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In the year 2085

I was recently asked to give my perception of what the print and graphic arts world will be like in 66 years’ time! So with a very wild imagination I gave it some considerable thought.

In the year 2085, 66 years from now I am sure much in print will be different, but will print still be a part of the marketing mix? Nothing so far has managed to kill it off. What will the major trends be? What will the issues be? What will the hot topics be? To do so I think it would be sensible to look back first, just to see what history has brought to us today and as with most things, looking at things historically can help guide the path to new innovative ways forward.

It never ceases to amaze me just how much my industry has changed from my teenage college days over 35 years ago, learning hot metal composition in what was a predominant mono-chrome print world to what has now become the instant push-button micro-technological global feast of vibrant colour. So what has driven this change? It is fair to say that the driving force for change was and still is very much through the demands of marketing professionals. These are people tasked with the demands from their clients for ‘something different’ the need to make a brand or an organisation stand out from their competitors. With this need comes pressure on the print industry to deliver more and make seemingly simple things come to life using a combination of design, ink and paper. The technology used in delivering this over many years was restricted to lithographic printing equipment but through advancements digital printing machines started to deliver quick, hassle free, push button capabilities to virtually anyone at a fraction of the cost and the quantities of printed sheets could be reduced from the limiting larger runs of litho.

With digital print came the ability to target markets using ‘Data’, this word was almost non exist ant in the printing factory 30 years ago but now it is a valuable resource and one which helps to power the next print campaign for their clients. A good printing house will know that handling data professionally gives you a key advantage when attracting new business. Of course none of the this data analysis could ever have been achieved if it had not been for the internet. The binary world of the internet has single highhandedly changed the way we do everything, but in print it has caused many an established print company to rethink it’s business planning. The advancement of being able to produce letters, business cards, reports, brochures etc using an in built software package on a general PC has meant that the very work a printer would be involved in was now available to many in their offices. All these changing factors meant that the way people were engaging with printers and print was changing.

So 400+ years of Letterpress led to commercially driven Litho tech; 40 or so years later we found ourselves, marketing led into a digital print age; then by direct market targeting and data analysis, print today has found itself in the realms of a new niche by applying the final marketing push, visually using paper, board, packaging, direct mail, graphic displays and large format presentations allowing the visual dominance of tactile material with statement making printed products, all encouraging products and services of clients who want to be different from their competitors. Clever organisations will use a dual marketing approach where the instant catchment of internet led platforms can display products and services to encourage engagement with their potential clients but by adding printed products, the data driven information can direct print to a provenly keen buying audience.

That is the history lesson over, what is in store for 2085

Having worked and seen so many changes in the industry it is clear that change will continue. The main underlying characteristic moving forward will be just how Green can we make Print for a new commercial generation? Without doubt the biggest topic for all moving forward is climate change and reducing plastic pollution. With that in mind the print manufacturing sector has the perfect opportunity to replace plastics particularly in the world of packaging . It is fair to say that the print world has worked positively over many years to clean it’s act up and deliver, not only with credible recyclable products, but has formed an efficient infrastructure and helped deliver the sustainable way in which forests are now managed. The promotion of sustainability in forestry leading to FSC products on our machine room floors are a testament to our long sighted visions for the future. After all, our industry has been looking at delivering super sustainability with its services for hundreds of years. With the advent of vegetable inks, biodegradable toners and vegetable starch plastics, our industry will continue to work hard to deliver on those green credentials. I see digital advancement where more pre-diecut stocks will be fed through machines to enable end users to make cartons and boxes from the comfort of their own office. Ink jet digital presses will be able to feed heavier weight boards for this reason. Toners will become completely food safe allowing print to be activated even at point of serving food such as a takeaway or fast food vendor. This tech will bring in new colour options too such as greater, easier and cheaper opportunities to use neons, spot pantone colours, metallics, glitters and varnishes. All delivered with the ease of push button approach with little to no need of changing drums or internal mechanisms of the machinery.

For those who run their office on the move, I see continuation of the role for the local printer but having an up to date facility of running all the key equipment featured above for client convenience, by offering such technology, receiving payment in advance and offering collection, delivery or direct mail options, I see the practicality of print in the market place with a true ‘Instant Print’ attitude to producing orders as a key way forward.

Personalisation will also be a key area of growth, the ability already exists to print on virtually any product including fabrics, merchandise and rigid materials but this will become mainstream and smart.

Wider thinking leads me to suggest that ‘Smart’ papers and board will exist allowing surfaces to change colour indicating changes in temperature, moisture and air pressure (quite what for I cannot say but no doubt there will be a need for it!). Papers cross bonded with metallic coatings will form micro papers, these will allow us to integrate with technology through various means and allow the printed sheet to ‘speak’, ‘light up’ or engage with us on the move or via our phones and watches. Moving pictures on paper or starch foils would be possible and particularly powerful in a poster display setting.

Technology will change and so will the material – the key challenge for us all in the industry is to deliver what our clients need in such a way that it will be friendly to the environment as well as create a powerful marketing statement.

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