Stakeholders in the sign and display market can look back on the past 18 months and note solid growth attributed to the steady and measured ascent of digital printing. Globally, we witnessed the continued adoption and embrace of digital as innovative new technologies helped print providers convert analog pages to generate new business and increase opportunities with existing clients.

Industry reports noted that high-end digital printing equipment sales reached record levels in the past year. As screen and offset technologies decline, analog manufacturers are increasingly focused on reducing costs for short runs. Meanwhile, digital UV and latex technologies are quickly gaining ground and reaching new levels of productivity and quality.

The financial climate has also pushed print providers to reduce costs and improve efficiency, while simultaneously finding new revenue with higher-value added services. As a result, segments such as textiles, ceramics, decoration, packaging ,and 3D displays are all reaching the tipping point of digital penetration. While all signs point to the fact that the sign and display market as a whole will continue to grow through the end of 2013 and beyond, these new segments promise to fuel faster acceleration of markets beyond signage.

To be successful moving forward, it will be critical for print providers to unlock the potential of emerging applications and customer segments. The dramatic efficiencies that digital enables compared to analog will draw new customers as clients increasingly recognize the savings of time, resources, and expense. Among digital technologies, latex and UV-curable solutions will play a key role in this acceleration. In a time where customer value, differentiation, and cost efficiency for shorter runs are more important than ever, these two technologies have demonstrated consistent success in bringing growth and profit to customers.

Creativity Matters

As the wide-format printing market continues to expand, print providers should remain focused on driving better print value and broader service offerings to take advantage of the growth opportunities.

High-value, cross-media solutions offering combined online/offline experiences will resonate with brand owners and creative agencies looking to cut through the clutter and reach consumers. These creatives often look to print providers to recommend new printing and marketing techniques, allowing printers to forge the natural connection between printing and mobile Web solutions. From cloud-based print services to prints that connect to a Web experience, there will be greater demand for a more holistic approach across media platforms moving forward.

Everyone in the industry—printer and ink manufacturers, software solutions providers, media vendors, and print providers—is looking for growth areas and more profitable segments. Markets like textiles, ceramics, decoration, and packaging are becoming viable opportunities for digital print service providers. In fact, the addressable markets for decoration and corrugated packaging are expected to grow by 31% and 50%, respectively, by 2020. Out of both sheer necessity and the drive for competitive advantage, more organizations will adopt technologies that deliver these new applications, while improving efficiencies and cost.

The industry as a whole must recognize that evolution is truly the strongest and most sustainable way to move forward. In past years, the industry witnessed a number of examples where market share was sought—not though creativity—but by aggressively dropping prices. Dramatic price reductions cannot be maintained, and as an industry, we must take a hard look at how we create value and focus our best efforts on building a more sustainable industry.

The graphics industry should remain confident in the strength of sign and display, but must never let this confidence lead to complacency. Now is not the time to assume that growth is a given. From financial pressures, to greater competition, to shifting consumer engagement patterns, there are a host of new challenges to overcome. As we finish out 2013 and are looking ahead to the future, the most successful companies in our industry will be those that push beyond established and highly commoditized applications, boldly redefining what is possible in sign and display.