The Future Of Print
As someone familiar with the printing industry in the region, Frank Romano portrays the future of print as he sees it
It is an honor to be a virtual Editor-in-Chief of ME Printer, even for a brief moment, and to talk about my favorite subject: the future of the printing industry.
I am proud to help celebrate the 100th issue of a magazine that has kept its industry and its region informed at a time when many traditional views about print are changing. When I receive MEP it is like receiving a gift. It is both a reporter of print and a beautiful example of the best of print.
This magazine is a credit to the printers and their suppliers in the Middle East. By supporting MEP, you are also supporting print.
I caught a glimpse of how the industry has changed during my visit to Dubai last year as well as throughmeetings at Drupa with printers from Oman, Egypt, Lebanon, Jordan, Iran, and other countries in the Middle East.
When I entered the lobby of the futuristic plant of Masar Printing in Dubai there was an old Heidelberg press on display. It showed the past of printing as you entered the very modern present of printing. In Oman I saw a small hand press used by the Dauria family to start their printing business decades ago.
At one time letterpress was considered the standard method for printing. These two examples show how far we have come with printing technology, so it is probable that technology will change and today’s printing machines will also be on display some day.
Even though print volume has declined in the Western world, print is still an important medium in the Middle East. But even with decline there still remains, and will remain, a large body of work that must be printed. In praise of print, I say:
Print has been around for centuries
It has recorded war and peace
Its pamphlets and documents create and change nations
It prints lofty prayers and lowly forms
Print takes ideas and information and makes them tangible
It helps to promote and inform and entertain
Catalogs and direct mail are a spur to action
Print communicates brands and facilitates marketing
Print preserves and protects precious memories
Greeting cards say what we feel
Photo books are family legacies
Print is the reasoned and reliable record of our times
Print puts ink on paper and plastic and other materials
It produce packages and publications and products
Print and paper will transcend the digital age
Because print commands attention and gets results
Print will prevail
Although there is a large base of legacy presses, the industry will, over time, upgrade to new technology. Traditional offset litho dominates but flexo has grown because of packaging. And digital printing continues to make inroads.
All eyes have been on new printing technology led by nanographic printing. But there were over 20 demonstrations of dry toner, inkjet, and liquid toner printing from major companies and new entrants in drupa 2012. Some of these systems are a year or two away.
By 2025, most printers will have made the transition to newer equipment. We expect the traditional offset press suppliers to offer both advanced litho presses as well as new technology presses. Offset litho will still be viable into the future but new technology will bring makeready down to zero, which plate-based offset cannot do. The choice of press will depend on the run lengths that are prevalent at the time and in the market. The trend is toward shorter runs.
More important will be workflow. Workflows have evolved from metal to mechanicals to film to direct plates to digital. It was Computer-To-Plate technology that helped to automate workflows. One of the reasons that printing companies have cut their costs and labor is because they have implemented automated workflows. We use the term workflow as though it is one thing; it is actually many things. It is apparent that moving from a marketing or communication need to a final printed product requires many steps.
There is a lot of interest in so-called Web2Print. It is much more than a store or a web page. It is a facility. It collects information about the job, proofs the job, and moves the job through the internal workflow. We live and work in an electronic age and the physical aspects of print are yielding to automated aspects. Printing services must be super efficient and be relentless in keeping costs low.
There is no doubt that some printed products have become electronic. Because Americans now do their financial work online and no longer mail checks, the check industry has declined and the postal service is reducing the days of delivery. But other printed products, like brochures and promotional material are growing in volume. There are certain printed products that will not be converted to electronic delivery. Packaging, of course, is the major printed product that will grow in volume.
One of the growth areas for printers around the world has been wide format inkjet. It has been the major growth area for printers. Flatbed inkjet printers can print on glass, plastic, metal, ceramics, fabrics, and more. This kind of device will open new markets for many printers.
For printers to succeed they must also master cross media promotions. Electronic communication will have its place and print will be combined with electronic methods in multi-media, multi-channel marketing programs.
A major issue facing printers is the lack of practical knowledge about printing by many print buyers. As print volume has declined, companies have combined the functions of designer, production specialist, and purchasing agent into one job.
The last decade has been a whirlwind of change as digital printing arose from a niche product to a mainstream capability. Dry toner found competition from inkjet and liquid toner. Thus, the term digital printing now covers a great deal of ground. We have seen some traditional suppliers suffer financial woes and the rise of new suppliers. We are barraged with news about the latest digital device which adds to more and more confusion. It was easy to understand offset litho; digital printing is difficult to understand.
The future comes with every new day and printers continue to face challenges. But we have dealt with challenges before and we will deal with them again. The printers of the Middles East are resilient and innovative.
They, and print, will prevail.