If you asked any print service provider why they attended drupa 2016, the reason likely would have been to understand the latest industry innovations that would increase business and improve profitability. The vendors that participated in this year’s event were focused on demonstrating applications that expanded margins and helped service providers identify new markets and opportunities. The emphasis was on blending technological innovations with creative (or even disruptive) ideas to keep print alive and enhance profitability. Personally, I was primarily focused on the digital print applications at the show. The suppliers in attendance used a variety of unique themes at their booths to illustrate their commitment to market growth. While Canon educated participants on how to #UNLEASHPRINT, HP explored ways to “Reinvent Your Possibilities.” Xerox highlighted emerging applications that “Let the Work Flow” and Highcon was talking about “Unleashing the Power of Paper.” For service providers of all sizes, the key takeaway from drupa was that there are a number of new opportunities in the printing industry. Driven by an array of technologies, these opportunities are all designed to help add value to print and increase margins.

Unique Substrates, More Profitability

Plastics, metallics, and specialty media were front and center at drupa 2016. The new developments in substrates and digital/offset equipment are making spectacular effects achievable, creating additional opportunities for high-margin applications. A wide range of suppliers demonstrated applications that incorporated synthetics, metallics, clear/frosty clear plastics, metallic foil stamping, holographic stamping, and direct printable magnetic media. These new substrates were designed for nearly all types of suppliers and technologies, ranging from compact 80-ppm machines to very high speed inkjet solutions.

Digital Packaging: A Pathway to Profitability and Growth

Some are referring to this year’s event as the “packaging drupa.” This is being driven by a number of factors, not the least of which is the fact that so many exciting new technologies in digital printing and finishing of packaging materials have emerged in the past few years. The demand for printed packaging is on a global growth trajectory that is consistent with population growth, increased urbanization, and a growing middle class in emerging nations. Today’s brand owners want to personalize and customize while also managing the supply chain, and the vendors at drupa 2016 responded in kind by demonstrating many new and exciting technologies in the printed package arena. From flexible packaging to folding cartons and corrugated package printing, printers could see new and emerging digital capabilities in nearly every booth. Digital printing was implemented on ever wider formats and directly on PET bottles. Vendors incorporated QR codes and printed NFC technologies, make it possible for brand owners to engage their customers in ways that were unimaginable as recently as a few years ago.

More Inks and Toners, New Applications

Across many of the drupa exhibitors, service providers could see the impact of special effect inks. These new inks make it possible to create truly stunning printed products, enabling PSPs and their customers to achieve outstanding differentiation.  White, clear, gold, silver, and neon inks and toners were in full effect at drupa 2016, all designed to support service providers’ portfolio expansion efforts. For printers that are interested in increasing their current digital printing capacity, entering new markets, or exploring new digital opportunities, today’s unique inks and toners support the delivery of diverse outputs to clients and enable new revenue streams. This is ideal for printers that are seeking to differentiate themselves by offering more competitive applications like banners, POP displays, signs, and sales/marketing collateral to customers without going over budget.

Personalization Plus

drupa suppliers showcased solutions that enhanced the value of print through personalization and the development of a strong connection between the reader and the marketer. These suppliers demonstrated packaging personalization, using direct mail and promotional/informational communications backed by software technologies and expertise to support implementation. The emphasis was on creating individually relevant and creatively compelling multi-channel customer communications that were integrated with the right workflow from planning to deployment.

Crossing the Finish Line

Drupa 2016 provided a clear illustration that digital workflow has driven a re-thinking of finishing capabilities. Major finishing vendors are now pouring a significant portion of their engineering resources into new solutions for this space to streamline workflow and eliminate manual intervention while also delivering creative application solutions. As run lengths fall and turnaround times come under more pressure, advancements in post-press automation and integration are becoming increasingly important. Vendors and printers realize that the latest finishing technologies can ease production bottlenecks while also generating new opportunities. The event showcased a series of inline finishing options for direct mail, books, and packaging to improve throughput and productivity while also reducing costs in post-press departments. The vendors shared applications for die-cutting and perforating solutions that were optimized for short runs.

There was also a variety of high-value digital finishing solutions that were designed to add value to the final printed product, reduce time to market, decrease waste, and enable cost-effective finishing of short to medium runs. High-value finishing is a unique way to de-commoditize print. Highcon demonstrated its digital cutting, creasing, and laser die-cutting machine that enables paper converters, label makers, folding carton manufacturers, and direct mailers to effectively produce small runs and decrease time to market for innovative packaging solutions. Other digitally-enabled high-value finishing solutions included:

  • The Scodix family of digital enhancement presses, which offer the post-print addition of variable density embossing and gloss as well as digital foiling
  • MGI’s coating and foiling options
  • Kama’s hot foil, embossing, and in-register holograms can deliver even more added value

These types of finishing solutions open new doors for brand owners, designers, printers, and converters alike.

The Bottom Line: Print is Alive and Profitable!

Graphic arts businesses of all sizes are seeking to remain competitive and profitable while delivering added value to their customers. For print service providers, having the right tools in place is essential to deliver innovative applications and introduce new service lines. My key takeaway from drupa 2016 is that print is alive and well. The industry offers a number of technological innovations that can help print service providers of all sizes deliver higher-value applications to customers, drive new revenue streams, and achieve higher margins and better profitability. To be successful and effectively assess their opportunities for business growth, print service providers must understand all of the latest substrates, inks, toners, packaging applications, and personalization and finishing innovations.