) sector, but it is now penetrating the higher end of the market too. Its advance, thanks to the savings and increased customer satisfaction its flexibility enables, is being aided by innovations such as conditioning and special aqueous inks, which bring coated stocks within reach.
Another exciting sector for colour digital print is wide format, which has expanded substantially in a relatively short time. The digital wide format market in Europe alone is estimated to be growing at 3.3% CAGR⁵. What started out as a proofing technology has moved rapidly from advertising banners and point of sale materials to printing wallpaper, vehicles, wood laminates, glass, textiles and even ceramics. Colour digital wide format print has also enabled the retail and hospitality industries, in particular, to frequently update and refresh their environments with high quality, high value printed interior decorations to retain consumers’ attention and custom. As in other sectors, the drivers of wide format include JIT supply chains, reduced tooling, waste and inventory, and the premium consumers place on creativity and customisation.
No prediction of the future for PSPs is complete without a look at cross-media. Whilst in a multi-channel campaign different platforms, online and offline, may communicate the same message, in cross-media they are connected and work together in an integrated manner. It is this that makes it possible to demonstrate print’s relevance in the digital media landscape so dramatically, which is why so many PSPs are already offering some form of cross-media services.
¹ Global Production Printing & Copying Market Forecast 2012-2017, InfoTrends 2013
² The Evolution of the Cross-Media Marketing Services Provider, InfoTrends 2011
³ Production Print Services in North America, InfoTrends 2014
⁴ The Future of Digital Printing to 2014, Smithers Pira 2014
⁵ Infotrends, Wide Format Service, 2014