This is our last publishing week before the holiday break, and it seemed as good a time as any to look back at the year that was, and to look ahead at the year to come. Not a stunningly original idea, but there it is.
2014 has been a year of evolution for wide-format. There haven’t been any earth-shattering introductions, but a lot of tweaks and improvements to existing technologies. We have also been seeing a lot of vendors fill in the blanks in their product portfolios, as new and existing users look for those missing links. Entry-level flatbeds are starting to hit the market, and a proliferation of downmarket flatbeds may make the tipping point between print-and-mount and just-print-on-rigid-stuff a bit more clearly defined. As the demand for these kinds of rigid, specialty printed materials grows—and it will—there will be room for more players to get into the market, and with economically lower barriers to entry, it will be somewhat easier to get into that space.
Inks are ever in flux, and 2014 was the year that LED UV hit the big time. LED systems had been a bit of a luxury item for a few years, but is on the way toward becoming de rigueur for UV systems. Solvent inks are still hanging on and as a class of ink probably won’t be going anywhere for a long time, although “eco-solvent” (whatever one wants to make of that term) will comprise more and more of the solvent ink market. Solvents are still often the best option for vinyl-based printing, such as vehicle graphics, another application that will continue to grow.
When we think of vehicle wrapping, we think naturally of cars, but other vehicles can be wrapped, as well. Trucks, buses, vans, RVs, boats, even planes. At the risk of sounding overly science-fictiony, I wonder at what point some kind of dynamic digital vehicle graphics will appear. I doubt it will be 2015, but it seems to me that, as vehicle graphics producers and installers continually need to experiment and add novelty, it’s only a matter of time before we see digital vehicle graphics. I’d put money on it appearing in Southern California before anywhere else.
As textile printing has continued to grow, dye-sublimation systems are likewise poised for even more growth in 2015. Direct-to-garment, especially inkjet direct-to-garment, will also be a prime area for growth. Short-run custom shirts and other garments for schools, teams, and other small groups are catching on. Believe it or not, there is a bit of a fitness craze burgeoning, and team/gym logo-emblazoned T-shirts and other sports apparel are hot items. The growing “cult of CrossFit” has seen a wave of gym openings (one report I saw last January estimated 166% year-over-year growth of Cross-Fit affiliates), and if it has had no other benefit, it has been increased business for short-run T-shirt printers (if not ER doctors). How sustainable that is remains to be seen, but if you are in—or looking to get in—the garment printing business, forging an alliance with a local gym or CrossFit affiliate would be a good strategy.
A relatively new area for printing in general, and wide-format printing in particular, is signage. That’s a high-growth market, as well, and new technologies like flatbed UV and textile printing are helping drive growth of all sorts of signage. The ISA Sign Expo is in Las Vegas in April, and is a great venue to see all the new directions signs are moving in. Of particular interest is dynamic digital signage. Digital signage is still in the early adopter phase, but is the perfect complement to anyone producing wide-format graphics, particularly signage. We will be seeing growth in digital signage in 2015. Trust me: it ain’t going away.
Another growth area for wide-format is packaging, especially corrugated. Keep WhatTheyThink's Labels & Packaging section bookmarked, as there will be some new developments and introductions in 2015 that look to offer new opportunities for print businesses looking to get into that area.
One other application niche to look to: ad specialties. Specialty printed tchotchkes, such as pens, thumb drives, golf balls, hockey pucks, fridge magnets—you name it. Benchtop UV printers make it easy to custom print very short runs of these items for local businesses or events. There is a growing opportunity in producing these items.
On a housekeeping note, we will have a few more editorial contributors to the Wide-Format section in 2015. SGIA’s Dan Marx will continue his invaluable looks at the wide-format and specialty printing markets, and will be joined by his colleagues Rick Hartwig and Marci Kinter, who will offer perspectives on regulatory and sustainability issues, respectively. Steve Urmano from InfoTrends joined us a couple of months ago, and will continue to offer his insights into wide-format. IDC’s Tim Greene will also share commentary on the business of wide-format. And there’s no escaping me, with product and technology overviews as well as a new “application spotlight” feature.
On behalf of all of us here at WhatTheyThink, I wish everyone very happy holidays, and I hope you’ll all join us back here in the new year. We’ll have a dabba-doo time.