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Printing Industry Exchange (printindustry.com) is pleased to have Steven Waxman writing and managing the Printing Industry Blog. As a printing consultant, Steven teaches corporations how to save money buying printing, brokers printing services, and teaches prepress techniques. Steven has been in the printing industry for thirty-three years working as a writer, editor, print buyer, photographer, graphic designer, art director, and production manager.

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Custom Printing: Future Directions in Digital Printing

I read a lot about commercial printing every day. I find it interesting, and it supports my work in print brokering, graphic design, and, of course, my blog writing for PIE. Once in a while I find an article that encapsulates what I’ve been seeing on my own, particularly regarding industry trends.

I found just such an article this week, entitled “Reimagining Print: Five Key Trends in the Digital Printing Industry,” written by Kuldeep Malhotra, Vice President Sales, Konica Minolta Business Solutions, India Pvt. Ltd. I found it on the www.deccanchronicle.com website on 04/19/19.

Digital Printing Trends

“Reimagining Print: Five Key Trends in the Digital Printing Industry” captures in relatively few words the trajectory of digital commercial printing. This article specifically addresses digital fabric printing, but it applies, I think, to all digital custom printing.

To begin with, Malhotra’s article notes a striking statistic: “The global market for digital printing is projected to grow at a CAGR of 4.48% to reach USD 28.85 billion by 2023; digital fabric printing alone is expected to grow at a CAGR of 25%” (“Reimagining Print: Five Key Trends in the Digital Printing Industry”). That is significant growth when you think back several years to articles about the death of print. Without a doubt, custom printing is growing again.

Malhotra’s article highlights the position within the printing arena of newly developed technology (artificial intelligence, machine learning, the Internet of Things, data analytics, and automation), and then goes on to explain how digital printing will benefit from these new technologies.

More specifically, Marhotra identifies five trends in digital custom printing that allow it to produce unique, personalized products quickly and cost-effectively:

  1. “Booming demand for personalization”
  2. “A shift toward sustainable operations”
  3. “User convenience and optimized operations through cloud connectivity”
  4. “Short-run and on-demand execution”
  5. “Elevated print-led brand marketing experiences”
    (“Reimagining Print: Five Key Trends in the Digital Printing Industry”)

Here is the gist of Malhotra’s findings:

Demand for Personalization

Personalization enhances “customer experience, loyalty, and retention” (“Reimagining Print: Five Key Trends in the Digital Printing Industry”). Customers expect brands to address them directly and to provide a unique, personal experience. In other articles, marketers use the term “unboxing” to describe the experience of opening a package of a particular product. If customers feel valued and understood by a brand that reflects the same values they themselves espouse, these customers reward the brand with their loyalty. They buy the product, or other products, again and again. And marketing wisdom holds that retaining a customer is much easier than acquiring a new one.

So when marketers pair artificial intelligence, machine learning, the Internet of Things, data analytics, and automation with the variable-data nature of digital commercial printing, they can target each printed product to a particular customer in a far more efficient manner than would be possible with traditional analog printing (offset printing, flexography, etc.).

Feeding all of the data gathered through new computer technologies into digital printing processes makes marketing far more efficient (lowering the cost of acquiring new customers) and at the same time fosters “the robust growth of the digital printing industry” (“Reimagining Print: Five Key Trends in the Digital Printing Industry”).

A Shift to Sustainable Operations

Malhotra notes customers’ increasing focus on the sustainability of everything from the manufacturing to the marketing of the products they buy. This is particularly true for millennials, a huge and growing market.

Digital printing uses renewable resources and consumes/produces far less toxic material than traditional analog printing methods. But it goes beyond this. By merging the computer data systems and faculties noted above with digital commercial printing, it is possible to reduce the volume of printing while increasing the effectiveness of each brochure or catalog (for instance). Digital printing based on comprehensive data makes marketing more efficient, and this reduces both emissions and waste. (For example, there’s no obsolescence in printed matter when it can be digitally produced as needed. There’s also only a limited need for storage and warehousing of digitally printed products.)

One area in which this is particularly evident is ink production for digital printing. UV inks are environmentally friendly and cure (dry) instantly under UV light. They are therefore suitable for printing on everything from fabric to plastic (i.e., both porous and non-porous substrates) while retaining their vibrant color. This allows printers to “meet their sustainability goals and reduce their carbon footprint” (“Reimagining Print: Five Key Trends in the Digital Printing Industry”).

Cloud Connectivity

More and more of the data-acquisition, data-management, and even print production functions have been digitized and have also migrated to cloud computing. This means everything is accessible from most devices, and communication among participants in data management, marketing, and custom printing can be seamless and not based on time or location.

Marketers can update print materials from any computer at any time (even with multiple people collaborating on the same document simultaneously) and then send the jobs seamlessly to press.

This allows printing processes to be automated and to occur around the clock as needed, enhancing work flow efficiency as well as print product quality.

Short-Run, On-Demand Printing

Marketers are finding that they can send fewer print marketing materials to fewer prospective customers while at the same time increasing their response rate. They are marketing more efficiently, spending less (and creating less waste) to make more money. Because of this, customer demand has driven down the average print run. This is also true because marketers are finding it more effective to marry Internet marketing and print marketing, producing cross-media campaigns rather than just print- or Internet-based promotions.

Digital printing is ideally suited to these shorter runs. Since there is only minimal make-ready in digital printing, printers can reduce set-up costs and waste. At the same time, the marketing writers and designers can make last-minute changes far more easily on a digital printing platform, and this makes it possible to send customers the relevant, time-sensitive material they need.

Print-led Brand Marketing Experiences

According to “Reimagining Print: Five Key Trends in the Digital Printing Industry,” “new-age consumers do not just consume; they tend to rate products or services based on the entire experience, from ownership to usage.” To current and prospective customers, the buying experience is important, and they tell others when they’re happy or displeased with this component of their purchase.

To benefit from this awareness of current consumer behavior, marketers are incorporating AR (augmented reality) into their marketing materials. A consumer can scan a print ad and go to a brand’s Internet site that provides an experience of “virtually” using their products. This technology can work seamlessly with both the immediacy and the personalization capabilities of digital custom printing. And marketers are learning that providing the same brand message across multiple channels (print, Internet, signage, podcasts) both enhances and reinforces the message for potential buyers.

What You Can Learn from This Article

  1. The better you understand how information technology, big data, marketing, consumer behavior, and digital printing work together, the more likely you will be to find your own niche in this expanding, profitable world. This is true whether you are a designer, a print buyer, or a printer.
  2. Therefore, the best thing you can do is to read everything you can get your hands on regarding these individual subjects and the ways they interact.
  3. I personally have found that Internet aggregators (Google has one) provide a broad selection of articles on whatever interests you. Every night Google sends me one group of articles on digital printing and another set on offset printing. Even if you just read the headlines each day, you’ll learn something. And as they say, knowledge is power.

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