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Printing Industry Exchange ( 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: Drupa’s Focus on Industrial Printing

I’ve been reading a lot about industrial printing recently. I’ve seen an expansion of printing over the last several years, growing beyond its traditional role in publications and marketing toward a greater role in functional or industrial decoration.

For instance, when you look at the keyboard of your computer, you see letters, numbers, and other symbols that make it easier for you to communicate with the computer but that are not in themselves decorative, educational, or persuasive. Yet they are nevertheless printing.

If you open your computer, you will see all the printed circuitry through which your computer sends electrons as it functions. When I was a teenager and pursuing my hobby of electronics, we made printed circuits by hand with etching baths (acid, essentially), and block-out solutions you could apply with a pen. The solution would keep the acid from biting through the underlying metal, leaving a pathwork of metal that became the base of the printed circuits (a process akin to fine arts etching). Now this is all done digitally, and the inkjet printing devices that produce the printed circuit boards are still doing a type of printing.

Or look through any home décor establishment, and you will see all manner of tiles and wall-covering materials that have been inkjet printed or dye sub printed with special industrial equipment. And all of this is still printing.

Enter drupa, the Printing Super-Tradeshow

What has piqued my interest is that the main printing trade show, drupa, to be held from 5/31 to 6/10 in Dusseldorf, Germany, will focus specifically on this aspect of printing: items and processes made to be functional first, and decorative second.

To quote from an article I just read about drupa 2016, “a strong focus at drupa 2016 will be the advances in industrial printing, specifically packaging, glass, textile, ceramics, flooring, laminates, wood, wallcovering and decorative printing, as well as printed electronics” (“drupa 2016 to Highlight Advances in Industrial Printing and Printed Electronics During Show,” source: Messe Dusseldorf North America, 1/22/16).

New Technological Advances and Their Implications

The article goes on to say that “packaging production and industrial printing applications are recognized today as growth markets.” (Werner Dornscheidt, president and CEO of Messe Dusseldorf). Considering the “death of print” meme circulating through the media during the last few years, it is encouraging to see that the markets for packaging (which is in itself functional because it contains and protects, as well as advertises, consumer products) and industrial building materials (enhanced by digital printing technology) are growing. This flies in the face of the “death of print” naysayers. It also provides opportunities for advancements in custom printing technology (for instance, finding the best ways to print on a flooring tile and then bake in the pigment so time, exposure to the elements, and foot traffic won’t wear it away).

“drupa 2016 to Highlight Advances in Industrial Printing and Printed Electronics During Show” notes InfoTrends figures showing that “worldwide mass-production of decorative products accounted for just under half a trillion dollars in manufactured goods in flat glass, ceramic tiles, flooring/laminates, textile and wall coverings.”

With the improvements in dye sublimation fabric printing and inkjet direct to fabric printing it is easy to see how consumer demand is driving new developments in this custom printing technology. In addition, the growing desire for bespoke solutions (one-off print jobs) ideally positions the new digital technologies for mass-customization of interior design work.

Furthermore, although it’s not clear yet exactly how this will play out, additive manufacturing advances (3D custom printing) have allowed interior designers (as well as fashion designers) to add 3D components to their printed products.

What You Can Take Away from Messe Dusseldorf North America’s Article on drupa

    1. All of these functional printing opportunities existed before the advent of digital printing. The products were just produced using analog technology, such as offset, gravure, flexography, and custom screen printing.


    1. Producing these functional print jobs with analog technology required long press runs to make the work cost-effective.


    1. Now, with the rapid growth of digital printing, it has become economically feasible to create as few as one copy of a tile, window drape, bedspread, or printed glass window.


    1. As designers and print buyers, it behooves you to widen your definition of commercial printing. There are multiple opportunities beyond designing and producing print books, posters, brochures, and signage.


  1. The confluence of 3D printing advances, an increased interest in functional printing, and digital printing in general may forever change the paradigm of consumer buying. Instead of going to a manufacturer or retailer, you may just download a file, 3D print a physical object, and decorate or customize it with your own in-house custom printing equipment.

2 Responses to “Custom Printing: Drupa’s Focus on Industrial Printing”

  1. Seb Gibbs says:

    Custom Sign Printing has a great future and a exposure too!!

    • admin says:

      Thank you for leaving a comment on the blog. I personally think custom sign printing has a great future, along with labels, packaging, and point of purchase materials. There are certain things the Internet cannot replicate. And even though digital signage has caught on, I can’t see how you can wrap a digital screen around a building, a blimp, or a car.


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