Welcome to 2018! As we begin the new year, we take a look at what’s hot now in wide-format printing and what’s going to gain traction in the coming months. Our team provided insight on what they see as the growing trends for 2018, so we can help you be prepared with the media and equipment you need to meet your customers’ evolving demands.
1. Digital Keeps Growing: During the past two decades, we were at the forefront as digital took the lead in the graphics, photography and signage markets. Now, we’re watching digital printing make new inroads in industries that range from décor to flexible packaging. In the same way digital printing made signage faster and more customized than technologies of the past, we’re going to see that advantage work for short-run, super customized, more quickly produced fabrics for applications such as signage, upholstery, drapery, bedding, accessories, fast fashion and much more.
Because digital allows a file to print directly to a substrate without expensive plate setup, short- or even micro-runs are a whole new possibility for fabric, specifically. With these shorter run possibilities, we anticipate more fabric printing here in the U.S., rather than mass production off-shore that equates to tons of inventory on shelves here. One-off digital printing means your customers no longer need to stock all that inventory from overseas.
Additionally, digital files allow for variable data capabilities that opens up the opportunity to create mass customization — the same overall design with one (or more) elements that change out during the print job. Think: Share a Coke names. Now apply that to any sort of personalized print project that your customers might want.
2. More Dye-Sub Solutions: Another print technology that seemed to find new legs in 2017 was dye-sublimation, and we answered with a full-solution portfolio of printers, inks, transfer papers and more. As with aqueous, latex or solvent, media solutions will continue to develop for dye-sub, too. While dye-sub isn’t necessarily known for long-term outdoor durability, that may begin to change this year.
One of our customers’ favorite dye-sub applications is ChromaLuxe metal photo panels. In late 2017, ChromaLuxe launched a new outdoor-durable line of photo panels that last up to three or more years outdoors. The metal panels have an advantage over other outdoor substrates, especially resistance to moisture, scratches and graffiti that many outdoor signs must endure. It’s also easier to clean than, say, a hanging banner, and it stands up better to the elements without the need for a laminate. We can’t wait to see how this technology works for our customers and how dye-sub will continue to grow throughout the year.
3. Versatility in Décor Media: Now that digital printing is taking off for the décor segment, of course, the media options must follow. Over the past two years, we’ve seen some incredible advances in wallcovering options. Those have included products like LexJet’s super versatile, self-adhesive Print-N-Stick Fabric in options for aqueous, latex and solvent inks for quick-and-easy install of temporary wall murals. We also saw the launch of the innovative HP PVC-free Durable Wall Paper, which met many very stringent environmental standards, allowing for more digital printing and customized wallcovering options in sensitive environments like hospitals and schools.
In mid-2017, Vescom launched a line of digitally printable wallcovering in the U.S., bringing its unique, high-end textures to the market here. Our décor specialists anticipate that we’ll see even more specialty wallcoverings in 2018, such as colored mylars and metallic. We’ve seen these in gold and silver so far, but a luxurious rose gold mylar could be in our near future, too.
While polyester has been the digitally printable fabric of choice for décor with the current print technology, we expect to see more versatility here, too, branching out into printable cottons and linens, for example. It should be a well-decorated 2018, for sure!
4. Print Protection Beyond Canvas: While using a liquid coating for enhancing and protecting a canvas print has been around for a while, new options in coatings for other applications are making this technique like new.
Typically, a film laminate would be an option for a product like an adhesive-backed vinyl, for example. But with products like Marabu ClearShield Classic, a vinyl can be liquid coated for a fraction of the price of a film laminate. The coating can be mopped or rolled on, but for best results, try the Classic Lite version with a Starlam coating machine. With this new technology, you can double the durability of your print for aqueous or latex prints (using OEM-specified inks). We expect to see lots of action in the print protection arena in 2018.
5. A New Reality for Print: As with all areas of our lives, it seems, virtual and augmented reality are going to be big players in the world of print! We’ve been experimenting with all sorts of opportunities, such as augmented reality to help troubleshoot technical issues in real-time over an iPad or creating a trade show experience using virtual reality, printer dimensions, set-up techniques, and more.
We’re especially excited about AR technology that brings images to life, right on your smartphone or tablet. As shown in the picture, we printed some beautiful images on canvas and wrapped them. Using new AR technology, those canvas prints come to “life” as a video begins right from that still shot of the canvas. It’s very cool, and a technology that we anticipate the wide-format world will venture into this year … and beyond!
What are your predictions for 2018? Tell us in the comments below.