When asked to cover the topic of how wholesale digital printing has changed, I sat back and pondered the question: What hasn’t changed?
For us at Digital Print Solutions it started out like any small sign shop with a couple of employees doing local sign and installation work. We started with cut vinyl on a 30” Roland plotter and our business grew. Every once in a while another local sign shop would call to see if we had a color of vinyl they could use, or if we could cut a big decal for them as they maybe had a 15” or 24” cutter.
Then came the bug jump to digital printing when we bought a 54” Roland SolJet print-and-cut machine. Not only did our customers love what we were able to do with this printer, but so did all of the other sign shops in the area. Soon those sign shop owners who didn’t already have a digital press started asking us to do prints for them. Little did I know, this was the start of a crazy journey for our business – and for the entire industry. Let’s look at how different parts of the business have changed.
Ten years ago there was only a handfull of approved materials that would work with first-generation inks. We basically had one banner material and one adhesive vinyl with cold laminate, and everyone was excited to get the product and was willing to pay for it. Now there are many compatible materials on the market. We’ve seen some great additions over the years in mesh banners, window perf, wrap materials, floor graphics, backlit, wall paper, plus fabric of all types. We can print onto practically anything.
Again, over the last few years the advancements in ink technology have been remarkable, to say the least. What used to be solvent or first-generation eco-solvent, UV -cure, Latex, dye sub, direct to fabric inks and some specialty inks like silver. These inks not only continue to fuel our growth with new application possibilities, but they also have built momentum in the industry as we now can print with the right ink to meet the customer’s needs.
Wow! Sometimes I just pinch myself when I go into our production facilities and see how quickly and efficiently signs are made. Again, going back to our one 54” SolJet we could produce about 800 - 1000 square feet of output a day if all went well. Today we have 13 presses with the ability to produce more than130,000 square feet per day. The pure speed combined with the quality of print and the variety of substrates amazes me.
Computing and Software
This industry is driven by technology - from design software, RIP efficiency, automated workflows, to the amazing little printheads that spit every little drop of ink in exactly the correct spot, and do it a few million times on the average banner. The size of processors and utilization of cloud technology to store and transfer the large files are other areas that have changed for the wholesale print provider – there are no longer a stack of CD -ROM’s in the mailbox each day.
What can I say about the Internet? It has changed our world and pushed us all to be better companies in one way or another. But I will admit the I have a love/hate relationship with the Internet. On one hand it does help most of our clients find us easily, but on the other hand it also allows lowball fly-by-night print operations to come and go, and ultimately drive down prices for the whole industry.
I hear way too often that somebody can buy something online, just as cheaply as buying it wholesale. All I’ll say is be careful. If you are putting your reputation in the hands of an unknown online print provider with some obscure name and cheap prices, you may be getting what you paid for.
Quality print service providers will use quality products, use name and OEM inks, they will have live customer service and they will clearly state their quality guarantee and product warranty policies. Our shop currently experiences a less than .04 percent redo rate.
Today, as a wholesaler print provider we are always challenged with offering the best product at the lowest price. Our job is to make our customers look great so they can make money and retain customers. It sounds so simple, however finding the right balance of product offering, inventory, turnaround time and production can be challenging.
When an inkjet press can cost $1 million or more and it is used to do one type of printing (but does it very well), it takes a large number of smaller sign shops using our services to pay for that capacity.
This is why we need wholesale printing in our industry. As our customers have the relationship with their client, but may not necessarily have the constant demand to afford the large press solutions, we can offer a way for them to fulfill the order, retain the customer, and still make money.
I think of it like a sort of cooperative. Combined, all of our clients are “buying” the latest technology, and together they have purchasing power that would be difficult to achieve individually.
But to make it work, the relationship with your wholesale print service provider has to be built on trust – I cannot stress this enough. Using a wholesale printer can be a great solution for any company looking to offer new products and/or expand production capacity without the capital expense or additional employees.
Time is the Biggest Asset
The biggest asset that we, or any wholesale print provider can offer is time. Regardless of the size of your shop, time with customers is what makes the money. If you don’t have the sales and the relationships, your business will never grow to its fullest potential. I have several sign companies that use us to produce virtually all of their printing and in a few cases, shops have actually sold their printers to concentrate on sales and installation.
We believe the future looks bright for wholesale printing. With the continued complexity of digital printing and the overall increased end-consumer demand for quality, speed, and price, we see this industry maturing significantly over the next couple of years. The demand for “green” solutions will continue to grow as sustainability becomes a focus for more and more consumers. I believe machines will be faster, prints will be clearer, and the number of available substrates will continue to increase.
However, the key ingredient that won’t change and that has made this industry great and will continue to make it great, regardless of technology changes, is relationships.
The relationships we build with clients and vendors at all levels are where we make our mark as printers and solution providers. Clients are looking for cost effective solutions that have a better ROI than other mediums, as wide-and-grand-format printers, we are positioned to do that as long as we continually educate each other and our clients. SDG