Green route to revenue
How the substrate suppliers are helping you develop new applications and find new paths to profit.
Fact: printers are trying find new substrates that will help them open up new revenue streams. But, those materials also have to be green and, ideally, not charged at a premium. So what are the suppliers doing to meet that criteria? Well, quite a lot as it turns out - though it seems the message doesn't always necessarily work its way down to the printer that well. Accordingly, we asked a cross section of materials suppliers for an update on what they are doing to help you develop new wide-format print applications and generate new business.
Chris Martin, country manager for MACtac UK points out that it has recently launched a
large number of substrates that he thinks will open really new revenue streams, such as Glass Movie Films to animate shop windows with rear projection images, Permafun Glittering Film for special decorative effects and Wall Wrap film for direct applications on brickwork coupled with an antigraffiti protective film.
"MACtac has also launched new 'green' constructions often replacing traditional products," says Martin, alluding to the Imagin white matt PP based film for water-based inkjet printing with emulsion based adhesive and two constructions for latex inkjet printing - Imagin white glossy PP base film coated with an emulsion based permanent acrylic adhesive and a clear glossy PET base film with an optically clear removable adhesive.
"We have also broadened our range of Permacolor protective films with three PP films with satin, matt and glossy finishes. These 100 percent chlorine-free films are coated with an emulsion based acrylic adhesive which is a real alternative to traditional solvent based adhesives."
At Madico Graphic Films, UK sales manager Steve Bird, also highlights window applications as an area ripe for 'green' development. "Although the standard film for glazing graphics applications has until recently been self-adhesive PVC, a mix of environmental factors and increased market demand for improved quality has seen a number of advertising agencies and retail chains across Europe beginning to discontinue use of PVC in window advertising. But Madico's entire range of inkjet printable glazing enhancement films is 100 percent non-PVC and thanks to their clarity, UV stability and scratch resistance, enable printers to increase business by undertaking new and creative visual applications for architects, graphic and interior designers - while adhering to the environmental prerequisite.
For applications beyond window graphics, Madico also offers its Mother Green range of environmentally friendly non-PVC inkjet printable films designed for all sorts of large format/signage projects. "Matching the performance and functional benefits typically offered by PVC substrates, Mother Green comprises environmentally-friendly substrates for virtually any promotional graphics requirement. Importantly, the range meets all legislative requirements, but also goes a step further by offering non-harmful alternatives to PVC, such as polyurethane or polyester films - without compromising on performance or versatility," enthuses Bird.
At Fespa 2010, illustrated its commitment to 'green' products by introducing a raft of newcomers that also stretch the imagination in terms of applications potential. These included Multitex, a polyester fabric that may be printed using dye-sub, pigmented water-based, UV-cured or latex inks, and Printlux PVC matt CA adh, a self-adhesive inkjet film with a permanent adhesive, suitable for both indoor and outdoor applications. To further endorse the fact that environmental considerations are taken into account, the paper stock for the covering is of FSC and PEFC-certified too.
Sarah Janes, Neschen UK managing director, also points to the environmental work being done by the Color Alliance: "Environmental issues were at the very forefront of our collaboration in the recently-formed Color Alliance. One of the main driving forces behind this co-operation between manufacturers of printers, Rips, media and inks is the desire to deliver a simplified means of putting inkjet print onto substrates through a standardised coating resulting in a single colour profile. Simplifying the process means less waste, using less ink and shortening the amount of time spent on a given job. Those are true savings."
The development of substrate coatings that enhance the 'green' message are also a key part of Spandex's product development programme, according to Roland Keller, executive director aftermarket product management. "To meet our customers increased requirement for green substrates we recently expanded our popular ImagePerfect range to include new environmentally-friendly, 100 percent PVC-free materials. This range of polyolefin products is both plasticiser- and chlorine-free and features a specially-developed top-coating for vibrant, high quality printability. Thanks to their compatibility with various ink types and suitability for use in an extensive range of indoor and outdoor signage applications, these products have proved extremely popular."
Brett Martin used Sign and Digital UK earlier this year to show off its environmentally friendly Foamalux Xtra substrate (showcased by CNC experts Tekcel CNC Solutions) which has myriad applications possibilities. Manufactured from recycled foam PVC, recovered from production and post consumer signage waste, Foamalux Xtra comprises a black recycled core (up to 80% recycled content) sandwiched between white layers of virgin material. It is available in 3mm and 5mm single sided options and 10mm and 13mm double sided options in sheet widths up to 156cm.
Xtra's high density, smooth surface makes it resistant to knocks and scratches whilst the colour formulation of this surface layer has been developed specifically for digital processing to maximise colour reproduction and minimise the occurrence of UV yellowing resulting in a brighter whiter sheet with 'green' credentials.
Textiles is another area where you can expect to see an increase in activity. As Tim Egerton, technical product manager, Brook International, recognises: "The strong potential of printers to increase their revenue streams by diversifying and adopting fabric printing means the UK market, though not as well developed as those in some our of continental neighbours, will eventually catch up. The major advantage polyester textiles and fabrics have in general over PVC is that the latter is difficult to recycle. Once polyester textile printed graphics reach the end of their useful life they can be recycled.
"There is potentially a great opportunity to exploit with printed textiles and at Brook International we believe we have reacted quickly," says Egerton, noting that new to the market is a Woven Backlite FR fabric that can be used in place of traditional PVC backlite.
Alistair Travis at Papergraphics also highlights the increased interest in printable fabrics, saying they are "obviously of interest to the greener printer and we have a range of fabrics to suit most inkjet, solvent or UVC printers." But at the moment, the company is applying muco fits energy into getting together a portfolio of substrates for HP's latex print technology.
"We are dedicating a lot of our efforts into putting together a complete range of media suitable for the new HP latex range of printers; we have had profiles written and they are also in the process of been verified by HP in Barcelona. We believe that this is the first real opportunity a large format customer has had to truly deliver a print with real green credentials and will be working very closely with the new latex customers to provide media solutions that will fit their new greener business models.
At Seal, Andrew East, regional sales manager, says: "Environmentally-friendliness has driven our new product agenda for a number of years and led to some exciting developments - all of which yield new profit-making opportunities for printers.
"One good example is Erfurt wallpaper - a PVC-free wallpaper for use with latex inks which is also suitable for solvent and eco-solvent printers. The wallpaper is approximately 200g/m2, 100 percent non-woven base in a choice of four textures. Importantly, it is finished with a Color Alliance-certified (CA) inkjet coating which means a lot less ink is required to produce the same colour density. Like many products, it is green and opens up new market opportunities."
"Our substrates suppliers have effectively become our sales team." That staggering comment comes from Jon Baker, director of print service company NES. The point he was making was that in seeking out new substrates for new applications, the relationship between NES and some of its materials suppliers has become so tight knit that when agencies/designers/architects etc. approach the substrates companies looking for something that allows them to be a bit more creative, the supplier not only talks about the media they can provide, but also points the (potential) client to NES as a print provider that can undertake the work in question.
But how many printers have that kind of working relationship with their substrate suppliers? At recent Image Reports Round Tables and in discussing the topic with printers in the field, a regular comment is that the companies supplying materials do not do enough to get the 'new applications' benefits of new substrates across to them at grass roots level. Here's how a cross spectrum of the market responded:
"A few years ago it would have been fair and reasonable of printers to complain that most manufacturers did not do enough to see their product messages percolate down to the 'coalface'. However, I believe Seal Graphics has made great strides over the past two or three years to improve this situation," says Andrew East, regional sales manager, Seal.
"When the American sub-prime mortgages scandal led markets to implode worldwide, we realised that the questions on most peoples' lips were: 'How can I reduce costs?' and 'How can I save money?' With this in mind, not only did we introduce lower-cost products, but also products which present new methods of achieving old goals.
"So, to kit out corporate offices and retail environments such as shops-within-a-shop or franchised areas in department stores, a good example is the range of interior design products available today from Seal Graphics. But we're no longer relying upon the printer's sales staff to take that message to market. We're actively spreading the message to professionals within retailers and corporate organisations as well as to the professional advisors such as interior designers and architects."
Other suppliers are doing likewise - spreading the product capability messaging not just to the print sector but beyond that to the end client-base. Chris Martin, country manager for MACtac UK, says the company heavily promotes its new products through various communication channels, including monthly e-mail shots to targeted printers, putting new product/applications news on its website, attending fairs and of course, speaking with the trade press! On top of these the company uses its now well recognised MACtac Worldwide Awards to help flag up original ideas and new applications to printers but, mainly, to get the message out to end-users such as ad agencies and designers to whom the Prize Book is sent.
Interestingly, the company is also planning an Open Week this autumn. The intention is to demonstrate the applications capabilities of MACtac products not only to printers but to end users - so, wall, window, street and floor graphics will be on show alongside a variety of vehicle wrapping films and demonstrations.
"Papergraphics believes that the best way to address the demands of the printers is to have as many feet on the ground as possible speaking directly to the printers and listening to their ideas," says Alistair Travis. "We have 14 dedicated sales people constantly drip feeding requests and demands back to HQ which then get filtered through our product development team and hopefully back into the marketplace as quickly as possible. Obviously, not all the requests make it through the product development cycle, but we would like to think that enough do to give our customers something new to offer their customers and help them make some money in the process.
"To enable this to happen it is very important to have intimate relationships with our suppliers whereby they are proactive in providing us with new substrates to take to market. Papergraphics has always given this its utmost attention and will always try to find manufacturers who are willing to work to create unique or innovative products for our customers.
"The wall coverings market place is an excellent example of how we managed to do exactly this. We worked with Muraspec to develop one of its products that had been used for generations as a commercial wall covering and adapt it for the large-format print marketplace. The relationship between Papergraphics and Muraspec made sure that Digimura became well-known, and this year 15 new products will be added to the range and introduced by Papergraphics into the UK large-format sector.
Madico UK sales manager Steve Bird, hits the nail on the head when he says: "Many of the large, mainstream substrates suppliers often supply only a narrow band of materials available from a catalogue and prefer to remain within a small product sphere serving general applications. As such there is no real focus on more innovative products that really enable printers to add to their service offering and undertake exciting new creative projects. Conversely, specialist suppliers might offer several hundred different custom substrates for a whole host of niche application areas. By the very nature of these products, suppliers - ourselves included - must possess a more thorough and rounded understanding of markets, applications and products.
"Madico's business is built on actively engaging with printers to educate them in the revenue-enhancing opportunities available from our substrates. We simply wouldn't be able to sell our materials if we couldn't provide the invaluable applications and technical expertise that is so vital. Any printer genuinely aiming to increase revenues and enhance their competitive edge would be well-advised to investigate the ever-increasing range of advance substrates available from specialist suppliers."