And Now, for Some Good News

A smattering of hopeful indicators that print is rebounding—and maybe even cool.

What do visual merchandising executives, politicians, and engineers have in common? The riddle came to me during a presentation at the Retail Design Collective event in New York in early December. The presenters, owners of a company that tracks information about high-end store window displays from major shopping destinations around the world, said the most popular trend in window design today is the incorporation of graphic imagery—design speak for “stuff that has been printed.”

Now, before anyone breaks out their best champagne, I should say that this trend was only noted in 10 percent of the projects that the company tracked, a little under 2000 windows worldwide. You could monopolize the global market and not be much closer to retirement. Still, the data speaks favorably to printing’s ongoing place in the much larger world of brick-and-mortar retail. (And it was nice to be in an audience of high-end designers and feel hip for a change. High fashion for my friends in the printing industry is wearing logo shirts with no visible stains and having the same color socks on both feet.)

The presentation reminded me of other positive data I’ve seen recently from different corners of the printing industry:

• A recent study from Semper International showed the strongest quarter-to-quarter revenue growth by commercial printers since 2006, with 55 percent reporting higher sales. (That might not sound like much, but the study is predominantly of commercial offset printers, who have had little cause to celebrate recently.)
• More surprising: The Semper study also showed zero percent of the respondents expecting to decrease their staffing levels in 2015. Semper is a staffing firm so such data is of obvious self interest, though it should be noted that the study is done by a third-party firm and the answer to this question was unprecedented.
• US commercial printing shipments, as tracked by the US Department of Commerce, were up 2.9 percent between June and September compared to the same period in 2013. If you watch these stats, also dominated by offset printing, you know that any sustained uptick is hopeful. The government-reported value of commercial printing has dropped by $40 billion in annual revenue over the past decade.
• Closer to home, SGIA recently had its largest and most highly attended exhibition ever, big news for an event that goes back to 1948. (You can read more about the show on page 8.)
• Looking ahead at 3D printing, which has captured more attention than any printing technology since the Gutenberg press and is probably the only one ever called out in a State of the Union address, Allied Market Research is forecasting a compounded annual growth rate of 20 percent through 2020.
• And in a field that may eclipse 3D printing in acclaim once the engineering feats it enables become better known, the OE-A (the Organic Electronics Association) projected a 19 percent revenue increase in printed electronics in 2015.

So, what do visual merchandising executives, politicians, and engineers have in common? They’re all excited by the future of printing. You should be, too.

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