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    Frank Scussa

    Digital Technology has Disrupted the Specialty Graphics Industry

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    By Joe Olivo

    I recently had the pleasure of traveling to Atlanta to attend the SGIA Expo, which is the Specialty Graphic Imaging Association’s annual event. Like most trade shows, the expo brings together vendors, printers, manufacturers and other industry professionals to see new equipment and discuss trends. In the case of SGIA, the focus is the digital and screen printing of large format and soft materials. We’re talking point-of-sale signs, trade show displays, textiles, banners, window displays, vehicle wraps, floor and wall graphics. You name the material and they’re probably printing on it.

    This was my first time attending the expo. Much of what I saw was new and eye-opening. But there, among the 23,000 attendees, new product lines and educational sessions lurked a familiar friend: digital technology.

    It is not an overstatement to say digital technology has thoroughly disrupted the commercial printing industry. In fact, advances in digital printing are slowly eroding many of the traditional printing processes, like offset, that have forever been the foundation of our industry. Most, if not all, large commercial printers have become hybrid shops, using both traditional and digital technologies to deliver print services. Perfect has been a hybrid shop for almost 10 years now.

    Although not much of a surprise when I think about it after the fact, I was impressed, and in some awe, to see how digital technology has disrupted the specialty graphics industry. The SGIA expo used to be the domain of screen printers. Screen printing is the “analog” technology of the specialty industry. With the impact of digital, the event has grown tremendously. It is now a much more diverse community. Richard Romano, industry analyst and author, says today’s large format specialty graphics industry consists of companies that moved into it from other places. You see this reflected in the numbers. According to the SGIA 2015 Industry Survey, just 2% of specialty printers consider themselves to be “analog only,” or screen printers. About 40% of the survey’s respondents are “digital only” printers. Around 30% consider themselves to be multi-technology shops, using both analog and digital printing.

    Just like in commercial printing, digital technology has brought cost-effective, good-quality short run opportunities to the specialty industry. Digital still is not the best at color matching, and it does not handle specialty inks like metallics well. But it has improved quickly. Specifically, speed, image quality, color reproduction and consistency have all gotten better in digital specialty printing. This has given clients the opportunity to use large format and soft materials that were once only available to large companies that could afford large runs. Today, it is possible to cost-effectively print just one building wrap, or wall graphic or window display. This is great news for smaller companies who want to express their brand in ways that were too expensive.

    This is an opportunity for commercial printers who are familiar with the digital processes to consider new specialty graphics services. We’ve done large format printing on rigid and roll-fed materials for a few years now. What is potentially up next for us is figuring out how we can provide digital printing on soft materials. As advancement in digital technology knocks down even more barriers, additional specialty graphics opportunities will open up for commercial printers. It’s funny what you can learn bumping into an old acquaintance unexpectedly.

    Follow These File Prep Tips to Speed Through Prepress

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    The dreaded error list. For any print project going through file prep, it means a delay in progress. Missing fonts, low-res images—no matter the error, it takes time to troubleshoot. As a result, turnaround gets extended.

    Extra time is not the troubling part of fixing file prep errors. It’s the knowledge that the delay was probably avoidable. A little more attention to detail during file prep and the project could sail right through preflight.

    The chance to avoid delays lies in the early parts of file preparation. Paying attention to details in initial file set up, and checking file condition before submitting it, determine how much time is spent preparing the project for print. In the thousands of files we prep each year, there are a handful of consistent errors we see:

    • Missing fonts
    • Missing images
    • Low-res images
    • Documents set to incorrect trim size
    • Missing bleeds

    These are basic but important file prep details. The errors are avoidable, if a few things are kept in mind:

    • Always use images and graphics that have a resolution of at least 300 dpi
    • Make sure you set the document size to the correct trim size
    • If sending native files, such as Indesign files, use the package option to ensure the document, all links and all fonts are organized in one folder

    We’ve developed a checklist of suggestions to help our customers prepare files that will speed through prepress. The list includes tips for initial document set up, tips to keep in mind while designing your project, and to-dos for when you’re preparing your file for submission.

    Segments in Print Industry Are Set to Experience Renewed Growth

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    To say the print industry has been going through change would be a huge understatement. With the impact of digital media, the commercial printing industry has been altered forever during the last decade. There has been significant consolidation. Some forms of print communication have disappeared or have been relegated to postscript status. Emerging print technologies have recast the roles of former principal players and marginalized once-essential production approaches. It has been a challenge for the industry to even come close to its pace of growth from 20 years ago. Based on what I saw and heard during my recent trip to the 2015 Graph Expo trade show, however, those in the print industry who made it through this transition are entering a period of potential growth.

    The Graph Expo is an annual event where manufacturers and suppliers from across the graphics industry gather to show off their newest products and services to businesses and graphics professionals. At the Expo, I usually see the most recent print production technologies and I hear industry leaders discuss where we’re headed. This year certainly was no exception.

    Growth in Segments – One interesting educational session I attended was “The Status and Future of the Printing Industry,” given by Frank Romano, a professor emeritus at the Rochester Institute of Technology College of Imaging Arts and Sciences. In his session, Frank provided some perspective on the transition print has gone through. Although experiencing rapid, permanent change, print still is a relevant part of today’s multichannel communications environment. The print industry certainly is smaller than its high point 20 years ago. However, the rate of consolidation has leveled off. There are now segments within the industry that are growing again, such as direct mail, promotional printing and large-format signage. This growth is supported by evolving technologies, many of which were on display at the Expo.

    Digital Moving into Finishing – Coming as no surprise, digital printing was one of the most prevalent topics at the Expo. Inkjet and toner presses continue to advance, both in their ability to deliver higher quality and in the size and type of substrates they can handle. For me, the most interesting advancement in digital technology is occurring in finishing.

    In the not-too-distant future, finishing techniques such as foil stamping, embossing and diecutting will no longer require dies. Printers will create these special effects directly from digital files. The fixed cost of a die and the lengthy setup process have made these effects cost prohibitive for small runs. Digital finishing opens up new opportunities for visual designers. Special effects produced in the digital workflow will make smaller runs affordable.

    Print Supports Digital Media – One reason growth is occurring in areas like promotional materials and signage is the ability of these types of print to complement digital communications. They allow for personalization as well as the opportunity to link to digital media. Armed with capabilities like these, communicators can differentiate their messages and reach audience segments in conjunction with digital media. Future trends point to an ability to print on a growing variety of unique substrates. This will aid in differentiation.

    4 Simple Ways to Improve Direct Mail Letter Response

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    Direct mail is a proven way to get responses. According to the Direct Marketing Association’s 2015 Response Rate report, direct mail actually outperformed digital channels. The DMA report indicated direct mail achieved a 3.7% response rate while all digital channels combined got a 0.62% response.

    The number of direct mail projects we do at Perfect supports the notion that it still works. We print and mail a lot of direct mail for our clients. We produce high-value dimensional mailers, discount-offering postcards, and the tried-and-true direct mail fundraising letter. Recently, we held a call with a customer looking for ways to impact response for an upcoming letter campaign.

    To their credit, the customer had already uncovered a good bit of insight by testing previous mailings. They tested messaging, format and size. They discovered that a large envelope (9 x 13) with handwritten addresses got the best results. Better than regular #10 envelopes and better than postcards.

    Envelopes at 9 x 13 can be costly, however, and writing addresses by hand doesn’t scale for large mailings. So the client wanted to discuss other factors that could improve response. Since their testing had included messaging and calls to action, we focused on other potential envelope features.

    Size – Our customer’s test results with 9 x 13 envelopes were in line with data from the DMA response report, which indicated oversized envelopes get a better response. According to the report, oversized envelopes have the best response rate at 5.0%, followed by postcards (4.25%), dimensional (4.0%), catalogs (3.9%) and letter-sized envelopes (3.5%). Their concern about cost, however, is a common one. That’s why we recommend an in-between option: 6 x 9 envelopes. They are larger than the typical #10, but they get mailed at a letter rate, which doesn’t increase postage costs.

    Color – Although a potentially costly option, using color envelopes can gain attention and increase response. Color envelopes stand out against much of the mail in a person’s mailbox. Color offers the chance to present a unique and creative brand image.

    Font – Although writing addresses by hand is definitely not an option for large mailings, there are plenty of script fonts available that mimic handwriting. Although obviously not authentic, they are a way to leverage the success handwriting seems to have on response while maintaining scalability.

    Stock – Stock choice is an underused technique to increase response. Using a textured envelope can increase response by engaging the recipient’s sense of touch. Texture often provides a subliminal impact that causes the recipient to interact further with a piece, usually resulting in them opening the envelope.