Have You Been Enhanced Lately?


Well-known member
by Noel Ward, Editor@Large

Back in the day when the digital printing market was not much larger than a few specks of toner on a page, a colleague snarked to me that the biggest crowd at a print show focused on digital printing was at a small booth selling equipment that enabled gold or silver foil to be placed on a page. If that seems very 1990s to you, it’s because it was.

While the comment was marginally true at the time, print enhancement is now all the buzz. Each year brings new advances in digital printing and finishing that expand the power of print and produce eye-catching special effects that help printed pieces stand out and be noticed. New capabilities are the merger of specialty media, coatings, textures, additional colors, and a host of security features. Individually and together, they empower the latest phase of our industry—Digital Printing 5.0.

Show Me the Money
The obvious question is, do these effects make sense—and make money—for print providers? The answer is generally yes. Okay, you have to be smart about using effects and enhancements, charging for them, and encouraging your customer to buy into taking advantage of them. Most obvious is that enhancements give documents greater eye appeal, memorability, and can encourage response and engagement, which are especially important for promotional materials like direct mail, business cards and point of purchase displays.

Taking a look at this is a new research study conducted on Canon’s behalf by NAPCO Research (a unit of NAPCO Media, the parent company of Printing Impressions and In-Plant Impressions). The research examines the embellishment market and identifies the impacts and challenges commercial printers and in-plants are having with the adoption of these new value-added print applications.

Having been a market research guy in a previous life, I like looking at the data and reading reports about the changes in our industry. I’ve been following digital printing closely since Digital Printing 1.0, always wanting more information than was available. Today, in Digital Printing 5.0, the technology is primed for value-added techniques and processes that print buyers covet: options like foiling, die-cutting, embossing, textures, special coatings, and overprinting. Looking at this ability, a key part of the research focused on techniques that can increase the value of digital printed output by incorporating special effects and techniques that enhance visual appeal. It also looks at the adoption of these enhanced printed applications and challenges the print providers identified in growing the utilization with their customers.

Many print providers are looking for new ways to add value to help serve clients better, boost profit margins, and help differentiate their businesses. Embellishments such as extended colors, specialty colors, embossing, and specialty coatings, are ones commercial printers have long produced on offset presses and off-line finishing. Now, with advancements in digital printing combined with new finishing solutions, print providers are leveraging these innovations to enhance the value of on-demand printing.

Some is Good. More is Better
The study points out that high growth firms are more likely to offer special effects. In fact, nearly all firms that have grown 10% or more (and which charge a premium for what they do) are more likely to offer special effects. This is not surprising, given that many print buyers operate under the notion that “some is good, more is better.” This expectation is making special effects and embellishments on digital printed output a key value added service offering.

Some customers are easily satisfied, making it easy to offer more. Take specialty substrates, for instance. Products like pressure-sensitive stocks; pre-scored, ready-to-print dimensional stock; photo media, and others create new opportunities to offer unique solutions for customer needs, especially when combined with special effects. These can bring in more high-margin work, gain a larger share of existing customers’ wallets, and increase one’s client base. I think of my local go-to printer who seems to be rolling out something new every time I go in. He gets it. And his business is growing.

The thing is, though, “more is better” only when it can generate revenue. In fact, two of print providers’ top sales challenges are that although they may find print enhancements compelling, most customers are neither requesting them nor seeing the value they may provide. This highlights the need for customer and sales person education about the range of enhancements available while promoting their value. As has been proven time and again with products as ubiquitous as smartphones: many people don’t know they want something until they see it. And when a printer can provide features like texture, coatings and special substrates, those capabilities become much more desirable. And more becomes better.

Anticipating Demand
Successful printers don’t just throw the dice. They make wise investments that can help better support their customer and improve their service delivery. In addition to investing the technology they invest in business development, including customer education and sales training. As was the case in the early days of full color digital printing, print providers need to educate the design community, agencies, creatives, marketing managers, brand owners, and print specifiers about what can be done with digital enhancements. Sales reps need to be trained on what's possible so they, in turn, can educate customers and prospects. Having samples that show what can be done offers prospects a first-hand experience and can help close deals. Equipment vendors all have samples and tutorials about how to achieve a given effect. It’s smart to take advantage of this expertise.

This new report, The Rise of the Digital Print Enhancement Opportunity is direct and to the point. As you read it, think about your business and the difference between offering your customers only what they want, and training them to expect more. And then providing it.


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