by Sean O'Leary
As New Years' tentative dawn turns into the glorious early morning of the year 2017, we note that the wide-format industry is already gearing up for FESPA 2017, the global print expo for the large format segment of the print world. Featuring about 700 exhibitors and a 23,000 sq. m. footprint, this mega show will take place at Messe Hamburg, Germany from May 8 – 12 2017. Reflecting the three ring circus beneath the big top tent of wide-format, the event will feature three zones: digital wide format, textile printing and screen printing. Encompassing an unusually wide spectrum of application niches, the show features everything from graphics and soft signage and vehicle wrapping to garment printing, industrial textile printing and interior dÃ©cor.
The tagline for FESPA 2017 is “Dare to Print Different”. While the phrase seems to be a conflation of several other recent inspirational event slogans, it nevertheless prompts us to ask: what might we find at FESPA 2017 that does indeed dare to be different? What might entrepreneurial printers encounter in the city that discovered the Beatles to jolt their business lives into a new and profitable direction?
The fact is, “wide-format” as a printing category is entering its third decade and the Wild West environment of the 90’s has receded into the past. Many of the sectors under the umbrella are clearly in a mature technology phase even as they continue to see healthy growth. As inkjet continues to advance as the ultimate winner for most types of printing, we have seen and will continue to see incremental improvements in printer speeds and reliability for roll-fed, flatbed and hybrid machines. In terms of print heads, progress advances toward greater resolution, increased nozzle density, wider color gamuts etc etc. The range of ink technologies now includes solvent, UV curable, aqueous latex and dye sublimation, all stable technologies that consistently improve at a measured pace.
On the software side, new RIPs come and go, but by and large the same ensemble of players continues to jockey for position. In addition to their primary function, RIP brands are trying to differentiate themselves by integrating estimating modules and MIS tools into their core product. While back-end software packages incorporate obvious post print functions such as cutting and routing, they are now likely to integrate with mass customization modules. All this has allowed printers to move into new markets as demand emerges.
That’s all good. Steady-as-you go is not necessarily sexy, but it’s probably better for business.
Nevertheless, for the print professional seeking the threshold of the “different”, where will FESPA’s killer app be found?
The overwhelming front runner is digital textile printing. While this market has been years in the making and was strongly presaged at the 2016 SGIA Show in Atlanta, textile printing appears to be on the cusp of a global breakout. In fact, according to a late 2016 report by Smithers Pira, the global market for textile printing will likely double between 2016 and 2021, with an annual average growth rate forecast at 12.3%. According to the Surrey, UK-based packaging, paper and print industry consulting firm, inkjet-printed fabric volume in 2021 is projected to be just under 2 billion sq. meters.
The projected area of the greatest expansion is garment printing, followed by home textiles and then soft signage and displays. Of particular interest is the fashion segment, characterized by a mini selling seasons and print-on-demand delivery models. Supported by increasingly sophisticated web-to-print platforms, this digital fashion marketplace is undergoing a paradigm shift driven by a convergence of digital technologies.
An equally telling, if less dramatic stat from the report is that textile printing market share for digital fabric printing is still at only 2.8% of all textile printing. That number suggests that the potential for growth is huge.
Recent moves by global players back up Smithers Pira’s market research. Mimaki, for example, with early roots as a manufacturer of graphics plotters, recently acquired Italian textile printer manufacturer La Meccanica in late 2016. The company subsequently launched the high volume eight color Tiger-1800 printer, the company’s first direct to textile printer. Mimaki La Meccanica also rolled out a direct sublimation printer mainly designed for the soft signage industries.
EFI’s presence at FESPA is also expected to reflect a feverish year of product development, a significant component of which is directed at interior design and soft signage. First rolled out at Drupa ’16, the FabriVu line of super wide-format printers includes direct-to-fabric dye sub technology. This kind of equipment could represent an almost seamless shift into new markets for large format sign printers.
It should also be noted that Epson announced the opening of two new European innovation hubs late in 2016. Located in Lake Como, Italy, the Innovation Research Lab and The Printing Research Center were established to development new textile printing technology for world markets.
All of this tells us something.
We are still in early days for more detailed announcements from FESPA 2017 vendors, but there is every indication that Hamburg is the place to be for anyone thinking this is the time to move into a market that is virtually guaranteed to grow in the foreseeable future. We will keep you posted as more news emerges.