Kevin Wallace is managing director of All Print Supplies, one of the UK’s independent suppliers of sign vinyl and materials to the sign, exhibition and display markets. Here he shares his views on what we can expect to come from wide format printing in the forthcoming year.
We’ve been one of the UK’s leading suppliers of sign vinyl and materials to the sign, exhibition and display printing markets for over 25 years and I would say right now we are, broadly speaking, going through an evolutionary rather than revolutionary period in the development of our industry. Over the last decade, wide format machines have made incredible advances in terms of quality, speed and flexibility – all in a relatively short space of time. But the last couple of years on the hardware side have, with one or two obvious exceptions, been largely about incremental rather than revolutionary improvements in machine performance.
In 2013, I believe we will continue to see a gradual move from new major developments on the machines themselves towards highly innovative solutions coming to the fore from ink and materials manufacturers. The market is naturally cyclical and there is a ‘troika’ that constantly drives innovation, with each one of the troika taking turns to push the industry forward.
For example, the market (PSPs) might demand new creative solutions and the hardware/software and materials/inks manufacturers respond. Or, the hardware and software manufacturers take the lead and build great solutions and encourage the development of new inks and materials to maximise this technology for the customer. Or, the materials/inks manufacturers develop new, innovative solutions that help customers and manufacturers to fully exploit the technology that already exists and push it on to the next level. And, it’s here that I think we currently are.
There are many new and exciting advances in materials and inks currently on their way to the market that support this assertion. These include non-adhesive polyesters that stick to smooth surfaces just like static cling vinyls; pearlescent photo papers for eco-solvent and latex printing for incredible eye-catching retail graphics for the cosmetic and jewellery sectors, and new tear resistant papers for indoor or outdoor signage applications. At APS, we’re at the sharp end of all of this, because we both field requests from customers for new, unique products and also work closely with the manufacturers of the products we sell to ensure they are relevant to the current and future needs of the market. For us, this position is an exciting place to be.
One of the long standing issues for wide format vinyl printing in the corporate space is the demand on colour critical work when it comes to maintaining brand standards i.e. the EasyJet orange, the Virgin red and so on. To fight intense competition in the market, brand colour and consistency is more critical than ever, yet generally, wide format vinyl printing has been a bit of a weak link in the chain as it has traditionally relied on the individual to subjectively assess the right colour match when it comes to printing on vinyls. To address this exact issue and encourage consistency across the industry, earlier this year we introduced a Vinyl Colour Formula Guide, which means for the first time sign makers are able to match a coated Pantone number to a solid standard self-adhesive colour vinyl instantly.
In terms of the machines themselves, I believe the opportunities around latex printing and what the future holds for this area are very interesting and a genuinely unique and exciting recent development. The HP L25500, 26500 and 28500 latex printers all seem to be making a real impact in the wide format graphics and sign markets and we’re hearing good things about these machines from our customers. And, as with the above cyclical nature of innovation, latex presents a real challenge to the material manufacturers. Real flexibility is the key to success for today’s wide format PSP, so the manufacturers we work with for example, are in the process of developing product ranges that are suitable for both eco-solvent and latex printing to offer PSPs maximum versatility. At our own R&D centre in Slough we have also installed L25500 and 26500 printers and are working hard with our customers and manufacturers to field test these new product ranges.
It’s clear we’re in the middle of a very interesting evolutionary time for the wide format industry. It’s truly coming of age and its importance to the print industry overall continues to increase. It’s one of the real bright spots of the industry - it’s growing, full of innovation and profitable. What more can you ask for?
All Print Supplies