Stop Using the Word Print!
"Everything you can imagine is real." — Pablo Picasso
Stop and take a moment to look around you – print is everywhere. Whether is it the trendy T-shirt with a cool saying or a new smartphone case or a reusable tote bag for your groceries, it all incorporates print.
Yet, to most people under the age of 30, print is viewed as a four letter word that can get you shunned. In their minds, print is a technology from the stone ages used to create Yellow Pages, junk mail, and financial statements. Millennials bank online, use their phones for everything and store information in the cloud. When everything is done online, who needs print anymore?
What Millennials don’t know is that print has evolved and it’s everywhere. Print is a crucial part of today’s marketing and product strategy. The rise of product customization or the product of one, where a product is tailored to each individual customer, is made possible by print. Those custom candies with your name on them, the cake with your picture or the custom sneakers you designed online are all produced using elements of print technology.
Perhaps one of the reasons people think print is dead is because they associate it with ink or toner on paper, but it is much more than that.
If you were lucky enough to attend this year’s drupa 2016, you would have seen examples of how print technology is evolving to meet the needs of a new generation. More than 260,000 people from 188 countries attended this year’s show. The scale of drupa indicates the growing importance of print. As passionate aficionados of print, it’s our job to educate a new generation about it. We need to dispel the idea that print is dead and showcase how it is evolving and has the potential to be a disruptive technology that drives new and innovative applications, like 3D.
How do we do this? First, we must stop using the word ‘print’ and start using produce or manufacture. It’s a more accurate description of what is actually going on. We’re not printing photo books; we are producing them. We are not printing signs and displays; we are manufacturing them. The list goes on …
We need to change the conversation and educate a new generation about the print industry and highlight how printing technology is manufacturing all the things around them. We need to showcase how printers are reimagining traditional printed items and designing/producing innovative products every day.
Magazines, Finance and Photography
There is a perception that printed items like magazines, financial statement and photos are outdated. Millennials consume this information online. But that isn’t the entire story, and these areas are continuing to evolve.
The magazines business is a great example. It’s an area where digital and physical formats are synergistic. In the United States, magazines volumes are down; however, in other countries magazines are growing. Digital subscriptions are not replacing print, and print is not replaced by blogs or forums; they support one another. The Pew Research Center reports that some titles have grown and some have declined no matter the media. The fact is, digital does not replace print and print does not replace digital. We are now recognizing the value of an omni-channel approach in communicating with end users, delivering content when they want it, in the right media, both tangible and intangible.
Print has always played a huge role in the world of finance. If you look beyond mailed financial statements (which are often mandated by law regardless if you bank online), many financial products are physically produced using print technology. Did you know most companies offer B2B services that allow you to put your company logo on a gift card? Starbucks gift cards and Amazon’s B2B cards are great examples of this. At a basic level, how money is produced is changing. While the United States treasury still uses paper, many countries like Australia and the United Kingdom are now manufacturing to a polymer based media in an attempt to cut back on counterfeiting and make a more durable product.
Even ‘old school’ print products that fascinate Millennials have evolved to meet today’s consumer. Remember Polaroid pictures and waiting for that instant photo to develop in front of you? Today Fuji Film and Polaroid have updated instant cameras by using dye sublimation printers, or paper technology with ink embedded. Even with digital photography, cell phones and cloud storage, people still want physical pictures, photo albums and cards. In fact, the photo business is a perfect example of a manufacturing process for a product of one. These companies specialize in producing custom items from holiday cards to picture blankets to much more. You can even create 3D portraits. Companies like Doob can scan you and your family and make a fully proportional and realistic 3D model to bring home or share with family or friends.
Look around the room you are in. Does it have wallpaper, artwork or vinyl art? If so, these are all produced using print technology. For example, wallpaper is unique in that it can be mass produced or customized. There are interior designers who design custom wallpaper or wall coverings for your home or office, specific to your business, brand or messaging. You can create just about anything, and JD Walls can show you all types of materials and designs for wallpaper to make the room you’re in unique. For Millennials, it is all about creating and defining their own brand. This type of product enables them to create or customized a product to suit their own personal needs.
Print technology is even changing the world of fashion. A one-of-a-kind runway style can be reproduced within weeks and put onto the shelves for consumers. Gravure or screen textile production has always been the standard for producing textile patterns, but inkjet is changing that. Inkjet technology offers flexibility and speed to market that older technology can’t meet. Production on demand is changing for textiles, and companies like EFI are leading the way. Fashion is evolving quickly, shifting from mass manufacturing overseas to manufacturing locally to keep up with local demand and needs. Inkjet technologies offer quick turnaround as compared to the historic textile gravure or screen printing processes.
Signs and Bus Wraps
Brands want to make their mark at events. Whether it’s updating an internal environmental space, or bigger and bolder placements, like placing their brand on every building in a city, these awe-inspiring graphics are all produced. Bluemedia leads the charge with the NFL, wrapping everything in sight, from buildings and fences to buses and trains. Every set is manufactured, cut and installed for its unique and singular event. Creating these massive images is like putting a giant puzzle together, and the final result is a stunning display and compelling brand message. Hatteras, a printer in Long Island, New York, produced a great video for the TV show 2 Broke Girls. Everything from the cupcake labels and food truck to event blockades and carnival rides uses print technology to brand the product and make it unique.
Perhaps one of the biggest applications of print technology is to produce product packaging. Packaging encompassed a wide range of materials from paper to plastic to other natural or synthetic materials. Consider the plastic bottles you reach for every day. Yupo is a manufacturer of plastic paper. Its array of materials is organized by media, technology and application and demonstrates the breadth of print using a plastic material. Yupo carries polymer labels specific for production on HP Indigo presses. The labels are part of the molding process. Plastic bottle converters will outsource the label manufacturing. The labels are then inserted into the material manufacturing process creating a crystal clear product, with no adhesives that is highly durable.
The shift to 3D and plastics as part of a print manufacturing process is part of the learning and educational curve. Plastics and print are both old manufacturing processes, but combined with new technology they bring life to products we experience every day. Take the recent movie launch for Angry Birds, which incorporated all the normal marketing materials to drive awareness. The team at Vector Media and Carisma Large Format took it one step further by merging plastic and print and leveraging 3D technology. They created custom 3 dimensional bus wraps to drive a unique and extraordinary experience. 3D offers new possibilities and improves time to market. A 3D prototype can preplace hundreds of meetings. 3D helps with executive buy in, speeds problem solving and improves the concept/development stages.
Organizations like First Build from GE are using 3D printers, laser cutters, easy-to-use design software, and desktop machine tools to create and produce new products. It’s part of a larger crowdsourcing movement to involve engineers, designers and consumers in bringing new products to life based on the input of many. This Makers movement is possible because of emerging technology such as 3D printing.
We Are SO Much More Than Print and Paper
What we are observing is an evolution of both technology and materials. People associate print with paper. Today’s technological advances allow us to print manufacture a product of one, across a multitude of materials. Anyone who has visited modern design shops, airports or event centers, may have seen modern glass doors, with graphic images on them. These images are all produced.
We, as leaders in this industry, need to educate Millennials about what we do. However this needs to be a bi-directional dialogue. It’s about changing how we talk about what print is, and using new language to describe the industry. As professionals, I challenge you to think about what you do as producing and manufacturing products. We are so much more than print and paper!
The printing industry is on a journey, an exciting one, that places it squarely in the world of industrial manufacturing, and those who treat it like a manufacturing process will be ready to reap the benefits. We need to partner with Millennials and have a discussion. Only then can we change the meaning of what print and printers do. We need to #listen and educate that #YESitWASprinted. Let’s go do it!
Shoshana Burgett is responsible for leading the company’s voice of the customer (VOC) initiative across all industries, identifying market trends and helping the company create innovative products that support emerging customer needs, now and into the future. Burgett has served in a variety of roles related to print, packaging and color management since 1986. She previously held senior management roles at Xerox and has a master’s degree from Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) in variable data technology and international business, and a Bachelor of Arts degree from the School of Visual Arts.