Will digital print be the future? - The Noel D'Cunha Sunday Column

Remember Benny Landa and his famous quote in 1993: Everything that can become digital will become digital – and printing is no exception. While the international data shows global print is growing, commercial print has stumbled a bit. Will digital print come to rescue the once flourishing commercial print segment? This Sunday Column takes a look at what’s changing in the Indian digital print arena.

05 Sep 2015 | By Noel D'Cunha

On 10 September, PrintWeek India will host a Webinar on Digital printing: Creating unique business opportunity. Among the speakers, Himanshu Pandey will share his insight on how print-on-demand and short-run has come to be accepted by corporate, publishing and photo segments and Prithvi Desai will focus on how print is playing an important part in the direct mail segment, and how data management has become key to its digital printing business.

But before that let’s take a look at some print data.

In 2014, the Indian print market stood at roughly USD 24-billion.

In 2011, a report by PrintWeek India stated that the cut-sheet digital print market was taking off with 3-billion impressions per annum, which translated roughly to Rs 2,000-crore. It was estimated that 1,500 colour digital machines would have been installed.

It was also estimated that the volume of digital printing is growing – the colour volume growing at 30% and monochrome at 11%.

In the last four years, PrintWeek India estimates that around 500 digital kits, bulk of which have been mid-level production kit ranging from Rs 35-lakhs to Rs 70-lakhs, would have been added to the 1,500 to make it 3,500+ installations.

This means around Rs 250-crore per annum, is the worth of the digital shipment into India.

If the digital kit manufacturers are to be believed, around 400 digital kits have already been installed in 2015, 30% of which Xerox has claimed as its share. “We have had a good first two quarters of the FY-2015. It’s a significant change, all because of the new technology platforms we brought in, which has nicely picked up in the market and helped our performance,” says Balaji Rajagopalan, executive director of technology, channels and international distributor operations, Xerox India.

Cut to the international print market. According to international data, the global printing market is forecast to reach USD 980-billion in 2018. The market is driven by growth in packaging and labels, more than graphic applications, and digital rather than offset printing.

Digital printing market, it says, will grow to USD 187.7-billion in 2018 from the USD 131.5-billion it was in 2013. This is an equivalent of 1.13-trillion A4 size print jobs.

In terms of kit shipments, the value of USD 4.4-billion in 2013 is expected to reach USD 25-billion by 2018 and the sum of production colour shipments to cross 3,53,000 units. This growth, it says, is fuelled by growth in a range of technologies, from mid-production cut-sheet to ultra-high volume inkjet systems.

New technologies
In terms of technology, there’s the HD print quality from Xerox; HD Simitri by Konica Minolta; Canon introduced the Consistently Vivid (CV) toner; Ricoh brought in Vertical Cavity Surface Emitting Laser (VCSEL) and a fifth colour unit, which can apply spot or flood clear gloss and white. In the high-end kit Xerox introduced gold and silver colours to its Color 1000 press; HP is introducing ElectroInk set incorporating fade-resistant magenta and yellow, while Epson has its patented PrecisionCore.

Inline registration, inline calibration on digital presses, all helping customers to reduce the set-up time has now become a new normal.

In the commercial segment, offset still rules with 90% of the jobs printed using this medium, but digital seems to have made a significant penetration with a 10% market share.

So what is changing?

In the commercial segment, digital printing gives you customisation, value, and flexibility in every way possible, says Balaji of Xerox.

Let’s look at the user pattern today.

Commercial printing
Consumer products are being launched on a regular basis, sometimes daily. The lifespan of  these products is becoming shorter. That means the speed at which they are being launched or re-launched, is far quicker.

Earlier one product was produced at one place and exported worldwide. Storing and logistic cost are not coming down, they're going up. Nowadays, there are 100s of factories producing and selling the product locally. Likewise, it is for print.

For example, in the past, a buyer used to print promotional items in bulk, store and distribute. Sometimes, when the product does not click or does as well, the promotional items are not required to be distributed and go waste. There is a huge cost involved.

The world has changed to distribute electronically and print locally. This brings digital print into play. With offset you can play with volumes, but there are challenges.

Digital print gives you option of choosing what you want to print based on volumes, and that’s a phenomenal edge.

“When you look at cost, you cannot just look at the perpetual cost based on the offset print. You look at the entire life cycle of the document printed. There is logistic cost, there is no waste, warehousing cost, destroying cost, too many costs, plus you are also locking the finances, which make digital print cheaper,” says Balaji. “That’s the element of change, which is brings digital not only to co-exist but also create its own market.”

Earlier many of the publishers printed in bulk and would store it. That has changed. Today, it is called book of one.

You go to Flipkart, Amazon, Snapdeal, and other online portals, it gives you an option to buy books, even one. And as you place your order, the order goes directly to the vendor, who prints it and delivers it. A step further, your order can be customised with names you want.

It’s the same with cheque book printing. Now they are printed with your name, which is printed digitally and delivered in three days. Not only personalisation, but it has minimised the security risk involved with storage.

“The way the requirement of user has changed, which is bringing about a change in the way printers should do business. There is a certain compulsion to bring in technology that can allow you to print one copy, and that can be feasibly done only through digital technology,” says Balaji.

Why are more and more photo labs bringing in production digital presses?

Because in photo-labs, the traditional method of developing photographs involves expensive papers with very limited options and that makes digital printing much more economical. Digital prints can be taken on media ranging from 55gsm to 400 gsm, coated, uncoated, textured, you name it.

Then there is customisation. Many things can be done differently, which helps you to produce different designs, add flavour, spice and taste to the album. The colour gamut is almost like offset.

That’s the reason, more and more photo labs are choosing digital machines, which can do a variety of applications.

The other thing that has changed is the ways photo albums are used.

In the past, birthdays, marriages and few social events would warrant a single album, a simple one. Today every event becomes a milestone. For example, today preparation of the fifth birthday would include collecting photos of last five years and putting it into an album, which turns into a memorabilia. Plus you have a post birthday album. All this can be done using digital print technology.

Yes, there’s an argument that photos can be stored on pen drives, CDs etc, but that involves some effort to portray. A digitally printed photo album does it in a jiffy.

Coffee-books and menu cards
This is a big market. The requirements here are a few copies, which is easily and cost-effectively done using digital print. And this can be done colourfully and personalised. Most importantly, with menu cards, it can be changed at any time. With offset, it is expensive.

Growth of digital print
Commercial – Digital is definitely growing here, says Rajagopalan. The market is growing in double-digit. That said, offset has also grown smartly, but integrating digital within it.

But if you look at offset, most are buying secondhand machines, no one is investing big time in new machines. In digital, there are investments happening in new machines. And though there are pre-owned digital machines sold in the market, they are mainly going to the tier-III cities, but with a company-oriented approach.

Offset starts at a particular range. But in digital print, one can start with a few lakhs, make the customers grow and then scale up. Digital can be the journey of the printer.

There is growth in photo album, security printing, which includes cheque printing, book publishing, both mono and colour. “For Xerox it is 30%,” says Rajgopalan.

In packaging, digital is still to make an impression, at least in India. HP though has estimated that worldwide it has 28 billion pages printed on Indigo for this year, 600-million sq/m of label and packaging printed this year. So, roughly a third of your volume is in label and packaging.

Future of digital print
There’s a concept: If you want to grow, go the smart device way. Does that mean print taking a hit?

No. I don’t think so. Take this example. You are in the office, working on a computer and your smart devices. You prepare a presentation, and you print it and after use scrap it. You know you have stored the presentation. But when you need it again, and you modify it, you take another print. In a way, you are taking more prints. This, despite the smart devices. Besides, most smart devices now come with print applications. This is to print.

Documents may not be printed but stored, except few legal documents. However, stored documents will always be printed.

Actually, smart devices are letting you do things in a smarter way.