Digital to underpin evolution of print finishing market

A new Smithers Pira report highlights how postpress will increasingly look to incorporate digital technologies as it adjusts to changing nature of the global print marketplace.

Almost all printed material has to be finished and converted into a saleable item. In 2018, post-press equipment is increasingly sophisticated with computer control driving servomotors to automate set-ups. There are in-line integrated single-pass solutions, near-line where finishing is close to the printing machine and the finishing is controlled by the same software, or completely separate off-line solutions.

Market transformation

According to the new Smithers Pira study, in 2018 the global market for new post-press equipment is $4.87 billion. This is a little down from $5.10 billion 2013 – a reflection of the general slowdown in demand for printed products – the market will rebound slightly across the next five years to reach to $4.90 billion in 2023.

This period will see a further decline in demand for finishing platforms in several traditional segments. Mailing equipment and systems is forecast to see the biggest decline, falling by nearly 40% across 2013-2023; sales of post-print equipment for commercial application will fall by 22.2% over the same 10 years.

This negative situation will be ameliorated to a certain degree by expanded demand for digital print finishing equipment as the boundaries between digital and commercial machinery increasingly merge. Many of the established equipment suppliers are developing machinery suited to the smaller formats and lower run lengths that are associated with toner and particularly inkjet work.

Growth is also forecast for finishing systems for packaging and labels as this segment becomes increasingly important to the print industry overall. Worth $2.03 billion in 2018, it is already the largest sector and will boost its share over the study period, representing 45.9% of the total in 2023.

New challenges

Flexibility and connectivity are ever more important in postpress. A few years ago the finishing department of a typical commercial print company would handle a few large jobs, with jobs presented on pallets into store. The situation is changing with the rise of web-to-print systems and greater variety of work, today there may have been 10 or 20 smaller digital jobs that could be on small pallets – and this shift is set to continue.

Capitalising on new opportunities for equipment suppliers relies on the twin demand of evolving the new potential of digital print technologies into finishing systems, and adapting to evolving print service user demands.

Digital enhancement

Many print service providers and converters are exploring ways to make print more appealing and engaging to consumers with special effects and building on the physical and tactile nature of printed products. This business model is posited on employing embellishment techniques driven by digital print technologies to add value to the product with impact finishing.

Tactile features

The leading area of focus is in enhanced embossing and tactile features. There are many ways that suppliers exploit the physical tactile nature of print. Mechanical embossing to raise parts of a surface is well established, but leveraging inkjet processes is creating new options.

One pioneer in this segment is Israeli company Scodix, with its inkjet-based digital embellishment machines. They operate by laying down a variable thickness of UV-curable modified acrylic varnishes with silicone-based additives. Multiple layers can be printed in position, with the Scodix Variable Density platform allowing variable polymer thicknesses in a single pass.

These are marketed as a lower-cost flexible alternative to embossing in commercial print products, often using web-to-print systems; book publishing; photobooks; and folding cartons for higher value segments, like cosmetics.

At the start of 2018 Scodix was able to report over 300 installations worldwide. Its latest model is the E106, a B1-format machine offering spot varnishing, dimensional effects, foiling, metallics, 3D-holographic cast and cure effects, crystal effects, glittering and Braille print;  – all with full variable data capability.

Other systems for spot varnishing for dimensional and tactile effects are being developed. MGI sells the JETvarnish 3D Evolution, capable of finishing 4,200 B2 sheets per hour. This can give digital and offset printer operators a scalable upgrade path for a full range of production environments and post-press applications.

Argos, Komfi Spotmatic, Autobond and Steinemann are also providing enhanced spot varnishing machinery.

Metallic effects

A parallel development, which can be combined with tactile print, is digital post-press metallic enhancement. This works as an alternative to established cold foiling processes, with inkjet or toner laying down a programmed pattern with a cold foil then pressed onto it. Prominent systems in this arena include the Digital Metal platform from Leonhard Kurz, and the iFoil feature on MGI’s JETvarnish machine.

Again innovation is coming out of Israel’s Silicon Wadi, in the shape of nano-metallography developed by Landa and being advanced as an option on its Nanography line of presses. 

Nano-metallography prints a design in UV curing fluid and the silver particles are then transferred from a specialist roller in the Landa machine. It provides a finish akin to hot or cold foiling, but without the waste and expense of buying a metallised substrate and overprinting with white.

Laser cutting

Another digital finishing technology that is gaining market traction in several applications is laser cutting. 

Laser cutting employs high-powered solid state or CO2 lasers to vaporise material in the beam path. Spot size can be altered and the power can be adjusted to fully cut, kiss-cut or score a paper, film, or board substrate. This eliminates the need for mechanical dies, as the shape is defined digitally. Recent improvements in this technology mean there is less risk of burning and discolouration of the substrate. Furthermore the lasers can also be set to mark the stock to add security features or coding.

Suppliers – such as Highcon and Motioncutter – stress the benefits of laser systems in eliminating tools and reducing set-up costs translating into savings in changeover time, labour and waste. After the initial learning curve, systems are flexible and easy to use. Furthermore there are advantages that are impossible using a fixed dies, such as varying the shape or perforation effects on each separate product.

The sector that has embraced laser system most readily has been label finishing, followed by packaging and commercial print. Across the next five years it is likely laser cutting will become much more mainstream, with laser units more routinely integrated into printing and converting machinery.

The state-of-the-art in print finishing and its evolution across 2018-2023 is analysed in full, and quantified via an exclusive market data set, in the new Smithers Pira report The Future of Print Finishing Markets to 2023. The brochure for this in-depth strategic market study is available for download now.

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