Mathew Faulkner, European Marketing Manager for Wide Format Group, Canon Europe
Wide format printing has come a long way since its inception at the end of the last century and has been playing a key role in the creative industry for a long time. Therefore, when considering the future of wide-format printing, it simply would not do to ignore the future of the creative economy; one which is not only robust but gets stronger each year.
According to EY, the creative economy, which includes multiple industries such as advertising, architecture, fashion, music, publishing and film, currently has annual revenues of €535.9 billion and contributes 4.2% of Europe’s GDP. Creative industries are also Europe’s second-largest employer.
The creative economy stimulates innovation and growth all over the world, and as technology continues to advance, the opportunities for print service providers (PSPs) to tap into these dynamic and innovative industries are endless. Take product design, from consumer and industrial products, to architectural plans and industrial components - it doesn’t take a great leap of the imagination to appreciate where print can aid innovation in prototyping and design.
But it’s time to think beyond just the prototypes; according to PWC for example, 3D print will advance to enable the printing of intelligent systems embedded with enhancements such as sensors, transistors, and microprocessors by 2019. Meanwhile, the global digital printing market is set to more than double from its 9.5% share back in 2008 to 19.7% by 2018. A huge contribution of this is the creative economy, particularly when one considers how much print can enhance the realisation of art, culture and creative thought.
The trend of customisation and personalisation is one area in particular where PSPs can continue to add real value. Designers and consumers alike are now helping to push boundaries with print-on-demand requests, but let’s take this further and look to a future where homes are completely filled with the designs and creations of their owners. Custom pieces, from bespoke furnishings such as sofa covers, rugs and bed linen to 3D printed lamps and coffee tables will become the norm. It won’t end in the home either, personalised car-wrapping designs may be popular today, but in the future, 3D printers will be able to build the entire car based on the specifications of the buyer.
The opportunities for self-expression will be endless and the availability of digital fabrication coupled with the ability to produce one-offs will enable PSPs focused on understanding and making use of such trends to be perfectly positioned to reap great rewards.
Mixed reality will also play an increasingly important role within both the home and business environments. The combination of reality with additional information through virtual- and augmented reality devices is already a powerful proposition for those working in architecture, manufacturing and interior design, but the future will see disabled artists designing masterpieces using just their eyes to realise their imagination on a screen and collaborations across the world between craftsmen able to construct models of new spectacular sculptures without constraint.
There is ultimately a real and significant opportunity for print as an integral part of the creative process. The majority of PSPs already work with businesses in the creative industries with proofing, prototyping for presentations or short-run jobs. The trick is to understand how the creative economy is changing and the trends that are shaping that change.
Let’s take the graphic design industry as another example. Font is becoming increasingly important with a trend towards simple typeface, handwritten letterforms and even fonts created from scratch. We will begin to see far more clean and simple designs, and, in tougher financial climates, a focus on refreshing identities rather than radical rebrands will be the status quo. As designs become simpler, correct colour workflows also become increasingly important. This is exactly why companies spend thousands of pounds on safeguarding consistency of colour when it comes to their visual brand, and therefore another key area where PSPs can provide invaluable support.
With this in mind, it’s not just the speed of printing solutions and the opportunity of small scale print runs that will hugely benefit creative industries. It is also the knowledge that PSPs have about colours, fabrics and digital printing techniques that will enable them to provide a differentiated offering. This will have the potential to help designers to really open up to bigger possibilities than before.
Those that look beyond the technical aspect of printing and embrace the full potential it offers to support creative customers achieve their dreams will remain ahead of the competition. Knowledge that goes wider than printing is also where the future lies. There are endless creative possibilities when marrying the creative industry and modern printing techniques, so be open to change, challenge your own perceptions of what printing can achieve, seek to provide strategic marketing and business solutions and you will secure your future.
Creativity is not limited by print, in fact, the ability to print onto virtually any type of material is a real opportunity for PSPs to grow, develop and future-proof their business. Today, the only limit is your imagination.
 http://www.ey.com/Publication/vwLUAssets/Measuring_cultural_and_creative_markets_in_the_EU/$FILE/Creating-Growth.pdf October 2014
 http://www.pwc.com/us/en/technology-forecast/2014/3d-printing/features/future-3d-printing.html , 2014