This week, today, to be precise, the annual SGIA Expo kicks off at the Las Vegas Convention Center and runs October 18–20. There is a tendency in pre- and post-trade show coverage to recite a litany of vendors, products, and specifications, but one of the important things to understand about the wide-format market-as you know if you have been reading these features over the past few months-is that it is all about applications. It's first and foremost about finding product niches, and then acquiring the equipment and other capabilities to make those products. That's a simplified decision tree, but you get the idea.

Part of understanding what niches to exploit is to find out what product areas are already saturated. SGIA's Market Trends and Product Specialties Benchmarking Report found that banners are an especially saturated market, although there remains a lot of activity therein. The report found top opportunity areas to be retail and corporate branding, with health care institutions, retail shops, and interior decorators and designers to be the top growing markets. This is not to say that these areas should get all the attention, or that these are the only opportunities, but they lead the pack at present.

Show floors get all the attention, and they are very often where all the action is, but educational sessions can be, well, educational. The SGIA Expo has a plethora of sessions, grouped into five tracks:

  • Graphics & Sign  
  • Garment Decoration
  • Industrial Imaging  
  • Graphics Installers  
  • Business Management

The complete session guide can be found here. And, of course, on the show floor, vendor booths themselves will have a plethora of printed products on display. Use your show floor perambulations as a way of getting ideas.

Things That Are Just Cool
The "SG" in SGIA stands for "specialty graphics," which covers an awful lot of ground. It includes things like traditional wide-format (to the extent that wide-format can be considered "traditional") as well as other techniques like textile printing and garment decoration, vehicle wraps and other automotive applications (did you know that today, instead of repainting a car, you can simply have it wrapped in a new color?), wallpaper, ceramic printing (if you were at Graph Expo last week, perhaps you saw examples of the output of the EFI Cretaprint ceramic printer), and even-as I have mentioned before-coffin wraps (for all those who say that print is not dead, but...well, anyway...). The SGIA show floor will feature different "zones" that focus on some of these applications. In  particular, the Digital Apparel Production Zone will feature direct-to-garment printing systems, heat-transfer methods, cut-and-sew workshops, and more.

Then there are things that are just plain cool. Whether they represent a major or significant new business opportunity for printers remains to be seen, but sometimes things are worth checking out simply because they are very cool. Take 3D printing. That is, you can now output, from a printer, a bewildering variety of physical three-dimensional objects, including, but not limited to, loudspeakers, scientific laboratory supplies, a nano-sized racing car, chocolates, a transplantable human jawbone, dinosaurs, and even-disturbingly-guns. Now, this is not to say these specific applications will be on display at SGIA, but the Industrial & Printed Electronics Zone on the show floor (Booth #3689) will feature some examples of the systems used to produce three-dimensional materials. Printed electronics in particular is emerging as a major new print application-and it doesn't require as elaborate a print system as you would think. (We will look at printed electronics in an upcoming feature.)

Digital signage, in the Digital Signage Innovation Zone, will offer more than a glimpse of the next stage of competition from electronic media. Electronic signs are not completely new, but if you have been out in public spaces recently, you've seen them proliferate, as the cost of large-screen displays has come down precipitously.

Local Color
As I have written in a previous feature, wide-format is not just about hardware; software is required to help manage the hardware, especially in the area of color management. Ask anyone who is heavily involved in wide-format production and they'll tell you that managing color-especially when wide-format is combined with some other print or non-print component in a larger campaign-is becoming of paramount importance. Hence, the Color Management Zone (Booth #147) will offer a colorful array of solutions to help get the most accurate and consistent color out of your hardware-whatever your hardware may be.

As suggested earlier and in a previous feature, there is virtually no limit to the things that can be printed on-paper, paperboard, foamcore and other rigid materials, films, polymers, aluminum, and magnets. Many of these materials are also designed to be environmentally sustainable. Again, use your show floor perambulations to get ideas for products and application niches you may be able to take advantage of.

At the End of the Day
I've written before about the importance of finishing, so keep an eye out for finishing equipment exhibitors. There are the standard laminators, cutters, etc., but also some more exotic options, like laser cutters and systems.

Of course, after looking at all the products, and hardware, software, and applications, you may be wondering about the business aspects of it all. If you have ventured into the world of wide-format production, one of the things that may have struck you is that it requires an entire new way of selling-in fact, most new digital printing applications do, as well. Friday morning, industry consultant and sales coach Todd Cohen will lead a special keynote breakfast and offer tips and strategies for motivating and managing an effective sales force.

WhatTheyThink will be at the show prowling the show floor, and we will have our video studio set up in Room N205. Be sure to stop by and say hi. We will be reporting, writing, and recording from the show, so stay tuned!