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Market Trends

The State of Print

To find out where the print market is headed next, Russ Hicks asks suppliers about their hopes and fears for the year, from Brexit to opportunities at special occasions

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The Print Show 2017 was a good indicator that, despite fears over Brexit and a sluggish economy, there is consistent growth to be found across the UK print industry driven primarily by disillusionment with digital-based marketing platforms

On the up and up

When looking at the state of the current print market, without doubt, one of the key issues to think about is Brexit. No matter which way you voted, it is happening, and it is likely to affect businesses from a number of angles. The supply side of print is likely to be affected more than most.

Managing director of press and digital equipment provider Apex Digital Graphics, Bob Usher, gets the Brexit ball rolling: “With regards to the effects of Brexit on our industry, unfortunately a weak Sterling is putting up prices, as the majority of equipment in this sector is made in Europe and Japan. We have already seen several paper price increases and a rise in plates for the first time in years.

“The UK is also experiencing a downturn in confidence, due to the almost daily uncertainty over what type of deal our Government is going to achieve with the EU and, therefore, in combination with the recent interest rate rise, our prospects are reluctant to commit to expensive long-term borrowing.”

John Corrall, managing director of Industrial Inkjet, a UK manufacturer, agrees: “As a machine builder and an exporter, we saw a likely impact from Brexit within a few days of the vote. When visiting European customers—people we have worked with for years—we got the same comment over and over again, ‘so you do not love us anymore, so you do not want to work with us anymore’.

“Of course, there is some banter in this, but the joke wore thin very quickly. We think there is a real message here. Whether we appreciated it or not at the time, we have been part of the family to many people in Europe. To a well-educated chief executive officer of a European company, who is about to buy some expensive equipment, the whole of Europe is to be searched—not just his own country. UK companies were as acceptable as anyone else. We think we have had a fairly level playing field for years. Now it’s not level anymore. Now we are ‘strangers’ again. This is going to hurt.”

Taking a positive focus, Usher adds: “I can only hope that when the divorce settlement is agreed and we understand the pain of the deal, that the political heat will reduce and we can begin to catch up with the growth our European colleagues are enjoying and return to longer term thinking.

“If this is achieved, then prospects will return to renewing their plant, and commercial printers will in turn look at the latest offerings in digital and the new generation of litho presses with advanced drying technology.”

Keith McMurtrie, managing director of management information system (MIS) specialist Tharstern, added his realistic thoughts on the state of the deal: “Nobody really knows what impact the Brexit vote will have on our industry and the UK economy, but we’re confident and looking forward to growing our business further in 2018.”
Also offering a positive view is Phil McMullin, sales manager of Epson UK, who says: “I am optimistic for the coming year. I think some of the political uncertainty will evaporate and business confidence will build. Printing is holding strong, at least in the sectors we serve and with the future-minded technology that we offer.”

Check the calendar

Continuing his optimistic stance, McMullin suggests a regular check of the calendar for special events, such as the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle in May, which will undoubtedly provide some interesting print opportunities. There are other major events to look out for such as the FIFA World Cup, which can usually inspire a significant volume of promotional and marketing material.

Events such as the FIFA World Cup can usually inspire a significant volume of print promotional and marketing material

“Expand the brand should be the print industry’s motto for the coming year,” says Phil McMullin, adding: “Printers can, and will, continue to diversify, expanding their product portfolio by using wide-format technology in new markets. Increasingly the industry is expected to take on a more advisory or consultancy role and, as the keeper of a client’s brand, printers are in an exceptional position to help their customers add value to their name and reputation.”

Phil McMullin of Epson UK is positive about the coming year, saying he thinks business confidence will build

With another optimistic angle on one of the industry’s most popular offset products, perhaps there is still plenty of mileage left in the humble newspaper. Steve Goodman, managing director of print trading at WPP’s Group M UK, writing recently in the UK’s business free-sheet City AM, suggested that printed news carried significant credibility: “We are in the age of murky, fraudulent online sites, and even murkier fake news and poor quality content, and my instinct is that, against that backdrop, newspapers are about to experience a renaissance and perhaps even enter a new golden age.”

Newspapers are about to experience a renaissance and perhaps even enter a new golden age

Whilst print advertising’s share of budget is currently on the slide in an era of multi-channel campaigns, print could be said to represent a safe harbour for advertisers at a time when many brands have found themselves in uncomfortable online environments. 

Technology focus

From a technology perspective, Erwin Busselot of Ricoh Europe gave his thoughts: “Digital printing is the fastest growing technology within the graphic arts sector. According to PIRA statistics, the annual growth rate for 2017 to 2022 will be 8 percent for digital vs. a small negative percentage for analogue. Inkjet and toner-based pages are rising and digital volume represents 3 percent of all printed pages vs. analogue in 2017. Also noteworthy is the forecast that by volume (pages) inkjet will overtake toner-based systems somewhere in 2018.”

Marine Kerivel Brown, Duplo International marketing manager, is looking forward to new challenges: “Print is becoming personal and talked about as a sensory experience, tailored to the reader. In 2018, we expect to see printers being challenged in offering something new. Quality, accuracy, and efficiency are a given. Agility, versatility, feel, and innovation will be key. Those who can re-define what print feels like will thrive. The future of print is exciting.”

Canon UK’s Duncan Smith shares similar expectations: “There is a world of opportunity within printing as customers increasingly seek personalised content, short print runs, just-in-time print delivery, and greater cost-effectiveness.”

A note of caution is sounded by Gerard Heanue, managing director of Heidelberg UK: “Those involved in personalisation, mailing, or anything else that might involve handling data, will need to get to grips with the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) that comes into effect in May. It will undoubtedly have implications for printers.” A variety of compliance guides regarding this EU regulation are available via a swift web search.

On the litho front, Bob Usher has a focus on drying technology: “From our perspective, an SRA1 RMGT (Ryobi) press in four/five or eight-unit configurations presents the lowest cost dry sheet on the floor at the fastest speed utilising the widest range of substrates. Therefore, in a market where the commercial printer can continue to negotiate pricing for all of the consumables and understand the actual cost per sheet, I believe we can continue to grow in this market sector.”

Drying technologies are also to the fore for Peter Benton, managing director of Technotrans: “In the litho arena I think next year we will see even more demand for LED-UV and LE-UV technology, because dry sheets off the end of the press are such an advantage to commercial printers working to tight deadlines.”

He adds: “UV technologies involve polymerisation and we supply mixing and bulk ink systems that cater for the various versions, conventional and low energy, that are gaining ground. We envisage this being an area of growth for us next year. Getting the ink-water balance right with water treatment, filtration, temperature control, and inking systems is critical whether you run with conventional or UV inks, and we can offer best advice and a pressroom audit on request.

“Process control will continue to be a key issue moving forward, not least because presses are getting more and more productive and are expected to run at full speed without any detrimental effect on colour quality.”

In large-format, Epson’s McMullin adds: “We will see a resurgence of eco-solvent technology as the ink set of choice for discerning printers who want to produce vibrant outdoor displays and vehicle graphics. There will be further expansion of dye-sublimation technology for short runs of bespoke graphics, promotional products, and textiles. Digital printing technology can now deliver outstanding quality across a wide array of applications, without compromising productivity, and printers need to take advantage or lose competitiveness to others. The investment level in this sector is also very competitive.”

When focusing on potential growth areas over the coming year, Anne Sharp, UK and Ireland large-format marketing manager at HP, suggests: “Businesses will seek further gains in print efficiency and productivity—with speed and ease of access front of mind for decision makers. In addition, the transformation from analogue to digital in the decoration market has only just started to ramp up, creating huge opportunities for growth, as well as in the soft signage sector.”

Anne Sharp of HP says businesses will seek further gains in print efficiency and productivity in 2018

Packaging has also seen much interest from printers in recent years. Ray Cheydleur of X-Rite Pantone sees this as important in the coming year: “In a highly competitive marketplace, brands and packaging designers continue to look for new and creative ways to differentiate their products. This increasingly goes beyond colour to include embellishment options such as foils, special varnishes, and soft touch finishes. In 2018, designers will continue to use more intense solid colours, fluorescents, and iridescent effects—not just with conventional printing but also using digital solutions. For forward thinking packaging converters, this trend will bring a number of challenges in 2018 and beyond, but the goal remains to produce packaging with shelf impact which draws the consumer’s eye and influences buying decisions.”

More automation

Further developments in automation can certainly be expected in 2018. Mark Cannons, director and general manager, graphic communications at Xerox, gives his thoughts: “Print businesses are increasingly aware that they lose money every time they physically touch a part of the print process, so automation will be a continued trend for 2018. Automation and integration drive cost and process efficiencies both in the creation, campaign management, and manufacturing process. Modern communication needs to transition seamlessly between physical and digital and, as a result, we should expect customers to move towards ‘touchless printing’. The industry will need to deliver more integrated print solutions connecting businesses and consumers seamlessly with print manufacturing and finishing.”

The Print Show 2017 saw 5,335 visitors pass through its floor space, which played host to 130+ exhibitors from across the UK print industry—proving that there is genuine growth and positivity in the supply chain

For Heidelberg, Heanue adds: “Productivity gains are even greater on the latest generation of ‘push to stop’ presses. This new technology, combining press technology with spectral measurement and the latest generation software and workflow, means that the press intelligently sets up and processes jobs, leaving the operator to rein in rather than push on the press. It is whole new mindset.”

O Factoid: Special events such as the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle will undoubtedly provide some interesting print opportunities—the wedding will take place on May 19th 2018. O

MIS products too have a lot to offer in this regard. Tharstern’s Keith McMurtrie adds further comment: “We’ve seen a true demand for self-service automation recently, and it seems likely that this will continue into 2018.  I’m not waving the JDF flag here, I’m talking about middleware type technologies such as Enfocus Switch or Esko Automation Engine—applications that allow printers to automate things in-house themselves, things like remote approvals, pre-flighting checks, and automated artwork amendments. These types of things are hugely beneficial for a printing company—not only does it improve the quality of the job going straight to press, but it also improves customer experience.”

Back to Brexit

It is going to be an issue that comes to the fore repeatedly during 2018, so to round things off, we turn to the considered thoughts of Heidelberg’s  Heanue: “All we can safely say is that by the end of 2018, the trade and economic situation will be clearer than at the start of the year. By then we will be just three months off the current leave deadline. Uncertainty is always uncomfortable but previous recessions have shown that those who shelve decisions and fail to reinvest are the ones that do not survive. To uncertainty they add un-competitiveness.

“So my advice to printers for 2018 would be: appreciate and keep an eye on the longer term changes happening in our industry and how it will affect your business, harness the short- and medium-term opportunities to build and extend your business opportunities, and be inventive and diligent in the way you serve your customers. Here’s too a prosperous year ahead.”

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