Equipment – what’s next on the shopping list?

The print landscape is changing. It was ever thus. When I first set out in this industry at the age of 22 it was at a local newspaper in South Wales (a small corner of the UK with an outstandingly talented rugby union team…… ) On my first day I was given a tour of the production facilities – teams of compositors (remember them?) putting together text and articles in a hushed room, flat artwork, colour overlays, cameras and dark rooms, and great big, noisy, smelly, fascinating, printing machines in the bowels of the building churning out daily newspapers nineteen to the dozen. My love for print came from that very first tour – even now, for me, nothing beats standing next to a big web or 12-colour press running at full chat. The noise, the smell, the sight of output appearing at impossibly high speeds, seeing the inks going down and realising that yes – it really does mainly come out of just four colours. The fascination and thrill of what we do has never left me. If I want to teach a customer about print and colour, to this day I still try to stand them next to a web offset press. Only then can they actually walk alongside it watching the paper change at each print engine – in my experience you can talk about colour and plates until you’re blue in the face – not until they see it happen with their own eyes for the first time will most people ‘get it’. But digital equipment doesn’t allow that – everything happens inside the covers (I’ve spent the last couple of years trying and failing to get manufacturers to put Perspex doors on their machines for exhibitions). So, instead I have had to find new ways to help customers understand what it’s all about – creatively manipulating data and images to try to paint a picture of what’s possible these days, with a little imagination. And then illustrating what it can do for their response rates. Modern printing factories increasingly play host to a wide range of different technologies. ‘Comps’, flat artwork and repro houses are long gone. I wonder how many of you reading this article actually remember them? Offset litho still plays a huge part in our output – and a large part of me hopes that will always be the case – but increasingly digital machines are commonplace, and high-speed web inkjet systems are finding their way into the line-up. Machines from Canon/Océ, Kodak and IBM, among others, are creating a market whereby quality and speed can run hand-in-hand with personalisation and dynamic images. However, volumes are dropping – there seems little point in denying an inescapable fact. Some areas are seeing big reductions, but some are increasing and thriving – the trick being to make the right investment in order to stay ahead of the game – and to do that I believe you need to pay attention to the analysts and the forecasts/trends. Both PIRA and Infotrends have provided me with an insight into the future for many years. Both pointed me at inkjet systems a long time ago – both web and flatbed – and Infotrends has helped me understand where volumes are growing and declining, ensuring that I can put the meat on the bones of any investment case I’m building. Add to that the information gained from material within such publications as the Canon Insight Report series, and a keen and insightful British printing trade press, and I have formulated a view of where we are now, and where we are going. Certainly for my print buying customers in the UK, much of their future print needs lie within the confines of colour digital and inkjet. Ever tightening deadlines, and a desire for illustrative representation of such things as pension and investment funds, have driven us as a business to adopt inkjet as a production process. Transactional print no longer just means bills – rather it means financial statements and notices, reward and affinity schemes. Billing is inexorably moving online – white space marketing now is more about selling additional services on such things as loyalty scheme mailings. Wide format is another fast expanding area – but to me for many years it was just a proofing method. Lately I have been getting excited about the selling possibilities behind flatbed printing on such machines as the Océ Arizona. Now I truly understand what the statement ‘the only limit is your imagination’ really means. For years I have been in and out of some of the London’s largest above-the-line ad agencies – and missing a huge opportunity. There is so much print output I could have created for them – if only I had ‘got’ wide format printing sooner. Some of the most exciting print output I could have created would have revolved around such jobs as product launches, exhibitions and retail space – panels printed on glass, marble, Perspex, leather, wood – I could have been involved in so many more projects – if only I had opened my eyes to it all ten years ago. The endless blue chip clients I’ve dealt with – how much more could I have achieved with/for them. So – is this is our challenge as an industry? Technology. But not for technology’s sake. Rather technology that will rekindle the excitement, the passion, the pride in what we do. Technology that will open up new applications and allow new creative ideas to flourish. The day I tire of dealing with and promoting print output, is the day I need to give it all up and do something else. Nearly 30 years in and I’m not ready yet – there is still far too much to achieve. About Jo Lloyd. Jo Lloyd is a UK printer working here in South Africa. An integral part of Canon’s Essential Business Builder Program (EBBP) she spends a lot of her time travelling throughout Europe, the Middle East and Africa helping Canon’s customers get to grips with new technology. She is, however, less interested in the process of putting ink (or toner!) on paper – and more in the way in which the print company should promote this process to their customers. In these days of cross media alternatives and shrinking budgets, printers have to shout ever louder to be heard. Her background as a print company owner and Sales Director in the UK means she is ideally placed to understand the challenges faced by today’s printing companies – and to find ways of overcoming said challenges. By Jo Lloyd