Simon Eccles is a highly respected Print Technology journalist, based in the UK who has been covering print for more years than he cares to remember. He followed his father into the printing business and studied at the London Printing School before embarking on a career which included editing and reporting roles in a wide variety of publications including MacWeek, Digit, Digital Printer and PrintWeek in the United Kingdom. He’s covered an astounding NINE Drupas and told Jerry Kennelly about his impressions of Drupa 2016.
It’s been a very impressive, informative show so far and I’ve counted this is my 9th Drupa so I’m feeling like I’m an industry veteran right now! As every, for the last 20 years digital has been the primary moving force behind what’s happening in the printing industry. I’ve seen it go from microcomputers being the next big thing, through to digital cameras and now it’s digital printing, and now we’re seeing digital printing move into the mainstream and I think that’s probably one of the most important trends here and we’re also seeing people do more and more automation and what they can be turning the printing process into a true process where it is as much hands off; they’re calling it touch free or touchless jargon, along those lines!
There’s two areas that are possibly very innovative and very important; one is corrugated production, carton production using digital printing has been very slow to take off, much slower than what people thought, as opposed to label printing which has been going digital for the last 10 years and has become a very important part of the label sector. Folding carton production has not yet taken off, despite the prediction of it being the big thing, so in the meantime corrugated packaging is being seen as an intermediate step in the meantime. Corrugated production is very specialized and involves very large machines. There are some very impressive and large machines here at the show (Drupa).
What’s exciting me at the moment is something called “direct to shape” which is using primarily UV inkjet technology to print directly onto objects, as opposed to flat pieces of paper or transfers which then go on to something like an iPad or a phone case. It’s getting to be increasingly possible to print directly onto something that is a complex shape. One example is Heidelberg with their Omnifire which is basically a robotic are that grabs soccer balls and sprays an image onto it so you can buy in Germany, Switzerland personalized soccer balls and indeed in Heidelberg town you can buy personalized Muesli packs which are printed by these robots. Heidelberg in particular is talking about being able to print directly onto aircraft wings, vehicles and fridges and white goods in the future. Heidelberg is not the only one. It is quite a trend this idea of being able to print onto objects as opposed to printing onto transfers or shrink-wraps and using that as an intermediate process. I think eventually we’ll see it go onto ceramic tableware. We’re already seeing printing onto floor tiles. The industry for printed tiles has gone digital remarkably fast in the last 3 or 4 years. I think it’s something like 80 or 90% of all tiles printed worldwide are now digital. However, that’s not print and paper, which Drupa is about! Drupa meaning “druck und papier”!
Probably from my point of view, as primarily writing about digital printing, the most impressive aspect is the high-speed web printers are getting much, much better. You’ve had high-speed web for 8 years. They are solving the problems of printing on uncoated papers, or papers not primarily coated for inkjets which have been too expensive, so until recently you’ve had the option of either printing the very fast cheaply on low grade paper where you couldn’t get good quality or you could pay a fortune for the good paper and get good quality. Now you can get the bit of both and I think that’s probably the most important aspect of Drupa, that inkjet is getting faster, cheaper and better on more affordable papers.
I’ve been in the business for all my life. My father was in printing. I went to printing college. I’ve been writing about printing for 35 years and in all that time print has been dying according to pundits. Absolute rubbish! Look yourself. Look around you. You go into a pub or a shop or a supermarket – everything is printed. Signage is going to be with us forever. Packaging – you’re not going to wrap up your Corn Flakes in an Internet page. People are going to have promotional products, promotional goods, shirts, printed tableware, printed soft furnishing. Everything is printed. Print on paper for publishing may be affected as we talked earlier with newspapers not knowing what to do about the Internet revolution. Same for the magazines I work for. Books in a way are bouncing back where the idea of print on demand means a book need never go out of print anymore. In a way the volumes are going down, but the fact that you’ve got more jobs, more titles being printed in books than ever before as far as I know.