Digital 22: Thinking Sensibly About Print in an Uncertain World - The Noel D'Cunha Sunday Column

We have become more connected people, which is good. Today more than a billion devices around the planet are inter-connected. In such a world what role does print have to play?  

The Mumbai Mudrak Sangh’s closed-door Round Table (RT) event on 26-27 February 2022 in Radisson Blue Resort & Spa at Alibaug will see Digital Print Unplugged.  

Read on...

02 Jan 2022 | By Noel D'Cunha

At USD 23.6-bn in 2021, the equivalent of 1,487-bn A4 print, India is at number five position both in value and volume globally. It’s the seventh fastest-growing by value (2016-2026) and eighth fastest-growing in print volume terms.

In 2019, the total digital print size was 64-bn in terms of A4 print volume and USD 6.4-bn.  The Covid-19 crisis notwithstanding, by 2024, the volumes are expected to increase to 87-bn in terms of volumes and USD 8.7-bn in value.

In 2020, PrintWeek conducted a survey with more than hundred publishers, in which it was revealed that printing cost is key. While more than 50% of publishers prefer to print exact quantities as per the order received and to reduce the load on stock, they are not sure what could be the best option keeping the cost in mind. This might be important now for digital technology providers to start coordinating with publishers, understand their pain areas and break-even points and reconsider the cost of print. Inkjet could play a major role in this transformation.

# RT One - The digital print entrepreneurs of Surat
A prominent print company in Mumbai, which incorporated eCommerce in its vertical, said, one of the many changes it made during the transition was to invest in digital presses. It already had a digital printing press, but upgraded it with the latest one. In the last four years, it has seen steady growth in the short-run, personalised and variable data printing segment.

In Surat, a market where runs are short, but the SKUs are higher. Here the print company runs a hybrid model. An offset operation, the company invested in the digital press because its primary aim was to match offset like print quality. Currently, the company prints approximately 10-12 thousand prints on a daily basis.

The size of the litho printing in India in A4 size is estimated to be around 7-trillion in 2021. But a transformation is happening: print jobs are moving from litho to digital.  There’s a 21.6% transformation of value that is expected to go from offset to digital, and that’s a whopping Rs 9,000-crore in revenue opportunity.

Are the printers open to a hybrid model of print operation?

RT #1 is about the Surat model.

# RT Two - Digital for packaging
Parksons Packaging can produce high-quality, B2-format (20x30-inch format) applications allowing brand owners to communicate with end-users customers, provide a lean and agile supply chain, faster speed to the market, including on-pack messages.  

Till Parksons brought in the HP 30000, the company had never discussed anything digital. But once it did, there was a marked change in the approach. The first four or five months were great learnings. It’s a mindset change to adopting digital printing, while still entrenched in offset. Digital printing has the capability to provide brand owners with new ideas and create new stories for their product. Doing print business is not just about meeting demand, but creating demand. That’s the message.

During the pandemic we saw a beautiful cereal carton produced on a HP 30000 in Japan. This carton had multiple motifs of animals which could be downloaded with an app. Then there is augmented reality. This was a big hit among kids in that market.

There are many such examples. How to create something new, something different, something beyond our imagination.

# RT Three - Digital print for books
One thing the PrintWeek team picked up was how book production managers had additional responsibilities. Most of them had to expand their area of work to operations and become a larger part of the supply chain. Additional responsibilities included managing stock and delivery as well, plus adding efficacy to the value chain.

This is where digital print played a huge role.  From planning Just in Time stock in, reducing Turn-Around-Time (TAT).

The big message for the print industry from the publishing sector in the past 20 months: Re-order level (ROL) getting reviewed regularly which triggers re-ordering quantity (ROQ). This was checked weekly; keeping in mind that average TAT for digital printing).

How did digital print serve the publishing sector in India during the past 20 months? What kind of standardisations were implemented in order to improve efficiency?

# RT Four - Digital mailers and promos
More digital, highly personalised mail on shorter run times.

Adoption to mailers as part of their own transformation journeys. More and more are using QR codes on prime documents, rather than a 48pp T&Cs booklet.  As Covid widens and more people are working from home or hybrid working, the mail is a trusted method of communication, which marketers can take advantage of and integrate into their strategies moving forward.

The focus during this RT will also be on the lack of training of marketers in offline marketing makes it challenging for us to get a foothold; it’s far too easy and less risky for them to stick to what they know – online.

# RT Five - Boutique Pre-Media
When printing, packaging and imaging is in the company’s DNA

How to have ops which creates a basic 3D visualiser for cartons and bottles. The key is 3D software skills and print and packaging experience. The firm could create a powerful/superior set of 3D applications for packaging visualisation, to challenge the market leaders.

Mastery of physical mock-ups and shipping plus the enormous environmental benefits has brought packaging innovation in-house for many large brands. The USP is: the real-time merging of 2D images with 3D designs, so products can be previewed from every angle and in any setting, such as on shelves to gondolas, chiller cabinets or freezer displays.

# RT Six - Textile and fabrics with digital
Wide-format dye-sublimation printer is the subject of this RT.

How to produce soft signage on a UV 5m machine. To ensure quality for fabric print; to understand the limitations of UV inks on fabric; particularly in regard to their longevity and resilience; and the leap to dye-sub.

Good demand for fabric print that works with malls, office spaces, hanging structures for exhibitions, flags, and lightbox systems, events etc. A whole new tier of wide-format, dye-sub products on a huge variety of fabrics, and offer stretch fabrics and even textiles for the soft furnishings sector.

Caterpillar Signs is a US-based company which has set up a plant in Ahmedabad, specialising soft signage, UV and direct fabric and dye-sublimation printing among other wide-format applications. Established in 2021, the company has built a good capacity in India. Two plants, a raft of EFI wide-format printing press, including a textile printing machine, besides a 20,000 sqft storage space served the markets in Europe and Asia-Pacific.

Caterpillar produced different signage products in India, but it did not intend to sell in India. It was the competitiveness of the market, which was the deterrent, till it saw an opportunity of catering to companies and brands that are looking for premium products and services. Today, Caterpillar Signs is registered with clients like Blackberrys Pantaloons, Gitanjali Jewellers, Orra Fine Jewellery, Piramal Healthcare, Unicorn Infosolutions and Jio among the forty brands it engages with.

# RT Seven - Digital retail and shop-in-shop + thermoforming
The thermoforming market is estimated to be growing at 5.7% and the key drivers are the rising healthcare and pharmaceuticals, food and agricultural packaging industries and increasing manufacturing activities. With the changing demographics and lifestyles shifting the market towards e-retailing channels and convenient packaging, the market is projected to grow to USD 45.9-billion in 2024.

Before there were only one or two substrates for printing and with a wide-format digital press. Now firms in India can deploy all kinds of substrates in surface printing. It gave a lot of mileage for creating new products. It can print on any kind of surface, even on MDF.

New Delhi based Creatique, one of the top quality sign manufacturers in northern India. After purchasing the Fujifilm Acuity EY, it created a lot of design, especially thermoforming. It wanted to create application with backlit. It can be done using screen printing too, but digital accelerates production by 400% and the there are no cracks in the product.

Likewise, Dot Digital, a Mumbai-based wide-format specialist has mastered the art of printing on PET, acrylic, and polycarbonate to create dazzling window displays, posters and POP material. With an investment in digital wide-format printing, the company has upped the ante, in what it was doing, but also in the retail point-of-sale sector.

The question is: how to target the sign and graphics specialist business serves the events and exhibition, retail, sports, property, construction, high-end corporate fit-outs and entertainment sectors?

# RT Eight - Photo album production and photobooks
Operations in this sector are an eye-opener. Commercial printers print on paper. Packaging converters extend it a bit more. But the new-age firms in this sector raise the bar with an array of finished products that include engravings or gold media with a coating varnish or eight to nine layers of text which is directly printed on acrylic and leather.

Leading photographers seek customised and unique products, based on their themes for the wedding/ event. And so, firms need in-house expertise to ensure designing and colour remedies, heritage transformation, and tailor-made needs of customers. How to create such a team that consists of graphic designers, photographers and artists who ensure quality products.

The mantra to creating extraordinary jobs: Professional printing and binding services offer easy creation of photobooks with professional layouts and individual layout capabilities. Because of the integrated design and order workflow, hardcover bound books with customised pictures and text can be produced cost-effectively.

On the sidelines

Digital Print Workshop #1 
How to use digital print software better?

Himanshu Pandey not only learnt the system, he diligently trained his staff. Some of the operators picked up and mastered the tools, quite fast, others took time.

Pandey says, “Our operators learn from video tutorials. Even though entry/junior-level operators are not educated enough, they pick up easily through the videos. With video demos, language is no longer a barrier, and learning is fun and easy.”

Four reasons why this workshop session is important.

  1. It teaches you digital efficiency.
  2. Improves productivity.
  3. Teaches you due-daily diligence through daily calibrations.
  4. Customer support

Digital Print Workshop #2 
WTo help users to improve automation and job management to better handle growing numbers of short-run print jobs.

  • How printers could plan their book such that usage of solid colours, bleed colours and bands are restricted to minimal
  • How printers could work with customers to set the print profile and output efficiency on a particular paper and agree to a cost.
  • How do technology providers provide technical support and test facility to the customers to determine minimum ink consumption on pages
  • How technology providers also could work on ink and find a way to reduce logistics cost and a way to produce ink in India to avoid import duty and reduce cost further

Print data:
Smithers Pira / PrintWeek-HP Webinar.
Thermoforming data: MarketsandMarkets Strategic Insights