Big Game Hunting

By | May 16, 2014

Next week, Enfocus Software will be hosting a “Virtual Safari” which, for me, has much greater appeal than an actual safari in that it avoids bugs, malaria, snakes, and crocodile and hippopotamus attacks. (Yes, it is actually true that more people are killed by hippopotami than lions, tigers, crocodiles, or even sharks. A traumatic childhood experience involving Henrietta Hippo from The New Zoo Revue adds only psychological scars.)

What was I saying?

Oh, right: the Virtual Safari. Five days, 25 speakers, and 28 sessions covering the virtual waterfront of the graphic arts market. I will be conducting a session on Wednesday called “Troubleshooting Big Game: 9 big mistakes that would-be wide-format printers can make.” (Why 9? Well, it’s a nice number, it’s the lowest odd number that is not a prime number, and reminds me of Dante’s “9 circles of hell” in the Inferno, which was kind of a safari. Or, in other words, I picked it at random.)

From buying equipment, to dealing with customers, to preflighting files, to sustainability, to finishing, I’ll be pointing out some traps and pitfalls to avoid, some obvious, some not so much. I also think it gives a pretty good overview (if I do say so myself) of the current state of the wide-format market, and what shops should know if they want to get involved in it. Last year, Dr. Joe Webb had commented, in a project we were working on for a wide-format output service provider, that “The wide-format market is like Florida: everyone is from somewhere else.” That is, today’s wide-format printing market is comprised of companies that moved from other places—photolabs, for example, transitioned over to wide-format printing. Some commercial printers have also moved—or at least gotten a time-share—there as well.

And one could hardly blame them. The troubles of the printing industry are not unknown to anyone reading this, and when one looks at how specialty graphics and wide-format printing applications have been growing—and are continuing to experience solid double-digit growth—well, it’s no surprise that others are eager to get a piece of the action. And why not? The state of the technology now is such that the barriers to entry have been drastically lowered from even what they were a decade ago. So it doesn’t take a mammoth investment to start-up a specialty printing business.

Not that this has made everyone happy. Some wide-format veterans have expressed a kind of “there goes the neighborhood” attitude, and some even worry—not wrongly—about certain wide-format printing applications becoming commoditized and spawning the kind of cutthroat pricing that has plagued small-format commercial printing. And certainly things like banners or even some types of garment printing don’t command the margins they once did.

The advantage to specialty printing, though, is that it rapidly changes. This may be a little scary, but there will always be new types of printing technologies that allow for the creation of new, exotic, high-value, high-margin printed items. It won’t be the same items from year to year, but that hasn’t been true for a long time, even in small-format printing. The market for print—or any type of communication—is just that, a market. It’s dynamic and fast-changing. Certain products become popular, they peak, plateau, then become less popular. Kind of like most celebrities. Therefore, it pays to know what new products/services are enabled by new technology, and what is in demand.

It can be a challenge and require no small amount of effort to keep up with everything—“stop the world, I want to get off!”—but actually it makes it all that much more exciting—as exciting as, say, a safari, but minus the malaria. And the hippos.

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