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ISA Expo: Marketplace Energy from the Show Floor

Promising numbers and attitudes in Las Vegas.

For the wide-format graphics market, the annual ISA International Sign Expo is one of the harbingers of spring-and, hopefully, the instigator to 12 months of positive revenue streams. This year’s ISA Expo was no different. Held in mid-April at the Mandalay Bay Convention Center, the event drew more than 560 companies (135 from outside the US) and more than 22,800 attendees from across the US and around the world.

"During the show, I heard many times from exhibitors who were delighted with the quality and quantity of attendees," says Lori Anderson, ISA president and CEO. "And it wasn’t just the show floor that was buzzing," she said. "We also had fantastic participation in our education programs and new discussion forums." More than 1300 attendees participated in ISA’s Discovery Seminar Series, comprising 35 educational sessions and discussion programs- a marked increase from previous shows, according to the ISA.

Just as important as the numbers: the enthusiasm and energy at the show. Attendees as well as exhibitors were tremendously upbeat and optimistic about not only 2007, but also the next few years ahead.

Here are just a few of the trends that rippled throughout the show floor during the Expo:

* The streamlining process continues: Manufacturers of printers as well as RIPs (see pg. 41) continue striving to make their products as simple as possible from an operating standpoint, while simultaneously engineering them to be able to take on more complex tasks and jobs. Many printers, for instance, have much easier-to-understand interfaces, ink systems, and basic operating controls than in years past. But many of these same machines can now handle a variety of media, offer up a choice of inksets, and are increasing their production speeds.

* Lightweight and MOR machines: As printer OEMs are able to stuff more technology into smaller frames, more lightweight and what we call "middle-of-the-road" (MOR) machines are coming to market. These types of machines not only offer lower price points than their heavier cousins, but they also can be used for jobs that only larger machines would have taken on in the past. And, because of the lower price points, they’re much more accessible to a broader strata of shops.

*Moving away from solvents and burgeoning UV: Solvent machines may always have a place in the marketplace, but this year’s ISA saw a heavy lean toward UV as an array of new machines utilizing UV technologies were shown. Cases in point: Agfa’s Anapurna M, Fujifilm’s Acuity, the Gandinnovations Jeti 1224 UV True Flatbed, the ISI Bluestreak, Inca’s Spyder 320-8, Nur’s Expedio 5000 Revolution, and Teckwin’s TeckSmart UV 1600/2500.

* Direct to fabric: As reported in our May issue, machines capable of printing directly to fabric are a common thread throughout the industry, and the show floor reflected this trend as well. Take a look, for instance, at the Heracle Textile Printer from D-Gen; this 74-in. machine can not only produce typical graphics projects such as flags and displays, but can also generate one-off samples and even medium production runs of scarves and neckties, costumes, bedding, and more.

* Asian media: While we saw fewer Asian printers on this Expo floor than in recent years, we did see an increase in the number of Asian media companies. Most of the shop owners and managers we talked to at the show indicated they were still wary of buying media from companies that had no US representation, but they also indicated they would be more likely to buy media than hardware from such a company. In an upcoming issue, we’ll feature a report from Jonathan Zinsmeyer, president of The BIG Print, on the recent Sign China show.

Gearing up for 2008
ISA proclaimed the 2007 show its "best show ever," and it’s hard to argue with that statement, given some of the numbers reported. They’ll hope to again capture that magic in 2008, when the International Sign Expo travels to the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando, FL, March 26-29. More than 80% of the show floor space has already been booked, the association reports.