Commentary & Analysis
Special Effects Beyond CMYK in Digital Printing
A number of today’s commercially available digital printing solutions have added units beyond four-color, either inline or offline, to enable special effects that enhance digital print. Unique imaging capabilities can transform printed materials from commodity, price-sensitive offerings to higher-value products that command a premium. This article explores how special effects can enhance the value of print and create new growth opportunities for service providers.
By Keypoint Intelligence
Published: August 24, 2017
By Jim Hamilton and Lisa Cross
- The print buyers that InfoTrends interviewed identified white, spot colors, fluorescents, and spot/flood coating as the special effects they would be most likely to leverage.
- According to InfoTrends’ research, print buyers will pay premiums in the range of 24% to 89% for digital print enhancements over CMYK-only work.
- According to the print providers that InfoTrends surveyed, implementing the systems to produce special effects is relatively simple. The challenges reside in understanding the best practices for optimizing the system, promoting capabilities to customers, and pricing the jobs.
Production digital color document printing technology has come a long way since it was first introduced in the mid-1990s. Technological innovations on many fronts have led to faster speeds, longer run capabilities, larger formats, wider color gamut, and the ability to create eye-catching special effects that enable pieces to stand out, get noticed, and drive business results. A number of today’s commercially available digital printing solutions have added units beyond four-color, either inline or offline, to enable special effects that enhance digital print. The new feature sets of today’s devices offer big benefits and new application options for print providers. In the U.S. and Western Europe, InfoTrends believes that the market value for enhanced digital printing is about $917 million. This value is expected to experience a compound annual growth rate of 14%, reaching $1.3 billion by 2020.
Enhancing the Value of Print
Unique imaging capabilities can transform printed materials from commodity, price-sensitive offerings to higher-value products that command a premium. There are many options for enhancing the value of digitally printed applications, including:
- Specialty inks or effects: This category covers unique inks that are outside of the standard process or spot colors, such as metallics, foils, fluorescents, UV/IR (for security applications), and white (required for printing on clear or colored substrates).
- In-line spot or flood coating: For these applications, an imaging unit is capable of applying a spot or flood coat of a clear matte, gloss, or satin finish. Spot coating enables special effects like watermarking, while a flood coating offers a matte or gloss finish and provides a protective layer against scratching.
- Spot colors: An additional imaging unit can apply a standard highlight color (e.g., red, green, blue, or yellow) or a custom color that matches a particular corporate brand or other desired color (such as a Pantone color).
- Expanding color gamut: This can be achieved with a single color where the gamut is expanded in one direction (e.g., toward red, green, or blue), or it may involve multiple colors to more extensively expand the gamut (e.g., by adding orange, violet, and green to cyan, magenta, and yellow). It is also possible to extend the tonal range of process colors by adding light cyan, light magenta, or light black (gray).
- Textured effects that capture attention: Texture provides a tactile, raised effect. These embossed/ debossed effects are common on applications such as book covers, labels, and greeting cards.
- Enhanced security: Materials can be printed with infrared (IR) or ultraviolet (UV) inks that are only visible under special lighting conditions. These are typically used for tickets, identity cards, and other secure documents.
According to InfoTrends’ study Beyond CMYK: The Use of Special Effects in Digital Printing, designers and print buyers understand the benefits that special effects deliver in making their print pieces stand out and capture attention. The print buyers that InfoTrends interviewed identified white, spot colors, fluorescents, and spot/flood coating as the special effects they would be most likely to leverage. Overall, buyers saw the most benefit in using special effects with printed brochures, business cards, direct mail, and greeting/invitation cards. Only a small percentage of today’s production digital printing jobs are produced using these specialty effects, but a significant number of print buyers believed that these effects would be beneficial for certain applications. For example, 47% of print buyers believed that their brochures could benefit from spot or flood coating.
A New Growth Opportunity
Enhancing digital print with special effects offers print providers a substantial opportunity to grow their businesses. According to InfoTrends’ Beyond CMYK study, about 30% of all printed color pages in the U.S. and Western Europe currently receive some type of special effects. Meanwhile, the percentage for digital print is far lower—less than 10% of digital printing volume uses a fifth color at this time. Marketers, graphic designers, and print buyers are exploring the use of special effects to make their customer communications stand out. A key reason for the low use of special effects is that many designers and buyers don’t realize that digital devices are capable of producing affordable, short-run, personalized pieces that include special effects. Print providers that educate customers on the value that special effects can add to digital print will be able to stand out from the competition and capture more work.
Special effects printing can be a profitable endeavor. According to InfoTrends’ research, print buyers will pay premiums in the range of 24% to 89% for digital print enhancements over CMYK-only work. Interestingly, many buyers expressed a willingness to pay a higher premium for special effects than printers believed they would pay. Overall, print buyers reported that they are willing to pay more for nearly all special effects studied, except for spot colors. Buyers probably expect to pay a lower premium for spot colors because they are comfortable with a process color reproduction of a corporate color (digital systems can accurately reproduce many custom colors using a process color simulation).
Buyers’ and Printers’ Expectations about Paying Premiums for Print Enhancements
The Challenge is Selling!
According to the print providers that InfoTrends surveyed, implementing the systems to produce special effects is relatively simple. The challenges reside in understanding the best practices for optimizing the system, promoting capabilities to customers, and pricing the jobs. Although selling customers on the value can be daunting, savvy providers are overcoming the challenge by showing well-designed, attention-grabbing print samples to prospective buyers. Note: Jim Hamilton’s YouTube page contains more than 100 short print sample videos, many of which highlight special effects beyond CMYK.
The Bottom Line
Enhanced digital printing techniques offer many benefits to print service providers. Unique imaging can help providers differentiate themselves from competitors by offering a broader set of capabilities. More importantly, these capabilities can enable print providers to better serve their customers. Using enhanced printing techniques offers many opportunities for creating direct mail pieces and marketing materials that get noticed by adding texture, gloss, watermarks, or a protective coating, all while maintaining high print quality. When combined with other digital print advantages such as short runs, quick turnarounds, personalized print, and just-in-time manufacturing, these enhanced capabilities open up an entirely new world for production digital print.
Jim Hamilton is Group Director responsible for InfoTrends’ Production consulting services in the areas of digital printing, wide format signage, labels & packaging, functional & industrial printing, workflow & variable data tools, document outsourcing, digital marketing & media, customer communications, and business development. He is responsible for conducting graphic arts market research, market forecasting, custom consulting projects, and creating editorial content for market analysis reports.
Lisa Cross is the Associate Director of InfoTrends’ Business Development Strategies Consulting Service. She is responsible for conducting market research, supporting market forecast estimates, managing custom consulting projects, and reporting on industry events. She also assists companies in developing multi-channel communication, marketing, and content strategies.