Latex ink jet ink technology was introduced by Hewlett-Packard in 2008 for wide format graphics printing applications, and after an extended period of beta-testing and an economic recession it went mainstream in 2010. During the last 18 months in particular unit placements have continued to gain strength, now totaling over 10,000 placements wordwide at the end of 2011. Plotting the history of HP’s latex printers against a time line, the real insight one gains is the momentum of growth and the importance of broad worldwide distribution. In other words, one of HP’s key advantages is the ability to qualify, meet local regulations, translate manuals and control panels in over 100 countries around the world within a very short period of time. I.T. Strategies estimates that HP sells no more than 75 latex printers a month in any given country and often sells no more than 2 units per month in 80% of the countries it sells latex printers in.
Success for HP in Latex is defined by themselves as reaching cumulative sales globally of ‘about 9,000’ systems including all products using Latex ink for its fiscal year ending October 31, 2011. That is over a period of about 35 months (21 months effectively considering the L25500 series consists of 90%+ of the volume). That would represent a growth second year over first of about 25%. To put this in context, the Eco-Solvent market (HP’s explicit competitive target with Latex) has an installed base of about 106,000 system placements worldwide from 5 major vendors with a growth rate about half of latex technology.
The interesting question is how much of the Latex success is in fact new market and plain organic growth as opposed to attrition against Eco-solvent, because the Eco-solvent market itself is up to the end of 2011 at least, did well enough in its own right. However that might have been, HP at the October 2011 launch of its next generation latex printer, the L2850, made much more than they have before of their ‘Strategy to disrupt the Eco-Solvent Market’ as they themselves now put it. So it seems like Eco-solvent vendors should prepare for a direct assault from now on.
From the beginning Latex has been a green play for HP and they are pressing ever harder on this pedal. Latex makes users feel responsible by taking how from solvent to water-based chemistry, it also improves a user’s working environment by taking out odor, and it allows him to easily recycle through HP’s free take-back programs not only for used hardware and consumables parts, but most importantly, for used printed materials after use. Finally HP allows users to take control of their own education and ‘eco-badging’ through the online certification and interactive Latex University programs. On top of that HP is launching print media like the two-sided HDPE vinyl alternatives that are easier to handle and less chemically aggressive then other vinyl alternatives.
Soft Signage Strategy
Of particular note has been the HP emphasis on ‘Soft Signage’ including textile substrate print capability as well as vinyl film alternatives in HDPE. It is not new that soft signage can be oriented on Latex or that it is a major area of growth, but it is new for HP to be pushing Latex as hard as this in this area. It is a part of HP’s drive to identify Latex with a kind of Universal print capability. HP wants to show Latex printing everything from large scale outdoor hangings, to banners, to vehicle wraps to soft signage to laminated POP.
The Bottom Line
The focus on expanding the application range that wide format graphics printers can print on is one of the keys to revenue growth for all stakeholders in the market. Latex inks are HP’s contribution to this objective, and other manufacturers either have or will be offering new products that also address this objective. With up to 60,000-90,000 wide format graphics printers needing replacement annually, the race is on to provide the newest, most versatile ink technology to the market.