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The Hot Applications for 2009

Industry consultants weigh in on some of the market's top apps.

Big Picture

Vehicle graphics continue to play a major role for many print shops. Does this trend "have wheels" for 2009?

Adam Florek, research analyst, Wide Format Printing Advisory Service, Lyra (www.lyra.com): Vehicle graphics remain a reliable source of revenue, especially as firms look for distinctive ways to market themselves. It’s also relatively easy for small print shops to enter the market since hardware prices have come down. And because vehicle wraps are cheap compared to other forms of advertising, the market should perform well during an economic slowdown.

Dan Marx, vice president, markets and technology, SGIA (www.sgia.org): There still exists a great deal of interest in vehicle-graphics, as evidenced by the myriad training programs and new products for that market. While novel ways to wrap vehicles are still being dreamed up by enterprising imaging companies, I hold some concern that the market is becoming saturated. Honestly, I see the vehicle-graphics market as being much more about finishing than it is about imaging. The prints need to look good, but it’s the installation that ultimately makes a print into a wrap.

The "soft" side of the applications market-printing on textiles-seems to be continuing to grow. Will 2009 be even kinder to textile applications?

Florek: Lyra expects textile printing to increase in 2009 and beyond. In an effort to expand business, print shops are turning to textiles to offer their clients eye-catching designs. Environmental concerns will also help textile sales in the long run: Textiles are biodegradable, which means they can be disposed in a "green" manner. And since textiles are lighter than adhesive vinyl, less fuel is consumed when they’re shipped.

Marx: Add to those benefits the look and the feel of digitally printed textile products, which have become commonplace (and effective) in retail settings. Further, product diversity and printability continue to improve, all of which will serve to push textile applications forward.

Tim Greene, director, Visual Communications Technologies Consulting Serivce, InfoTrends (www.infotrends.com: Some of our recent survey work indicates that printers are very optimistic about textile printing. Then add in all of the new textile media products that we’re seeing hit the market from leading media suppliers-InteliCoat, Neschen, Oce Imaging Supplies-and the wide variety from the textile specialists, such as 3P, Ferrari, Fisher, and others. Then there are the advances in dye-sub and direct-to-textile printing systems, which are getting faster and boast improved print quality. The other factor is a move away from PVC-based materials for some banners because these are hard to recycle.

Marco Boer, consulting partner, I.T. Strategies (www.it-strategies.com: At this stage, I see this as more of a regional European trend, but no doubt it will catch on in the US. Savings in lower weight shipping costs of fabrics compared to vinyl alone will drive it.

Fine art is another application that has been coming back around in 2008, as some shops seek to bolster their bottom lines.

Greene: We think this is a solid part of the wide-format mix. Not unlike what we’re seeing on the textile side, the tools and supplies for producing fine art continue to improve, making it easier for more companies to reliably produce fine-art prints. Also, I think part of the growth in fine-art printing is driven by more photographers expanding their services, partly because the photo printing business is really wild with all of the retailers and online services offering photo print services at very low prices. To grow their businesses, some of these guys are expanding into fine-art photography.

Boer: This is about content and the ability to deliver that content cost effectively. It’s more about replication than the creation of one-off, original fine art. Look for movie studios and other content owners to do a better job in leveraging that content; fine-art printing (or printing on canvas, other high-end substrates) is one of the means to leverage that content.

Florek: Shops have been looking to offer more high-margin applications like fine art, and fine-art printing has become less expensive in recent years. Many shops already own aqueous devices that are often idle and require little supervision when in use. The proliferation of aftermarket aqueous ink has helped make fine-art printing more affordable.

Fulfillment-organizing and packing graphics and shipping them to the client(s) on time-is something else we’re seeing more shops take on in-house, aren’t we?

Greene: Absolutely, and it makes perfect sense because the total "cycle times" for the design, ordering, production, finishing, and fulfillment of printed materials is accelerating.

Marx: It’s yet another way imaging companies are working to provide the total package to their customers. As markets get more competitive and the printing part of our industry becomes more of a commodity, an increasing number of shops will use services such as finishing, installation, and fulfillment as a way to bolster the bottom line. Companies want to hold onto their customers, and would rather say, "Sure, we can do that for you," instead of, "Sorry, we can’t help you."

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