With software companies creating products that are cheaper to buy and easier to use, Simon Creasy takes a look at how they can help your business.
Large-format software providers have never had it so tough poor things. A decade or so ago some products, like Rips, used to sell for as much as £2,000-plus a pop. Today, users can choose to lease, sometimes for just tens of pounds a month, or buy for just a few hundred pounds, a software solution that can be downloaded instantly from the internet with no training provided, or indeed needed.
As a result, over the last few years the primary focus of large-format software companies has been to create products that are cheap to buy and easy to use, which ultimately leads to greater levels of commoditisation and makes it increasingly difficult for developers to make their offer stand out from the crowd. Thank heavens that that hasn’t deterred some software providers from trying. Over the last 12 months or so a number of companies have introduced innovative new levels of functionality to existing products and launched brand new products to meet PSP’s demands.
Take EFI. In December last year, it released version 6.5 of its Fiery proServer, which was specifically designed with the burgeoning textile market in mind.
“The main focus was on the area of colour management because in the textile market you have quite a lot of different ink combinations and different ink versions,” says Stefan Spiegel, general manager of EFI’s Fiery wide-format print server/software operations.
To this end, EFI introduced Fiery Textile Bundle, to be used with its Reggiani digital inkjet printers, which includes new Fiery DesignPro Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop plug-ins and the latest Fiery proServer digital front end.
“It’s a complete new development from our side because it’s the first time we are going in the direction of [EFI’s print job management interface] Fiery Command WorkStation,” says Spiegel. “We have approximately 1.5 million users of Command WorkStation and version 7 is the first time we are talking about what we are calling ‘one Fiery’. That means you have a Fiery that can drive your toner device and at the same time drive your inkjet devices.”
He says the introduction of this functionality, which he describes as a “big step” forward for the firm, was driven by customer feedback.
“When we go out to visit our customer base, if we see a customer who is doing inkjet I am pretty sure I will find a cut-sheet in the office as well and vice versa,” explains Spiegel. “When we go into shops customers are running a lot of applications sometimes and that is getting more and more complicated. This is the first time we can drive all devices, including cut-sheet, from one application.”
These changes have been largely driven by printers trying to eradicate inefficiencies, according to Spiegel, who says: “Printers are coming more and more under pressure because the square metre price is going down, so the only way to keep their margin and make money is to speed up their machines in terms of set up and getting data faster. People are looking for easier applications that can control their complete [print] shop.”
John Davies, product group manager, workflow, at Fujifilm Europe, agrees, saying he has witnessed a growing trend of print customers who are looking to consolidate the number of Rips they use.
“In the past what companies tended to do is they would buy a new piece of equipment that fits a specific purpose and it would come with a Rip from that vendor - it could be ColorGate, Caldera or Onyx - and then very quickly they would have six pieces of equipment in-house all with a different Rip and front-end. What that means is not everybody who works on that production floor can use every piece of equipment to its most efficient level.” So what’s increasingly happening is that PSPs are looking to standardise their front-end so that machine operators can jump from different pieces of equipment. This in turn helps to drive efficiencies. Davies sees the current pressures and trends in the large-format sector following the same “efficiency pattern” that general commercial print followed a decade or so ago.
“We go into a lot of wide-format companies and they tend to just have a Rip on the front of a device and everything that happens before it gets there is a very manual process, which is just like the commercial print world was 10-15 years ago,” he says. “But I think the pressures are coming into the wide-format space as well now, where there is a bit more competition so there is a need to have a bit more automation and a bit more efficiency. All of these things put together are driving companies to think ‘we have the equipment, but we are not using the print capacity that we’ve got efficiently’.”
Davies says one way large-format printers are addressing this capacity issue is through tools like the wide-format automatic solution tilia Griffin, which was added to Fujifilm’s suite of XMF workflow products late last year, and automates a number of tasks that were previously done manually. The automation of time consuming processes is a growing theme from customers who are trying to optimise the way they operate.
“Automation and efficiency is where people look to first when they are getting squeezed on price,” says Davies. “How do I get more out of what I’ve got without taking on more people or buying more equipment? It’s looking back and saying ‘this machine is only printing two hours a day and we have a seven hour day in our business’. Or some customers might say ‘we are quite busy all day, but we are not printing all the time, so how do I make my operation more efficient up front so that when the jobs come in they go quickly from being booked in by the customer service person to being ready to be printed on the shop floor’?”
Jonathan Rogers, international marketing manager at Onyx Graphics, agrees that “automation is everywhere” at the moment.
“Customers are asking for tools that increase production automation and output capacity, reduce manual error and have the means necessary to prove superior prints to their customers in a simple manner,” he explains. “PSPs are looking for ways to cut costs and reduce errors in the print shop and are looking for automation to help. Wide-format printing is inherently complex and not always straightforward to automate. This is an area we see growing in demand.”
To this end the company recently unveiled Onyx 19, the latest iteration of its wide-format Rip and print workflow software, which features Spark Engine - a new performance platform that Onyx claims brings Rip speed increased of up to 400% and printer performance increases up to 200%.
“Onyx 19 is the culmination of 30 years’ of innovating in the wide-format print industry and showcases Onyx Graphics’ commitment to its worldwide customer base with new technologies that put users ahead of the curve,” says Bryan Manwaring, director of product marketing at Onyx Graphics. “By continually investing into research and development to produce industry leading software solutions for wide-format, Onyx Graphics has the unique position to meet the growing industry and evolving customer needs.”
PSPs are evolving and at different stages of digital transformation, but there are some commonalities across all businesses and this has played a large part in influencing the latest iteration of products brought to market by software providers, according to Arnaud Fabre, product manager at Caldera.
“Since the last Drupa our product portfolio has been developed to help our customer’s activity that is far more than just print: they create and deliver unique customer experiences and universes,” says Fabre. He adds that “agile” print shops are eager to source products that offer “differentiation and high added value propositions” and that many of the features added to Caldera’s Rip software version 12, which was released last year, were in direct response to customer demands.
“They wanted more help to master the software, so we integrated direct help access links per module and views through HelpLinks; they wanted help with media savings for special applications where the media is textured and so orientation really matters, so we added ContourNesting 180°; they wanted a flexible and common interface to manage multi-layer printing to print special effects, so we introduced MultiLayer; and they wanted to have the ability to handle the optical brightness on all they media they manage - either opaque or transparent - so we added TotalColor qb.”
At Fespa Global 2019 the company unveiled V12.1 version with a focus on “improving processing speeds for high-end print shops, while at the same time providing a better and simplified user experience”.
These are similar areas of focus for HP, which has launched a number of products responding to the needs of customers, says Phil Oakley, large format business manager UK and Ireland at HP. Over the course of the last 12 months HP has also expanded its HP Click Software for use on all DesignJet T-Series machines “in response to the demand we were seeing for an accessible, low-maintenance printing experience. With no need for a driver, the software offers easy, simple one-click printing, plus drag and drop multipage PDF printing and real-print preview, while optimising media usage and costs,” explains Oakley.
Going forward there are a number of areas where software providers think there is scope for further product innovation and growth. As you might expect, one is cloud-based software offerings.
“Everything to do with cloud processing and cloud colour management is a big, big topic,” says EFI’s Spiegel. “The people in the shops are really looking for help and that is coming from the cloud. It’s a big trend that we see more and more of, and we are trying to address this.”
It is a trend Rip provider Shiraz Software is already focusing a lot of its efforts and energies on, according to the company’s business development director Ramin Shahbazi. He says Shiraz recently launched the Shiraz Rosetta Rip - which is a complete end-to-end web-to-print solution for the large-format market - to capitalise on this growth area.
“At the moment, if a job is submitted via ecommerce then what tends to happen is the customer has to prepare the job then they send it to the Rip to be printed. We’ve effectively eliminated that process - it is all automated,” says Shahbazi. “With lease pricing for as little as £30/month we now have what we firmly believe is the best value professional Rip solution anywhere on the market.”
The Rosetta Rip was launched on Shiraz’s new dedicated website at the start of July and can be tested for 15 days in fully working mode. Shahbazi says he hasn’t been as excited about the Rip market for many years.
“It’s been the same old, same old, whereas now I can see an area where we can add a lot of value to someone who is looking for a solution like that,” he says.
Products that add value is what PSPs are increasingly on the lookout for, so in the months ahead, in addition to solutions that help to drive efficiencies you can expect to see further innovation from software providers in these emerging niche areas.