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The latest opportunities in digital print? GRAPH EXPO prepares the roadmap

Press release from the issuing company

September 16, 2003 -- This fall’s GRAPH EXPO and CONVERTING EXPO show marks 10 years since the first variable data color printing systems appeared in the U.S. market. A lot has changed in that decade, and this year’s show will present a complete showcase for all that’s new for every type of digital printing. The first Xeikon/Agfa ChromaPress and Indigo E-Print systems made their American debuts at GRAPH EXPO 93. They joined an already thriving array of single-color digital printing solutions, as well as on-press direct imaging (DI) technology that had premiered at PRINT 91. The printing industry has spent much of the ensuing decade learning to deliver sound data to these high-speed systems and figuring out exactly who would buy the product, at what prices. Today, the printer’s hard-won digital prepress savvy is paying off in the form of new markets, which are being opened not only by variable data digital printing but by some significantly more straightforward technologies. The Graphic Arts Show Company (GASC), producer of GRAPH EXPO and CONVERTING EXPO, points to wide format digital ink jet printing as a prime example. Consultant Stewart Partridge of Web Consulting, Inc., agrees, noting that “wide format ink jet printing offers relatively modest equipment investment, quick set-up, a minimal learning curve, and large profit margins. Implementation can be quick and easy, particularly for printers already experienced with digital prepress systems.” GASC is staging a multi-vendor Wide Format Pavilion at the show, with more than 17 companies ready to show high-quality output through a variety of roll-to-roll and flatbed inkjet printers from 50 inches wide, to producing images up to 17 feet wide. The Pavilion is sponsored by four leading industry publications including Digital Graphics, Digital Output, The Big Picture and Sign Builder Illustrated. NPES The Association for Suppliers of Printing, Publishing and Converting Technologies (NPES) has appraised this market as potentially worth $11 billion a year, and Partridge warns that so far fewer than three percent of offset printers have adopted ink jets as anything other than a proofing tool. Eric Magnuson, president of Left Dakota, a color management specialist in Los Angeles, says the presence of large format ink jets and digital workflows in many print shops today presents both short-term and long-range opportunities. “Right now the opportunity is 40X markups,” Magnuson says. Printers can take on short run color jobs, posters, trade show graphics, signage and other jobs and earn substantial profits quickly, he says. “When you already have the customer’s files, why not?” he asks. “Printers say, ‘it’s not our main business, but we won’t turn it away.’” These high margins won’t last forever, though, Magnuson warns; as more and more suppliers enter the business markups will shrink. But the printer who acts early will establish a healthy additional revenue stream, and “this long-term opportunity is not going to go away.” Moreover, Magnuson also feels that implementing digital wide format ink jet output “is very straightforward. It’s not like the printer has to change gears and think differently.” But some attitude modification may be in order, Partridge says. “Even today, many offset printers do not consider wide format ink jet printing as anything other than a slow and expensive print tool that requires dedicated papers and media,” he observes. “They do not believe it is ‘relevant’ to their business. This is an interesting debate. Do offset printers exist to make offset prints? Or do they exist to make money?” Partridge suggests digital ink jets can be an ideal point of entry for printers into digital printing, with an initial investment below $10,000 and the possibility of profitable customer work immediately. You can move upstream when the business, your production staff, sales personnel and customers are ready,” he adds. One company that has steadily expanded its digital output operations over the years is Dodge Color in Bethesda, MD. One key to success for Dodge was hiring people to run the wide format ink jet operations who were thoroughly familiar with prepress and CMYK-based workflows. Another key is a slightly different sales approach, says Edward Finn, Dodge vice president and business manager. Finn recommends having a sales person exclusively dedicated to this business, with a compensation structure that recognizes the atypical nature of these transactions. “It's a ‘different’ kind of sale in that the dollar amounts involved are typically modest,” Finn says. Whether as a revenue stream in its own right, or as entrée into the world of digital printing, GASC suggests America’s commercial printers need to take a fresh look at large format digital ink jet output. The Wide Format Pavilion at GRAPH EXPO and CONVERTING EXPO 2003 is designed to provide the ideal forum. The Pavilion is located in booths 4062 and 4462. Exhibitors include Aeromatrix, Agfa, Canon, Colorbus, Contex Scanning Technologies, Durst, Encad, ErgoSoft, McDermid Colorspan, TQT, VUTEk, and Zund Systemetechnik AG with their US distributor ACCI. The Pavilion also includes a showcase of output products created using ink jet printing technology, called the Innovation Gallery. The Gallery was designed and installed under the direction of Jeanne M. Long, independent curator. Ms. Long who is currently the Associate Director of Special Exhibitions at the School of The Art Institute of Chicago has curated and designed numerous fine art exhibitions and exhibition gallery settings. With over 20 years experience in the arts, Ms. Long welcomed the opportunity to showcase the creativity and ingenuity of the graphic arts industry. Assisting her in the installation are working artists from the School of The Art Institute of Chicago, as well as recent Institute alumni who have worked in various formats of ink jet imaging. The Gallery is open during the show hours, the 28th of September through the first of October.