Survey Highlights Emerging Trends in Digital Wide-Format Printing
Digital wide-format printing continues to be one of the most significant growth areas in the entire industry. InfoTrends expects print volumes to experience a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of more than 9 percent between 2014 and 2019¹, with over 27,830 square feet printed in North America in 2014. This continued growth cannot be attributed to one aspect of wide-format; it is the collective result of increased adoption; new technologies; and an expanding range of applications, such as soft signage, rigid panel printing, textiles and backlit displays.
To further explore industry trends and understand end-user preferences, InfoTrends partnered with NAPCO Media (publisher of Printing Impressions) to conduct end-user surveys in 2013 and in 2015. These PSPs were comprised of 145 print-for-pay operations and 32 print-for-cost (i.e., in-plant) facilities that were questioned on their views, participation and interest in the digital wide-format sector.
Machine, Ink Preferences Are Changing
Wide-format equipment acquisitions saw steady growth in 2015; there were also significant changes in ink and equipment preferences. UV-curable machines are becoming more widely adopted, and are now overtaking the space that was previously dominated by aqueous and solvent inkjet printing systems. Combined UV-curable inkjet printer ownership has increased by 35 percent during the past two years, while aqueous inkjet has decreased by 19 percent. This shift is no coincidence; the range of UV-cured print applications has greatly increased in the past few years.
The shift from aqueous inkjet to UV-curable inkjet has changed the top wide-format applications between 2013 and 2015. Although the primary aqueous print applications have seen a decline, this print method is not going away. There is a push in the wide-format sector to place ink on a wider range of substrates. The two ink formulations at the forefront of this are UV and latex.
PSPs are increasing their services by introducing UV-cured printing. These new UV-cured inks are proven to be a suitable solution on a greater range of substrates as they feature great flexibility and permanency. UV is not alone in its rise, however, as latex ink has also seen an increase in adoption since 2013. It provides permanency and is a fast-curing solution for a range of applications—from wallpapers to industrial materials.
Latex-based inkjet has seen substantial growth and development in the past two years. Latex inks are similar to UV inks in the sense that they can adhere to many more substrates, but latex inks garner a much lower toxicity than UV inks and completely eliminate the need for extra ventilation.
The trend toward increased UV-cured and latex printing is apparent as growth is occurring in applications that are dominated by UV-cured and latex processes. Applications such as window graphics, decals and vehicle graphics have all shown substantial growth since 2013. These changes in produced applications have also begun to sway purchasing intentions among PSPs who were surveyed this year.
Of the 52 respondents who plan to purchase a new digital wide-format printer in the coming year, UV-curable inkjet flatbed and rollfed printers garnered the highest interest, followed by latex inkjet devices. PSPs recognize the changes that are occurring in the industry, and many are beginning to see the importance of versatile wide-format inks.
Supply Chain: Material Sourcing
Even though many things are changing in the wide-format sector, some consistencies have remained; the most evident is the current supply chain. As was the case in previous years, the top suppliers for digital wide-format media (e.g., paper and film) and consumables (e.g., inks) continue to be local dealers. These local wide-format equipment and supplies dealers account for over 50 percent of consumable sales and over 60 percent of media sales in 2015.
Growth has also been observed in a few other areas for media and consumables purchasing. For example, photographic supplies dealers and office supply/superstores have shown marginal increases. There is potential for greater growth in these sectors, but dealers need to overcome initial hurdles regarding the more technical nature of the sale and support of UV and latex supplies. This can be attributed to the lower cost of materials for emerging print technologies, as well as an increase in the number of smaller wide-format printing operations.
From a bottom-line standpoint, the digital wide-format industry is experiencing a number of changes that bring great opportunities for print providers. Growth provides ongoing opportunities to offer new services. Advances in materials sciences and curing/drying processes enable new applications on a broader range of substrates.
Quick-to-market capabilities and on-demand mass customization are now a reality that enables print providers to produce rich applications with very little downtime. Previously untapped markets are now seeing an increase in wide-format-based printing solutions usage that is driving profitable growth for PSPs. PI
About the Authors
Steve Urmano serves as the director of InfoTrends’ Wide-Format Printing Consulting Service. James Hanlon is a research analyst for InfoTrends’ Production Printing teams.
¹Source: InfoTrends’ 2014-2019 Wide-Format Forecast; inclusive of aqueous, UV and solvent inks in all product categories.