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Commentary & Analysis

The Current State of the Graphics & Sign Industry

SGIA’s Dan Marx shares highlights from the 2015 SGIA Specialty Imaging Industry Survey. What equipment is hot? What products are on the rise, and which are on the decline? In what verticals are the hot prospects? And what is the overall market outlook for the wide-format and specialty graphics industry?

By Dan Marx
Published: June 8, 2015

The 2015 SGIA Specialty Imaging Industry Survey was conducted between January 1 and February 28, 2015. The data presented in this report is culled from the responses of 193 U.S. sign and graphics producers. To access more of SGIA’s Benchmarking Reports, visit SGIA.org.

Companies in the graphics and sign community primarily serve business-to-business customers. Three-fourths of companies serve these types of customers, while only 23 percent serve business-to-consumer customers. It is not uncommon for graphics producers to serve customers outside of their local area. Fifty-two percent serve accounts nationally; 62 percent serve regionally; and nearly two-thirds serve locally. Only 20 percent of companies responding serve internationally. Median annual revenue is $1,234,636.

Technology Use

While “entirely digital” remains the strongest classification of how companies in this sector define their technology mix, it’s essential to point out that more than 56 percent of companies classify themselves as multi-technology shops offering a mix of analog and digital services. That said, digital remains dominant among technologies used in this segment. Only 2 percent of companies classified themselves as “entirely analog.”

It is interesting to note that over the past five years, the number of shops identifying themselves as “completely analog” or “completely digital” have remained relatively steady, as has the number of companies identifying themselves as “multi-technology, no process dominating.” A significant shift has been noticed, with a strong increase in shops that are “multi-technology, primarily digital,” and a strong decrease in the shops that are “multi-technology, primarily analog.” What this shows is that while a majority of the graphics segment is multi-technology, our data shows this block is moving increasingly toward digital technologies.

While companies in this sector often use a variety of processes to image the products they produce, digital printing is by far the most used (more than 97 percent of those responding). Screen printing—once the predominant process for many specialty graphics applications—is the second most common, used by 43 percent of companies, and litho/offset technologies are used by slightly less than a quarter of respondents. Ninety percent of companies reported that they offer finishing/post-production services to their customers. Of the finishing/post-production services offered to customers, the most common are lamination, grommeting, and installation.

Equipment Use and Purchases

Of the types of equipment purchased during 2014, the most common were production software and production tools. Of particular note is the large number of companies purchasing a variety of prepress/pre-production solutions. The purchase, or intended purchase, of screen printing presses was small—around 1 percent. The digital press most purchased during 2014 was latex inkjet (less than 96 inches in width), and the digital press most intended for purchase this year is UV-curable flatbed inkjet systems. Among other types of presses, dry toner-based presses and direct-to-garment devices were those most frequently purchased. The most purchased (and most intended for purchase) finishing technology was cutting/trimming/routing/die-cutting equipment. Of the types of equipment intended for purchase during 2014, digital printing production software was noted most frequently.

Equipment purchases were strong during 2014, with 71 percent of companies reporting they had made a significant ($5,000 or more) purchase of production equipment during that year. Of that number, 55 percent indicated they had made a production-related purchase of more than $50,000. For 2015, 72 percent plan to make a significant ($5,000 or more) purchase of production equipment. Of that number, nearly 55 percent plan to make a purchase of more than $50,000.

Products and Markets

Among the vertical market areas served by graphics and sign producers, the most popular are food services, corporate branding, and nonprofits/associations/organization. The former market leader, retail stores, has moved to fourth place, perhaps due to strong competition. The least served is manufacturing OEM. The markets seen as growing the most are food services and interior decorators and designers. Government and government contractors are the market seen as declining the most. Among the product areas served by this segment, trade show displays, banners, and decals are the most common. Several product areas shifted significantly since last year’s data. The least served product area is plaques/awards/trophies. The product areas seen as growing the most—wall graphics, environmental graphics and building wraps—are all related to interior design or architectural decoration. The product seen as declining the most is billboards.

Top Five Market Areas

  1. Food services
  2. Corporate Branding
  3. Non-profits, associations and organizations
  4. Retail stores
  5. Educational institutions

Top Five Product Areas

  1. Trade show displays
  2. Banners
  3. Decal/label/sticker
  4. Indoor wall graphics
  5. Window displays

Business Outlook & Growth Strategies

The year 2014 was a strong one for the graphics and sign segment, with companies reporting median sales growth of 16 percent. This compares to 17.7 percent in 2013, 19.2 percent in 2012, and 16 percent in 2011. Broken down by annual sales classification, one can see that the companies on the lower end of annual sales revenue are often those with the highest annual sales growth.

Nearly three-fourths of companies reported that both their sales and production levels increased during 2014. For that same year, 45 percent of companies reporting increased employment, which is equal with 2014 data. While confidence in the industry is quite strong (62 percent positive), confidence in the U.S. economy is less strong, though it has improved slightly in the last year.

Companies reported that their primary barriers to growth were downward pressure on prices, finding new customers, and recruiting sales personnel. These are the same as reported in our 2014 report. The barrier least reported was environmental regulations, also unchanged. Among methods undertaken to attract new customers, referrals and company websites were the most commonly used, followed by social media, which has come up significantly in the last year. Companies were also asked about the production-based strategies they’ve undertaken to improve their competitive edge. Reducing operating costs, adding new product lines and becoming a one-stop shop remained top choices. Among strategies undertaken in sales and management to improve competitiveness, increasing Internet presence, improving customer service and hiring additional sales staff were the most common.

Dan Marx is the Specialty Graphic Imaging Association's Vice President-Markets & Technologies. With SGIA, he works to raise awareness of the specialty graphics industry, and helps printers and their customers identify and adopt new technologies and access lucrative market areas. In his more than 20 years at SGIA, he has authored numerous articles for industry publications worldwide, presented at a variety of industry events, and served as an enthusiastic ambassador for innovative imaging technologies. He can be reached at dan@sgia.org.


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Wide Format Editor

Richard Romano

Richard Romano, Section Editor/Senior Analyst
Richard has written about communication, graphics hardware and software trends for the past 15 years.

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