See it, Want it, Print it: Digital Printing Continues to Develop

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Digital printing technologies have come a long way since the world’s first colour digital printer was brought to market in 1993. Immediately, the release of the newest printing tool triggered a transformation in the printing world.

Digital printing is the process of transmitting a document from a computer or other digital device to a printer that accepts text and graphic data. The information is condensed into a binary code or digitized, so that it can be stored and reproduced. Because there is no need to replace, reset or align printing plates in digital printing, the result equals quick turnaround times and reduced printing costs.

The continued integration of digital printing technology over the last 24 years has made mass printing much easier than it was even a decade ago. Instead of the tedious and labour intensive work associated with older printing presses, digital printing is extremely fast, accurate and easy to do.

While it is widely believed we are increasingly moving toward a paperless society, thanks to the widespread adoption of digital devices, the digital printing sector is only growing. According to a digital printing industry report released earlier this month, the current market in the United States alone is roughly $11.42 billion and is expected to grow to $42.11 billion by 2026, with a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 13.9 percent.

Globally, the market has continued its steady growth since the launch of the first digital printer. In 2010, the global digital printing market was valued at $85.2 billion, and currently, digital printing accounts for approximately 18 percent of all printed materials.

“Digital print will be everywhere in the future,” said Chris Baker, former vice-president at HP. “Digital printing will not just be used for commercial printing; it will be used for publishing and packaging. Digital presses will also become faster and be designed to handle more types of printing.”

As Baker mentions, the capabilities are being widely accepted, not just in industries that traditionally deal with printers, but also in industries that have no or little history with printing paper.

Digital printing in fashion and textile design is being touted as the “next” fashion trend due to the high level of customization offered, bringing new meaning to the term one of a kind. Uniquely customized textiles can now be made thanks to advances made in digital printing technology.

Technology company Epson is currently working with numerous leading fashion brands, including Under Armour and Adidas, to create and manufacture textiles that are then printed with digital printers directly onto fabric, textiles and other similar material.

“People want something different these days, they want something that stands out,” explains Timothy Check, product manager of Professional Imaging at Epson. “We’re working with a lot of manufacturers who say they’re not doing 20,000 of the same garment anymore, but just doing 500 of them. Then they’ll do another 500, but in a slightly different color perhaps.”

Digital printing’s bright future is attracting a lot of interest across multiple industries and sectors. Case in point, this past December, Canadian technology development and intellectual property licensing company WiLAN, acquired a portfolio of patents from Eastman Kodak that cover various elements of electrophotography and other printing technologies. These technologies are invaluable in the digital printing process, and are an example of the type of patent acquisitions that WiLAN is making to build a pipeline of future revenue.

Kodak is a name closely associated with photography and image printing around the world — the company has also been a technology leader in the digital printing process of electrophotography for more than four decades.

“We are pleased to be selected by Kodak to acquire this important portfolio,” said Jim Skippen, president and CEO of WiLAN in a press release following the patent acquisition. “Kodak’s brand is synonymous with innovation, and we look forward to realizing a return on our investment in this portfolio through their significant R&D efforts.”

The fashion and printing industries are only the first in a long line of sectors that will reap the benefits of digital printing. Car companies and auto shops are using digital printing to make personalized car wraps, and the basic components of a digital printer are the foundation for the burgeoning 2D and 3D printing industry, which is capable of printing complex tools, intricate pieces of jewelry and even teeth.

With digital printing’s ability to rapidly produce an array of products quickly and efficiently, it’s easy to see why so many industries are looking to this technology to make their businesses more streamlined and efficient, and we are only at the tip of the iceberg according to Steven Hastings, director of IT distribution at Ricoh UK.

“The age of the digital printer is fast approaching,” he said. “The migration to digital print can ensure enhanced profitability and add greater value to the printing process.”

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Boris Dzhingarov

Boris Dzhingarov is a business news writer who covers a wide range of issues.