Our Large Format Print Specialist, Yucel Salih, considers the lessons learnt and makes predictions for the sign and display industry.
As we approach another year, we have a natural desire to look back and consider how the previous years’ lessons will inform the next twelve months. It’s important to learn from experience so we can apply this learning proactively to use it to consider predictions for the future.
COVID-19 large format signage and the impact of floor graphics
Coronavirus, and its associated restrictions and guidance, has resulted in simultaneously more and less demand for signage and graphics. Travel, retail, and events and exhibitions have shrunk as profitable markets for print service providers (PSPs). Many businesses and organisations in these sectors simply closed in the spring and some are yet to reopen their doors. But at the same time, signage for informational and directional messages – for instance designating distances of 2 metres or one-way systems – have been in exceptionally high demand. Floor graphics, in particular, experienced incredible sales.
In 2021, there will be – hopefully – less requirement for directional floor graphics. However, their effectiveness has proven its potential for influencing consumer behaviour. So we expect to see more creativity in this application, while PSPs and designers will be keen to create incredible quality output with their digital printers and cutters. A formerly under-utilised canvas, the floors of retail, commercial and public spaces are likely to receive a lot more attention.
Application-led diversification, backed by technology
Since digital large-format printers became affordable investments, most PSPs have found more than enough work to keep them busy; there was little need to look for new markets to explore. When COVID-19 hit, of course, all that changed. All kinds of business had to shift gear and see what else, and to whom else, they could sell. This lead to rapid diversification, principally driven by a demand for specific applications and the application of today’s versatile digital printing technology.
For instance, thanks to large format printers suitable for multiple applications, exhibition specialists may have switched to floor graphics, while T-shirt printers normally busy with personalised tees for events perhaps shifted production to reusable fabric face masks. This type of exploration, experimentation, and entrepreneurialism is expected to drive a new era for print businesses. One where operators and owners will be looking at what else their print room can do and where it can take them, not just during a crisis, but long term.
This extends beyond printing hardware. Inks and substrates are more specialised and yet more versatile and user-friendly, while the software is making more things possible than we could have ever predicted. PSPs now have the tools to integrate their printing operations with e-commerce and marketing platforms, giving them more control and direct access to new markets.
Forging and retaining connections for large format print
Interacting with customers more directly is part of the new normal. This year has been emotional, with much emphasis on staying connected with our loved ones and our communities. Relationships between businesses and their customers, and their suppliers and service providers, are more important than ever before. It’s likely that the companies that succeed in the next twelve months will be those shown to be reliable and responsive to everyone in their supply chain.
For PSPs, these connections established in 2020 may prove incredibly useful in showing customers what’s possible with print in 2021. Social media and e-marketing create more opportunities for engagement and interaction; print businesses can DM or tag their way into the focus of potential customers or show their existing client list their latest application innovation via their inboxes. Trade shows and training have gone online – and are expected to stay there for the time being – giving more people outside the large-format print world unprecedented access.
Personalisation – at home and out
We expect personalisation in the consumer market to grow as a market segment. Custom wall coverings are already an exciting vertical market for PSPs but until recently were typically restricted to schools, colleges and offices, often to display motivational messages, and in hospitals where colour and design can create a more welcoming, less intimidating environment for patients. But now – judging by the demand for home decorating and DIY products in 2020 – there is an opportunity for PSPs to enter the domestic market armed with the ability to create bespoke wall coverings and other interior decor items.
Again, this is enabled by the unceasing R&D in our industry: the material versatility of large format printing technology, the development of low-VOC inks suitable for domestic settings, and new substrates and adhesives that make DIY installation easy for the end-user. Also, software and social media make it possible for PSPs to sell directly to the consumer. Established graphics companies have the skills to succeed in custom home decor.
Back in the commercial sector, we may see more localised marketing messages online, in OOH and on printed output. Many retailers and brands sought to connect with their customers on an emotional level during the pandemic. And have now seen the value of adding localised elements of their marketing to retain that bond with their demographic. The nature of digital printing technology allows unlimited personalisation for businesses with one site or thousands.
Sustainability and reducing costs with large format print
Sustainability, in the eco-friendly sense, has moved down the list of priorities for many businesses and their customers. But ‘sustainability’ also means financial security with longevity. And these two definitions often go hand in hand. Reducing waste, transport miles and energy is all to the benefit of the bottom line as much as the environment.
The trends of 2020 and 2021 discussed here come into play when talking about sustainability and reducing costs. The evolution of technology has resulted in direct-to-substrate printing with latex and UV. Which uses fewer materials and is faster than traditional multi-step methods. Personalisation and greater customer involvement mean buyers get exactly what they want, adding value and reducing waste. Reaching the local market can improve turnaround speeds. Therefore margins while reducing transport emissions and fuel costs. By connecting with customers more directly, PSPs can also educate. About the sustainability of the materials they use, which is far from a black and white subject in our industry.
Sustainability, of course, is all about surviving and growing. All of us could benefit from taking some time to stop, take a breath, and consider what 2020 has taught us. This knowledge can help us thrive in 2021 and beyond.