Predicting the Near Future for Screen Printing

This article presents useful predictions from exhibitors at SGIA.

Determining the future for any industry cannot be done using just one source. As we walked the floor at the SGIA Expo this year, we asked exhibitors what could be expected in the near future for screen printers from their viewpoints. Most of these companies provide products and services to the screen-printing industry; therefore, their insight comes from lots of first-hand experience. In this article we summarized their comments, identifying each source, and then coming to conclusions based on repeated results as to what we could reasonably expect in the near future.

Dayton “Joe” Deetz, President
Visual Magnetics, LP, Mendon, MA
Screen printing will survive the digital age. Between the progress that digital processing has brought to screen printing and the speed at which large format screen printing can be accomplished, there will always be a place for screen printing supported by new technology such as what our company has to offer, this too opens doors for screen printers, giving them entre to a wider venue of customers.

Stephen Lovass, President
Gerber Scientific Products, South Winsor, CT
It seems that customers are looking for high-resolution printheads, lower cost equipment, and printing capability on a wide variety of substrates.

Thomas Leibrandt, Product Manager
Dainippon Screen Graphics (USA), LLC, Rolling Meadows, IL
The future for screen printing demands that a company be flexible, handling from roll-to-rigid systems, thick-to-thin substrates, and all types of inks, especially UV and other environmentally green products. Equipment must help printers increase productivity.

Fred Rosenzweig, President
EFI, Meredith, NH
Screen has long been under the pressures of shortened run lengths driven from the demand of marketers to more closely target their messages. This has driven a demand for shorter runs, more customized versions, and more regionalized requests all demanding fast turnaround. Screen printing was designed as a relatively long run printing process. With an initial make-ready that may cost $1000, per four-color inline version, jobs that had few versions and long run lengths were perfect for screen printing. With the continued move to targeted marketing and the introduction of high-speed, high-quality digital print, we will see more and more screen printers adopting digital to profitably serve the needs of their customers. We do think that one-color screen printing will continue as a viable offering and for the remaining long run demand the existing screen printing capacity should be able to accommodate this volume. We do not think many additional screen printing presses will be sold, but instead be replaced by digital.

Jennifer Bowman, Marketing Communications Manager
MacTac, Stow, OH
What we’re seeing is a convergence of printing flexo-guys doing labels now. Printers are converging and crossing over into digital. All that’s happening surrounds digital technology. Printers try to be a one-stop-shop for their customers.

Ben Reutter, Business Development Manager
Transfer Express, Inc., Mentor, OH
I think we’ve seen a lot more automation in the last couple of years and I expect that to continue. I expect more screen printers to be using computer-to-screen units and more automated screen exposure and cleaning. In terms of inks, I think we’re seeing more specialty inks, and ink manufacturers are producing much better specialty inks than they did three to five years ago. I think more environmentally friendly inks are available now. Most screen inks are already lead- and phthalate-compliant, but I expect that to be the norm in the near future as more environmentally friendly inks become available. Mostly customers seek a way to stand out—through pearl prints that are shiny, unique stretch fabrics, and glitter. Fashion changes constantly.

Jim Sause, VP
Agfa Graphics, Ridgefield Park, NJ
Right now many printers are doing just what we’re doing: acquisitions, strategic partnerships, and joint ventures.

Emma K.R. Scowen, Industrial Product Manager
MacDermid Autotype Ltd., Oxfordshire, UK
Customers are looking for increased efficiencies and to eliminate process steps. For instance, film-insert molding (FIM) is one technique designed to decrease process steps. It’s used a lot in Europe, but is just beginning to grow in importance in the U.S.

Andrew Oransky, Director of Product Management
Roland DGA Corp., Irvine, CA
Customers are demanding flexibility, and that means that they are doing a variety of projects with our printer. It’s always best not to define yourself in too narrow a niche. Speed, cost, control, and productivity will remain important into the future.

Paul Strunk, National Sales Manager
Inkcups Now, Dacula, GA
One thing that I’ve noticed is that the industry is going direct to garment now in pad printing instead of using sewn-in tags for T-shirts, athletic gear, and underwear.

Wendy Neville, President
Richmond Graphic Products, Inc., Smithfield, RI
Cutting out production steps and lowering costs equals the future of printing. Digital has made a huge impact on the industry and it is going to become a larger percent in a printer’s shop than in the past.

Sandy Gramley, High-Volume Segment Product Manager, Americas Region
Hewlett-Packard Co., San Diego, CA
Right now confidence in a green product and security in any printed piece of equipment is important. UV-curable equipment has the second largest installed base of printers. Latex, the most recent technology, has the smallest market share. It cannot be just about putting ink on paper anymore; customers want specific solutions. Workflow and productivity continue to be important.

Frank Cuzzolina, Account Manager
Universal Laser Systems Inc., Scottsdale, AZ
The latest software makes it possible to add a lasered image and put it on any substrate and that’s what people are looking for—the ability to identify products and to do more personalization. They’re also looking to bring more manufacturing in-house.

Mike Green, President
A.W.T. World Trade, Inc., Chicago, IL
The screen-printing industry is becoming more automated. Customers in the screen-printing industry want all processes and packages modified to their specific needs.

Bruce Merklinghaus, VP of Sales and Marketing
Vycom, Scranton, PA
I’m optimistic about 2011. The pessimism is lifting and we see rapid growth in digital printing. In 10 years most T-shirts will be printed digitally too.

Ed Branigan, Print Products Applications Manager
International Coatings, Cerritos, CA
In the long term, even digital will get faster and there will be a marriage of digital/screen machines. Kornit has that type of product already. Fashion and dress shirts for men are being embellished and printed. Instead of tattoos, people are getting foils, studs, rhinestones, and raised puff ink printed on their clothing. A T-shirt isn’t a casual garment any longer.

John Manson, Director of Engineering
Sara Kahane, Sales and Marketing Executive

Insta Graphic Systems, Cerritos, CA
The economy has changed everything. Now it’s who can be the most flexible, provide the quickest turn times, and can operate the leanest shop. There are, in fact, more opportunities for short-turn domestic manufacturing.

Riley Hopkins, President
Hopkins Riley Screen Printing Machinery LLC, Gig Harbor, WA
If you can hang on to something long enough, it will probably end up being screen printed. People who do printing now are carefully evaluating their businesses. They’re operating with fewer people and they’re standardizing and stabilizing the operation.

Bob Robinson, Sales
Imprintables Warehouse, Masontown, PA
It’s rare to find an industry that only does one aspect of screen printing now. The one-stop-shop is what customers want; they don’t care what technology or method we use. Customers want four-color graphics on any/all substrates. They want a specific white and a metallic ink too.

David P. Coleman, Director of Business Development
RTape, South Plainfield, NH
Advancement in digital and eco-friendly areas are where we see growth. The economic outlook is improving for our industry if this show is reflective of the U.S. at large.

Douglas Grigar, Manager
The Grendel, Cañon City, CO
There’s a greater demand for screen-printed garments than ever before, which has increased our business.

Paul Goulet, Vice President
Sefar, Depew, NY
Adapting to daily change and growing with the newer industrial printing is where the future is.

Mike Young, Consultant
Imagetek Consulting Int’l, North Haven, CT
The commercial side of traditional screen printing has changed immensely, if not radically, in favor of digital during the past decade or so, which was clearly evident at the SGIA Expo. This was in spite of the sudden uplift exhibited around the show with activities related to screening. Call it what you will but the switch or acceptance force behind digital imaging technology is greater than the sum of screen printing practitioners, a work in progress that will continue for the foreseeable future, albeit at a slower pace. This upward trend is a natural when digital has proven to be a superb asset, as a resourceful solution and cooperative processing partner for the lower quantity/mostly unprofitable end of the customary screen print scale, since it is compact, provides quicker turnarounds and more practical than traditional screening for many facets of the marketplace. While digital has perhaps a lot more room for growth as progress and newer developments come on line, it is far from ever being an outright replacement but rather a partnership in the business of imaging. Contrary to belief, commercial/graphic art screen printing is alive and well, which will continue in niche markets such as inline multicolor and time-honored jobs/applications—where alternative imaging/coating technologies are unable to participate due to cost, technical aspirations or aesthetic appeal.

Werner Wade, President
Colex Imaging, Inc., Paramus, NJ
It’s obvious that anyone attending SGIA tradeshows during the past decade is aware of the escalation of wide-format digital printing technology at the expense of screen printing. We do not believe that screen is dead or dying. Screen still has the advantage of lower ink costs than digital, faster printing speeds, and the ability to print on thicker media and mix PMS colors in two fountains. Digital printing, on the other hand, is not sitting still as the unit breaking point for choosing digital over screen keeps moving higher. Digital printers admit that jobs of 200-300 should go to screen. For the future, we do not see our digital printing customers buying screen equipment, but most screen printers are purchasing wide-format inkjet printers if they want to stay in business.

Ryan Moor, President
Ryonet, Vancouver, WA
Things are going digital. Look at what happened to traditional film cameras in the past 15 years. With screen printing, most would say that digitally printing a shirt is a way out from directly competing against screen printing; this is mainly due to ink cost and production speed. But what about digitally imaging the positive on screen itself? I think this could be real close to hitting the industry in an affordable way. Several companies are working on faster and affordable ways to achieve direct-to-screen, when one does it for the $15-20k price point, game over for film output.

In summary
What conclusion can we draw from so many sources? Many agree that screen printing will survive in a healthy condition but that digital will be used more than in the past, especially for short runs. Screen printers will use more CTS, more automation, and more direct-to-garment. Gains in productivity will come from steps such as combining printing and cutting operations in the same equipment.

Customers will expect printers to use environmentally friendly inks, such as UV and latex. They will also expect a printer to be a one-stop-shop with many capabilities. Customers demand top quality from start to finish, rapid turnaround, and excellent service in all aspects of the transaction. Making choices as to which is the least costly and most efficient way to print remains with the printer. The customer just wants lower prices for projects and more services to come from a single print-service source. This opens up new requirements for providers, or else new possibilities for partnerships with companies supplying auxiliary services.

Finally, for those printing for the garment industry, printed labels will continue to replace the sewn-in tags that scratch the back of a wearer’s neck. Both men and women will look for a little differentiation and a little flash in their apparel with the personalization of metallic inks and fibers, embellishments, puff decorations, studs, and foils. These trendy decorating techniques are taking T-shirts that are often viewed as utilitarian or recreational garments to a new level in the fashion world.

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