This edition of our Friday data series offers a preliminary “sneak peek” at the results of the Taktiful and WhatTheyThink 2023 Specialty Digital Ink and Toner Embellishment Study. This study takes a deep dive into how current users of digital ink and toner embellishment technologies are utilizing them, what the response from customers has been, how satisfied print providers have been with the sales and profitability of these jobs, where the challenges lie, and their general feelings about the future of digital ink and toner embellishment technologies. The survey was conducted online from February to April 2023 and the results are based on 115 usable responses from owners of these technologies using them in conjunction with digital printing equipment from Ricoh, HP Indigo, Xerox, Kodak, Oki, Heidelberg, Fujifilm, and Xeikon. The majority of users described themselves as either a commercial printer (offset and digital) or digital printer, with a smattering of specialty printers, label printers, and packaging printers. Respondents were predominantly US businesses, with a few European and Canadian printers, and two or three or so from other regions such as South/Central America, Asia, Africa, and Oceania. There was also a very good balance of small, mid-size, and large establishments.
In our annual Printing Outlook surveys, we have never found that print businesses see an overwhelming opportunity in adding digital embellishments (called “enhancements” on our survey)—at most, only 6% of survey respondents ever saw an opportunity in these technologies (see Figure 1). We’ve always found this to be a missed opportunity.
Figure 1: Adding digital Enhancements as a new business opportunity, 2016–2022. Source: WhatTheyThink Printing Outlook reports.
But as we found in the 2023 Specialty Digital Ink and Toner Embellishment Study, those print businesses that are actively selling and producing these finishing technologies are finding them a profitable value-added service for clients.
The Lay of the Land
First, a little nomenclature. These techniques and technologies go by many names—embellishments and enhancements are the two we encounter most often. In our study, we refer to them as “specialty ink and toner capabilities,” which is how we’ll refer to them in the remainder of this article.
As it turns out, having specialty ink and toner capabilities be a profit center was the point of the investment in them. As per Figure 2, four out of 10 (41%) survey respondents said that the main reason they added these capabilities was to generate more profit. One-fourth of respondents said that they added these capabilities due to specific client demand.
Figure 2: Reason for adding digital embellishments (aka specialty ink and toner capabilities). Source: Taktiful/WhatTheyThink 2023 Specialty Digital Ink and Toner Embellishment Study.
These capabilities have become ensconced in these print businesses’ sales and marketing efforts—three-fourths (74%) of digital press owners who have speciality ink and toner capabilities find them valuable, 17% find them “extremely” valuable, 23% “very” valuable, and 34% at least “somewhat” valuable. (See Figure 3.)
Figure 3: Value of specialty ink and toner capabilities to print businesses’ sales and marketing efforts. Source: Taktiful/WhatTheyThink 2023 Specialty Digital Ink and Toner Embellishment Study.
Print businesses find them valuable in no small part because clients are interested in them—three-fourths (75%) of respondents said that clients are at least somewhat interested in specialty ink and toner capabilities, 4% “extremely,” 26% “very,” and 45% “somewhat.” (See Figure 4.)
Figure 4: Client interest in specialty ink and toner capabilities. Source: Taktiful/WhatTheyThink 2023 Specialty Digital Ink and Toner Embellishment Study.
Ultimately, print businesses who have added specialty ink and toner capabilities are generally satisfied with both sales and profits of these jobs, but there is a bit of a disconnect between sales and profit satisfaction: more than one-half (55%) are satisfied (12% very satisfied) with the profits they make off these jobs, but 40% are satisfied (9% very satisfied) with the sales of these of these jobs. (See Figure 5.) So these jobs are profitable, but the bottleneck is in sales. One big takeaway here is that there needs to be a greater concerted effort on the sales and marketing side to getting the word out about the value that these techniques can add to printed materials. (The write-in response to the “satisfaction with sales” question was “the industry needs to educate marketing people on the opportunities available to them.” Indeed, this is one of the goals of the embellishment study.) And this isn’t just academic: more than one-fourth of survey respondents (27%) said that specialty ink and toner jobs were “always” more profitable than regular CMYK jobs, while 36% said they “usually” are, and 23% said they were at least “sometimes” more profitable. (See Figure 6.)
Figure 5: Satisfaction with profits and sales of specialty ink and toner capabilities. Source: Taktiful/WhatTheyThink 2023 Specialty Digital Ink and Toner Embellishment Study.
Figure 6: Profitability of specialty ink and toner jobs compared to CMYK jobs. Source: Taktiful/WhatTheyThink 2023 Specialty Digital Ink and Toner Embellishment Study.
Where Do We Go From Here
The Specialty Digital Ink and Toner Embellishment Study has much much more data than we can share here, and we dig into some of the reasons why there is a disconnect between sales and profitability, what factors impede the profitability of these jobs, what the obstacles to both selling and producing them are, and where more education from both the industry at large and digital equipment vendors in particular is needed. The full report digs into these questions by industry demographics (i.e., establishment size) and even by digital printing equipment vendor.
Digital embellishment is an exciting technology, and can provide new revenue and profit streams for print businesses. The industry just needs a little education. To start, you can purchase the Taktiful/WhatTheyThink2023 Specialty Digital Ink and Toner Embellishment Study here.