Compassion and Innovation: Digital printing industry responds to COVID-19

By Ginny Mumm

Despite the chaos and disruption brought on by COVID-19, industry manufacturers continue to work on new applications, outreach, and technology, which will create exciting business opportunities in 2021.

Despite the chaos and disruption brought on by COVID-19, industry manufacturers continue to work on new applications, outreach, and technology, which will create exciting business opportunities in 2021.

It is obvious 2020 has been anything but a typical year. In fact, one could say there have been two distinct parts to the year: the first quarter and COVID-19. The pandemic has affected every business, including digital print.

As many industries have done, the digital printing sector has responded to the pandemic with compassion and creativity. Here is an overview of current trends, the state of technology in the sign industry, how the crisis has affected the business, and a glimpse of what the future holds, both in terms of technology and the industry overall.

Textile printers—offering flexible solutions and new applications

Early in the year, the market for printed textiles was rapidly expanding. In fact, according to the Allied Market Research report ‘Global Digital Textile Printing Market by Ink Type, Substrate, Application: Global Opportunity Analysis and Industry Forecast, 2020–2027,’ the global digital textile printing market was projected to grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 19.1 per cent between 2020 and 2027. Manufacturers were offering a range of options for print-service providers (PSPs) who were looking to broaden their product offerings with direct-to-fabric and/or dye-sublimation transfer printing.

When the COVID-19 crisis began, these businesses moved quickly to respond.

“As soon as the pandemic hit, we knew how hard the impact was going to be for our industry,” said Lily Hunter, Roland DGA’s product manager for textiles, e-commerce, and supplies. “We reached out to our dealers and customers to make sure they and their families were OK, and to ask if we could provide any help and resources.”

Since many print shop owners are home-based or small business operators, many PSPs developed resources to help raise awareness that print shops were often considered ‘essential businesses’ and, therefore, should be allowed to remain open. Several print technology manufacturers also responded with virtual outreach programs.

Hunter predicts with the changes brought on by the pandemic, online shopping and e-commerce will only continue to grow.

Hunter predicts with the changes brought on by the pandemic, online shopping and e-commerce will only continue to grow.

Hunter said throughout 2020 and especially after COVID-19 hit, there has been an increased interest in home-based business solutions.

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“If you can send a job to a desktop printer, you can design and send a print job to a direct-to-garment printer,” she said. “Customized T-shirts are a great way to make money and can be sold through your own website, or through sites like Etsy and Facebook Marketplace.”

Hunter predicts with the changes brought on by the pandemic, online shopping and e-commerce will only continue to grow.

“My best advice for companies is to establish these channels now,” said Hunter.
That said, soft signage is still relevant in today’s marketplace.

 

“This signage type makes a good backdrop for virtual meetings, conferences, and trade shows, and they definitely look better than video conferencing software generated backgrounds,” she said. “In addition, soft signage remains a great alternative to polyvinyl chloride (PVC) banners. Further, sublimated soft signage is washable. Anti-microbial media also became increasingly popular as businesses, schools, and places of worship opened up.”

Hunter predicts wellness and disease-prevention measures will remain important in the future.

“As surfaces need to be cleaned more frequently to comply with health guidelines, printed products and signage need to be able to withstand various types of chemicals and cleaning methods. Inks not only need to be vibrant, but also durable,” she said.

In Hunter’s opinion, printing equipment must continue to be user-friendly, robust, and reliable to meet the growing needs of new customers, specifically home-based businesses.

“Beyond offering printing and ink technology, we cannot ignore the importance of providing excellent support,” said Hunter. “Virtual support and relevant resources must be available for users at any given time. The more user-friendly your products and resources, the better it is for your new and growing customer base.”

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