Seeing the Forest

Although I’ve identified myself as a bibliophile, an amateur neuroscientist and, above all, a humanist, I sometimes also think of myself as a botanist—studying corporations, designers, printers and paper distributors—the flora and fauna of the printing ecosystem. In September, in Chicago, I had a chance to step back, break out my binoculars and inspect the forest that is the annual Graph Expo conference. I thought it might be helpful to share my key observations with you. So, grab your water and your backpack--let’s go.

Evolution “Evolution” is the term that accurately describes both the show and the industry. While many printers report that they are doing well and are busy, it’s definitely a smaller industry. Insiders and outsiders agree that those printers that do not market themselves and their capabilities, expand their markets, evolve their sales techniques including their social, mobile and online presence, leverage SEOs, blogs, image galleries, or cross-linked videos as tools have little chance of staying in business. In other words, if they don’t evolve they might become extinct. Graph Expo, as a conference, has also evolved. In recent years, it has become a smaller event, though organizers have cleverly merged with other organizations and events to add more content and niche activities to the overall experience. The Converting & Packaging Printing Expo and the Executive Outlook ran concurrently with Graph Expo. Similarly, on the show floor, there were multiple pavilions addressing various manufacturing and technological concerns—Future Print, Printverse, Plastic Print and Newsprint, to name a few. In many ways, the show has finally caught up with the market. It now uses a slogan--Integrate: Print, Online, Mobile and offers experiences that connect all three. The state of the state

  • Offset printing is holding steady as collateral, magazines, books, direct mail, and catalogs continue to roll off the presses—though in smaller quantities.
  • Digital printing is advancing with vigor as technology and quality progress and integrated variable data printing (VDP) becomes a standard—not a specialty—offering. Inkjet-multi color printing is still in its infancy but is moving forward quickly. The Landa Nanography™ is still two to three years from commercial implementation. But, when it’s ready, it will redefine high-quality short-run variable data printing.
  • Wide and grand format printing have become a solid revenue stream for the printing industry.
  • Printing niches have popped up and are proving to be profitable. Printing on plastics for ATM cards, credit cards, flash drives, IDs, plastic labels, and other ad specialties is one such niche. Newer to the industry are the capabilities associated with printed electronics, 3D printing, printed RFID and direct to garment and textile printing.

Primary Message In short, what I gathered from my exploration is that there are two types of print today—print that informs and print that performs. Print that informs is the state-of-the art, well-crafted and well-produced customer communication of our 21st century. Print that performs is the kind of communication that increases customer engagement by using new techniques including special offset or digital effects, unique enhancements such as QR codes and augmented reality, image recognition apps or near-field communications—to name a few. Print that performs delivers a measurable ROI as well as an additional and valuable moment of customer engagement. It was terrific to get a sense of the unique and constantly changing landscape of this exciting industry. For me, Graph Expo was a celebration of those who do it right, who make it beautiful and who constantly explore new terrain to create well-designed, well-executed printed communication. If you’re interested in reading research about how print can be tactile, emotional and interactive, check out Sappi’s Print &. You can also view this video of Daniel Dejan at the Graph Expo wishing everyone a Happy International Print Day on Sappi's Facebook page: Does that make sense?

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