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Versatility, Investment & Differentiation: How signmakers and wide-format printers can prepare for the future
by Jurgen Verhulst, EMEA Marketing Manager, SAi and Dean Derhak, Senior Product Director, SAi.
While the gradual return of more favorable market conditions and improved business confidence is a welcome relief from the post-2008 years, the challenge for signmakers and wide-format printers now is to maintain the disciplines, customer focus and progressive initiatives that enabled their survival.

Many companies have emerged leaner and fitter from the Great Recession, but it’s also probably fair to say that major investment decisions, put on hold during the years of frugality, have remained on the ‘to do’ list.
A look at market trends and the possible future of the sign and wide-format market is critical for companies forming strategies that will shape their investment choices. This is where in-depth discussions with leading industry hardware and software suppliers can prove to be highly valuable. Contrary to the hype for new media and technologies, like digital signage, the sign and display market’s future looks good, but it will not be a simple extension of the present.

A challenging, but bright, future
Consider the products that are currently the staple output of your company. Among them may be vehicle graphics, truck and lorry curtains, street banners, feather flags, café barriers, colorful floor graphics and kakemonos.  How many of these were produced 20 years ago? There is no reason to believe the next decade or two won’t bring another wave of new applications. The migration from screen to digital has brought many changes, but even more opportunities for very short runs, lower cost production and applications on a greater range of substrates. Small companies, schools, organizations and other enterprises who had never bought anything more than basic signs are now buying colorful and creative banners, displays and other applications.
To serve these new customers, sign makers and display printers had to get out of their comfort zones and make the investments and mind-set changes necessary to respond to these new market opportunities.
Is your company working up to the potential of its equipment?
Part of remaining competitive in the future will mean stepping out of your comfort zone, and part of that process is recognizing what you already have the potential to do. This need not require capital investment, but about having ability to be flexible and getting the most from your existing resources.
One way of doing this is to take advantage of software subscription programs offered by suppliers like SAi. These enable licenses for full versions of the latest software programs to be used for limited periods of time for specific jobs, or during peak periods when additional capabilities are required. These programs recognize that when it comes to individual businesses, one size doesn’t fit all. Subscriptions offer great value, whether purchased monthly or annually, and can be paid from revenue accounts, protecting capital.
On the hardware side, refreshing your familiarity with the features of your printers and cutters that you aren’t using can reveal opportunities. Who would benefit from applications using unused features? If there isn’t an existing market for them, can you create one?
Another coming development to watch will be the emergence of niche application solutions. The inclusion of RIP and design software in printer packages is becoming increasingly common. With application-specific end-to-end solutions, new markets can be entered providing quick, local production of high-value products. Avery-Dennison’s TrafficJet™ Print System for retroreflective road and industrial signage is a good example. It’s a complete solution with printer, ink, substrate and SAi software. Similar solutions for wall coverings, digital textile printing, and even printing on wood and glass are either already here or will be in the near term.
Of course, new applications and markets do not mean abandoning old skills and techniques, but furthering them with the right choice of equipment, software and media.
Data gathered from SAi Flexi users worldwide shows that 56% of all signage jobs use cut vinyl. What this figure demonstrates is that after 20 years, digital printing has not become a replacement technology for vinyl, but has expanded the market and created new opportunities. One of the reasons for vinyl’s enduring dominance is that handling and cutting has become easier and more efficient. Optimum imposition to minimize waste, and fast, accurate cutters continue to make the use of vinyl affordable and profitable. Weather and abrasion resistance are other factors that make vinyl attractive to signmakers and customers.
As one user of our SAi Flexi software users said, “Our customers have a taste for clean lines and contemporary designs and they like quality materials. By choosing the right materials, the overall effect can be enhanced. Cast vinyl has great depth of color, and new colors like metallic, clear vinyls with gloss, satin or matte finishes, can differentiate our customers’ image.”
There is no doubt that signmaking and wide-format print markets will change – possibly dramatically – in the coming years. Apart from technological and economic factors, issues like environmental regulations, distribution logistics, energy and others will impact on businesses.
As well as challenges, these will create opportunities for those who recognize them. The leading suppliers with their experience, global reach, research and development resources can work with businesses of all sizes and specialties to explore new technologies and revenue streams to build a secure future.

SAi International