Through this much-needed facelift, the Indian signage industry is trying to connect well with the modern, differentiated class of masses.
Signage is quite a traditional method to be used as the promotional tool especially for marketing and advertising in the form of signboards, billboards, hoardings, banners, etc. Over the years, it passed through rapid transition to become today’s dynamic digital information display system. The change though was not oblivious, but ultimate or rather pre-empt. Growth-conscious manufacturers/suppliers sensed this swing early, and upgraded themselves to newer and better printing technologies; while quite a few are still vying to be in the process to help enhance their profitability quotient. As a result, several technological advancements have been noted in the signage printing techniques, one of which is digital that has superseded all the other existing formats of printing technologies.
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Michael Boyle, vice president and general manager, Graphics Solutions Business, HP Inc. Asia-Pacific and Japan is of the view that the Indian advertising and signage industry has evolved by leaps and bounds, which in turn is putting immense pressure on the print service providers to constantly innovate with newer and creative applications. “Digital wide-format printing does not stop with sign & display. New applications such as soft signage, rigid panels, textiles, and window blinds, will benefit from digital technologies,” he says adding that reduction in time to market and the increase in number of campaigns with shorter turnaround time for the print service providers. This makes digital the most suitable printing process.
HP will continue reinventing large-format printing across multiple applications. According to him, HP’s Latex printing portfolio has constantly been on the bar of innovation to help PSPs answer the end customer’s needs with new applications that are effective in consumer reach, affordable, besides being high on environment quotient. “Latex-based and UV-curable printers and presses are becoming more widely adopted and are now overtaking the space that was previously dominated by aqueous and solvent inkjet printing systems,” says Boyle who feels that brand owner demand is causing the industry to look at end-to-end solutions to provide faster job turnaround, just-in-time delivery and versioning/personalization.
Pradipta Chowdhury, manager sales–WFIJ, Fujifilm India Pvt Ltd opines that the signage industry is technology-based, and that every technology has some period of time. “The industry keeps adoring the latest best in the fray. It has just moved ahead from solvent to UV solvent facilitating multi-applications with the use of UV technology. No wonder that till date Fuji has sold only those machines to Indian signage industry that are UV-based, which is also its stronghold,” informs Chowdhury adding that the trends in the Indian signage industry is more towards UV solvent. “The testimony of the fact is that till date, we have supplied 26 machines – put together 18 installed and 8 order-in-hands – to this burgeoning Indian market.”
Chowdhury suggests that people always look for next best technology. “They have started accepting UV technology for it being useful in multi-applications including direct printing on signboards, backlit (with special effect), acrylic, etc. besides facilitating on tiles, glass, aluminum composite panels, and high-quality vinyl. This UV technology, which has truly changed the scenario of the Indian signage industry, is here to stay with a lot of growth prospects in waiting,” he shares adding that the company is very much hopeful for its growth here citing which it has invested huge money in setting up a Demo Centre to facilitate a detailed demonstration of what the Fuji has in its bouquet right from installation to operation and further to quality check.
Rajat Jaitly, marketing manager, Apsom Infotex Ltd suggests that ever since the print industry turned to digitalisation, innovation has become everyday affair with better-than-before ideas. ApsomInfotex Ltd is the sole distributor of Roland in India. Looking at the Indian market and the demands, the industry is gradually shifting towards sublimation printing that produces dazzling quality at quick speed. In addition to this, the current trend also includes making the entire printing process gadget-driven so that an individual can multitask. For instance, an iPad printer assist for unattended printing is currently innovation at its best. According to him, beautifully crafted signage on fabric does make the ultimate statement. “Roland realizes that technology needs to be updated regularly and not to forget provide ample ease to the one operating it to which Roland contributes its sublimation printers,” he informs.
Jaitly further adds that Roland has a global presence that takes care of all the marketing activities and promotions. Furthermore for the Indian audience, the company is actively participating in events to help promote work of art and machinery. “Our entire focus is on educating the users about sublimation and the dynamics of our machines. For instance, the print industry already knows about the quality that Roland puts forward, however, we also need to educate the market about improved features like, low ink consumption, highest speed, high definition black, new media feed and plenty more,” he explains.
P Vijayraj, director, Teckwin Sign Solutions Pvt Ltd affirms that the market this year is for eco-solvent and UV printers. “Owing to continuous innovation and research, these printers have become economical as well as environmentally suitable. These attributes would surely help these printers garner good response from the market in near future. The vibrancy in retail, followed by increasing MNCs irrespective of industries will further push the demand for these printers so as to meet the need of changing face of advertising and marketing activities,” he says anticipating considerable opportunity on the floor to coin, in time to come.
Established in the year 2003, Teckwin Sign has established itself as a one-stop of innovative solutions for the digital print signage industry. “We have continuously been serving the industry with our superior quality of UV, solvent & eco-solvent machines, and all other finishing equipment. These apart, we do have competent engineering knowhow for a strong after sales support,” he asserts adding that till date the company has introduced several breakthrough technologies at very competitive prices.
Amidst all these ongoing trends and technological developments, Smarth Bansal, brand manager, ColorJet India, firmly believes that fabric is the future of signage industry. Though the move is prevalent across the European and other developed countries, it will take a couple of years more to flourish here in India. “Flex is something that everybody is doing. And, people want to see what different are we coming up with in terms of technological innovations,” he quips.
“Nowadays, we are only concentrating on fabric printing technology following the feedbacks that we gather from international exhibitions like APPP Expo–Shanghai, SGGI–Dubai, Printpack–Egypt, etc where it’s clearly evident that fabric is the future. No wonder that the sign of sunset for flex is visibly appearing on Indian hoardings too as Kerala has already banned using flex for the purpose,” says Bansal. Elaborating on factors contributing to this switch over to fabric, he adds, “Flex is not biodegradable, and is extremely harmful to the environment. Also, the ink used to print over flex is solvent which does emit hazardous fumes that are really harmful to the people engaged in this business.”
Soft signage, going by definition, is a non-traditional textile application and is one of the fastest growing areas in digital textile printing. The most popular fabric for signage is polyester with different thickness and texture for many different applications such as banners, exhibition signage and textile solutions. Two processes are available for printing polyester-based substrates used for the soft signage application i.e. direct to fabric and the dye sublimation/transfer paper. Both the systems use disperse dyes, selected from speciﬁc low energy disperse dyes. “The direct to fabric method gives productivity beneﬁts as it eliminates the paper intermediate step, with no consequent higher production rates but added cost beneﬁts (no transfer paper costs and no capital purchases of heat transfer calendars),” elucidates Bansal adding that this route is slow but is steadily gaining attention of the industry stakeholders.
ColorJet has lately unveiled its latest printer models, Softjet Grand and Softet Plus. Both these printers are aimed at serving the need of the soft signage. “Softjet series of printers easily prints on polyester-based fabrics which can be recycled, and uses environmental friendly aqueous-based inks. This apart, it is the perfect solution to print directly on fabrics for soft signage business and is further optimised for the replacement of PVC-based media.
Bansal highlights that these additions will not only expand our product line but will also enable the entry of startup entrepreneurs in soft signage business at a considerably lower investment. “The machine will prove to be attractive for producers of soft signage like flags, banners, hoardings, demo tents, etc as a lot of fabric is being used for events like weddings, decorations, banquets, etc. Even the most amazing applications like mesmerising backlit and flexible displays can be printed by this machine,” he said adding that Softjet Series opens another business avenue of customised decorative fabrics for its users. ColorJet has introduced two models i.e. 2.5- and 3.2-metre print width to target different market requirements. “We have installed around 12 such printers in India and abroad.”
Like ColorJet, other manufacturers are also relying heavily on their respective strength and stronghold. According to Jaitley, Roland has a range of printers that offer endless features to help produce outstanding products in less than no time. “We have recently launched the SoloJet EJ 640 for our Indian customers and also have the VersaCAMM VS640i available here to cater to low-maintenance printing, which has bold exciting colours and can help achieving higher profit margins. These printers produce eye-catching prints for signage for impactful high-volume applications,” asserts Jaitley.
HP is vying on its Latex 300 Printer series, and is offering copy shops and PSPs a compelling alternative to eco-solvent ink with a strong value proposition. “With over 30,000 HP Latex printers shipped worldwide and more than 3.8 billion square feet printed with HP Latex Inks, HP is the top supplier for digital wide-format printing systems worldwide. Since the launch of this series, HP has notched No. 1 slot in terms of global market share for the first time ever, according to a recent data released by IDC,” asserts Boyle adding that the Latex printers are becoming a new industry standard and media suppliers are supporting this trend with more than 75 media manufacturers and over 390 different media certified for HP Latex printers.
Chowdhury asserts that Fujifilm buys technology and not the products. “Our Acuity Advance HS flatbed printer represents a true breakthrough in wide format UV digital imaging technology offering the perfect combination of near photographic print quality and production output at an affordable investment,” he says insisting that the Acuity Advance HS maintains many of the leading design features of its ancestor Acuity Advance. “Besides, it also incorporates a modified print head array to achieve up to twice the printing speed of Acuity Advance. With typical production speed of 40.2m²/hr with resolution comparable to conventional printing of 1440 dpi or higher, and a high quality mode at 28.4m²/hr, the Acuity Advance HS printer promises to deliver more daily output than any other printer in its class. In addition, a new ‘express’ mode offers billboard quality prints at speeds up to 61m²/hr,” he shares.
Improving on the Workmanship
It is a well known fact that the dearth of quality workmanship has always been a major issue in India that keeps the manufacturer’s reputation at stake. “When it comes to creating awareness regarding right practices among the operators, Fuji believes in deliverables. The installation of any flatbed printing machine from Fuji takes a minimum of seven to ten working days which also include training of operators. Fuji is very committed on this front. We never ever try to cut short the installation program because we truly understand the importance of operators’ training. Once the installation-cum-training is over, the operator gets so confident that there is hardly any scope of miss handling the machine. Also, these machines come at heavy cost. Therefore, the investors usually put forward an operator who is technically sound and can easily understand the process and its technicalities,” explains Chowdhury.
On the other hand, Roland trusts on demonstrating the latest technology, while participating in any event or exhibition. “We educate the users on the new features and varied applications with all the various possibilities attached to it. We show them real samples that the printers are capable to make. These initiatives that we take help them understand the attributes better. Based on all this, we are proposing a bright future for the consumers investing in Roland as we intend the world to know the future of digital fabrication and signage industry. Our aim is to introduce the Indian market with new technology like SOLOJET EJ 640 and the likes of it,” avers Jaitley.
Going forward, ColorJet relies heavily on operators’ training especially for fabric signage printing. “Fabric needs a different way of handling because of it being stretchable. We have team of around 15-20 engineers who are dedicatedly working on this aspect of soft signage segment. This apart, we do have operators’ training program, which we keep organising at places as and when required. We value our program as it allows us to address operators’ concerns related to the product’s technicalities, its operations and handling. In this way, we provided them a platform where they come and with their varied but valid questions like what is the colour fastness, how about the outdoor durability of soft signage and its performance under sun and rain, etc., which our technical team is well-versed to attend with ease,” informs Bansal.
The changeover of the country’s signage industry has been a must owing to the changing need of the rapidly growing retail and infrastructure industry, which together with the escalating number of MNCs have catapulted both – the need as well as the face of advertising and promotional campaigns. As we know, the main goal of signage and graphics is to visually communicate promotional messages to influence consumer behavior that keeps on changing with the time. Appropriate tool selection like digital printing technology helps improve the brand recognition for merchandising purposes besides meeting the profitability quotient attached to it. As far as medium is concerned, fabric is soon going to take over PVC-based materials for the later being targeted for their non-biodegradable attribute aided with serious health implications especially of the workers engaged in this business. Additionally, fabric medias offer brilliant colour and are much lighter and flexible than PVC for handling, hanging, and transportation purposes.