Five industry experts scope out the year ahead.
Florek: The high-end solvent segment has long declined from its previous height [and] in 2008, we saw the beginning of what could be a steep downturn for the manufacturers of low-end solvent printers. Those manufacturers have not done themselves any favors by not releasing much in the way of breakthrough products recently. The solvent segment is now long established and has become very saturated (although perhaps not as saturated as the aqueous segment). To rejuvenate the segment, manufacturers need to get customers to upgrade to new devices and the current slate of products simply fails to do that. Once you take into account the brutal landscape for small sign shops, then you can understand just how difficult it is for companies that produce solvent machines. Once the economy recovers, business should bounce back for these OEMs, but demand for solvent technology should continue to wan in the long run.
One technology, by the way, that has taken another hit is photo printing—Océ dropped its Lightjet line earlier this year, leaving just a few players in that market. Is this the beginning of the end of that technology or will it always have a place?
Marx: Several years ago, I was touring a facility where the owner referred to “inkjet quality” and “Lightjet” quality, Lightjet being for those color and detail-critical prints that inkjet just could not hit. Technological changes in inkjet printing, particularly the rise of grayscale or variable-dot printheads, have closed this gap on detail, color, and print quality at a lower cost, rendering laser-based photo-imaging technologies such as the Lightjet and Lambda less critical to a digital workflow. In fact, I was touring a different facility earlier this year, and was told by the owner, “Here’s our Lightjet machine—we really don’t use it much anymore.” Increasingly in our industry, inkjet is the horse that we’re all betting on, and it seems to be paying off a “trifecta” of excellent detail, reliable color, and competitive cost.