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Reinventing Your Digital Print Shop

(July 2016) posted on Wed Aug 10, 2016

Prospect new markets to stay ahead of the game in this advancing industry.

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By Craig Miller

In our constantly changing world, what worked last year, last month, or even last week may not work today. In our 22 years in business, we have seen customers, markets, print technologies, and products come and go – many of these changes being difficult to anticipate or control. (Yes, some of you have been very successful doing essentially the same thing for over a decade, and my hat is off to you.)

In 1995, I visited a friend who was the president of one of the largest and most profitable billboard printing companies in the country. They ran 24/7 in a huge facility with multiple solvent airbrush grand-format printers. They were averaging $5 a square foot and couldn’t keep up with the demand. They printed at 18 and 36 dpi, which looked far from good, but good from afar. At the time, my friend looked like he had the market and the technology figured out. We all know what happened to the digital billboard printing market and what the price per square foot is today. It only took about five years for his lucrative market to disappear.

Another friend had multiple Durst Lambdas and an Océ LightJet. Silver halide printing was the only option then if you wanted the best backlit print. The Kodak process and media, known as Duratrans, became the market term for photographic backlit prints. As an inkjet shop, we had to sell our opaque blacks to scratch out a tiny piece of that market.

How many of you made your living with airbrush, electrostatic, thermal transfer, wax-ink, or full-on solvent printers? Do the names LaserMaster, ColorSpan, Signtech, Gandi Innovations, Leggett & Platt, GBC, Axiom, Kundo, LightJet, Lambda, or Raster Graphics bring back fond memories of your past capital investments? Did any of you invest heavily in film scanning, mounting, and laminating equipment? For us, the answer is yes – we spent practically a hundred grand on a scanner.

Embrace the Change

In our past, casino signage, vehicle graphics, gaming table felts, race team uniforms, tabletops, and countertops were dominant products that now don’t even register on our radar. What happened? Markets changed. Customers took production in house. Competitors flooded the market and took away the profit margins. Production went offshore. Someone agreed to do the work for a buck a square foot less. Technology changed.