Widthwise 2020

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2020 An Image Reports publication The thirteenth annual survey and report on the state of the UK and Ireland’s wide-format print sector

Sponsored by

www.imagereports.co.uk | Widthwise 2019 | 1

Widthwise 2020

What a year: Widthwise 2020 Oh what a difference a few months can make. When the Widthwise survey was conducted at the start of this year - as it has been for 13 years now - coronavirus had hardly been heard of on these shores. By the time of drafting the analysis the UK was in lockdown - the aftershock of which will be felt for some time to come. So what we’ve done is bring you ‘before’ and ‘after’ stats in this report, having conducted another Widthwise poll over the summer. 228 of the UK and Ireland’s large-format PSPs provided detailed information in the initial poll - once again making it the biggest independent, domestic study of the sector. 88 companies then responded to the follow-up survey intended to put those findings in the context of the ‘new normal’. An enormous thank you to all who took part. Within these pages you will find easy-to-digest graphical representations of the information and data gathered in both polls, together with analysis of the stats and associated editorial commentary on doing business in this changed world. We hope it helps you move your print business forward towards a postCovid-19 - and post-Brexit - Britain. Lesley Simpson Editor, Image Reports magazine lesley.simpson@imagereportsmag.co.uk

Editor: Lesley Simpson lesley.simpson@imagereportsmag.co.uk Design: Alex Gold Advertising Manager: Carl Archer carl.archer@imagereportsmag.co.uk Tel: 020 7933 8976 Fax: 020 7933 8998 www.imagereportsmag.co.uk

Image Reports SJP Business Media Ltd 2nd Floor, 123 Cannon Street London, EC4N 5AU Printed in Great Britain. ISSN 1478-338X No part of this circulation may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted by any means without the Publisher’s permission. The editorial content does not necessarilrly refelct the views of the Publisher. The Publisher accepts no responsibility for any errors contained within the publication.

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Widthwise 2020


2020 08 | The sector in Covid-19 context

36 | Technological impacts to 2030

How the pandemic has impacted your

i4.0, AI, AV, VR, voice recognition,

business and your view of the future.

robotics… they need to be on your radar, if not immediately on your

18 | The known before the unknown

shopping list.

Snapshot of the sector pre-lockdown. Will it look the same in the ‘next

38 | The findings: Environment Is this community ready for the changed


outlook on all things environmental? 24 | Printers’ perspectives Four print chiefs talk about the changes

42 | On Purpose

they are making to remain competitive

You are more than a printer, right?

in the new economic landscape.

Why it matters more than ever that you define your company’s purpose.

28 | The findings: Technology With scaled-back investment plans, what’s the market’s focus when it comes to technical R&D, issues and purchasing? 34 | Manufacturers’ Q+A We put key questions to some of the sector’s key manufacturers.

A special ‘Thank You’ from Debbie Nethercot to all who have taken part in the surveys, and Congratulations to the winners of the Prize Draw! Alan Sawyer, Adelphi Graphics

Simon Tilley, Imagefactory

Ian Hatfeild, G4B Ltd

Mark Amis, Imageworx Signs

Steve Jackson, Digipress Ltd

www.imagereports.co.uk | Widthwise 2020 | 5

Sponsored feature: CMYUK

Tipping Point for Green CMYUK’s Group Sales & Marketing Director Robin East discusses the BDDFMFSBUFE UBLF VQ PG FDP QSPEVDUT JO UIF XJEF GPSNBU JOEVTUSZ UPEBZdž

at climate change as a future possibility, we’re living it now – wildfires, floods, yearon-year temperature rises, ice-shelf melts, unprecedented species extinctions – are flashed across our TV screens daily.


CMYUK’s Group Sales & Marketing Director Robin East

decade ago, green products were rather like a past vegetarian menu option – an uninspiring add-on, making it appear as though some effort was being made albeit begrudgingly. In the wide-format digital printing industry, eco-products were only ever evaluated by price considerations and quality was expected to be inferior. Paying lip service to environmental matters and greenwashing were strategies that businesses adopted to make it look like they were doing the right thing. However,

6 | Widthwise 2020 | www.imagereports.co.uk

these behaviours have now largely changed, and care for the environment has become a genuine concern for industry.

Societal shifts Large shifts in societal perspectives are responsible for this turnabout. Environmental concern has been building momentum over several decades. However, in the last 18 months it has escalated to new heights in the mainstream. Greta Thunberg’s inspired children’s strikes, Extinction Rebellion marches, David Attenborough’s heart-breaking narratives on plastic have all played their part. We’re no longer looking

A backdrop that demands change Inevitably the environmental challenges that we face are influencing our business actions. Across the globe industry is being forced to clean up its act for the good of the planet and for its own future financial health. Businesses are increasingly coming under scrutiny from customers who are demanding their suppliers demonstrate green responsibility in line with their own brand values. We know that Print Service Providers (PSPs) that adopt greater sustainable approaches not only benefit the environment but also position themselves for greater growth opportunities and increased competitive advantage. CMYUK leading the change for viable eco materials within dĂŠcor and display CMYUK is leading from the front with exceptional green product ranges for the digital large format printing industry. Our UFABRIK Wallcovering Canvas Eco range offers a highly inventive re-purposed solution to the scourge of single use plastic waste. Made using recycled PET yarn from plastic bottles, UFABRIK offers multiple applications including one-piece wall coverings, wallpapers or staple-wrap around frames to create stunning graphic walls for expos, events, retail and interiors. When

Sponsored feature: CMYUK

using this material for display and décor graphics, any corporation or brand can now take comfort that their sustainability goals are being met with the same levels of print quality and durability.

Introducing Kavalan, the non-PVC banner revolution Kavalan has set a new standard as the replacement for traditional PVC banner material. PVC has long been a standard for banner production in our industry. It’s cheap, prints well and offers the physical strength needed for durable installation. Yet in 2018, 340 million square metres of traditional PVC banner was printed in Europe, and horrifically much of this ended up in landfill or was incinerated where its poisonous emissions damage eco systems and endanger human health. Revealing this shocking statistic to customers has certainly made the industry sit up and take notice. There is no longer any excuse for knowingly printing on a polluting material. Kavalan will never be as cheap as PVC, but it’s ‘cheap enough’ and representative of a new mind-set that demands accountability and traceability in the life of a product. Education and disproving myths Introducing Kavalan to the market has been an exercise in education and disproving myths. Not only has Kavalan surprised many with the way it resembles traditional PVC in its look and feel, it can also match it for strength. The ability to hold a weld is key to ban-

ner performance and in independent tests carried out by global welding titans FIAB and Miller Weldmaster, Kavalan triumphed with 100% ratings. Bjorn Bora, CEO, FIAB said, “All industry players need to address environmental issues and to this end, we can truly recommend Kavalan as a unique solution.” Rob van Dijken, EU BV Business Manager at Miller Weldmaster said, “The first time I laid eyes and hands on the Kavalan products, I found it hard to believe they were not PVC. I imagine it will be a big game-changer in the industry.” GESS, Europe’s leading banner and signage installation company, put Kavalan through its own stringent tear tests, and it performed so well that the company has wholeheartedly endorsed it. Martin Hicks, Managing Director, GESS said, “All the material samples have withstood the test loads on the usual materials we work with, and with the added rope edge pocket finishing they will be fine for the large format sites we currently work on.” The market misconception that a nonPVC material doesn’t cut it when it comes to real commercial outdoor environments no longer stands. Sports brands for example, have stringent sustainability targets and now they can specify Kavalan for all their outdoor/stadium banner work knowing that they are using a green product that delivers on quality and performance. Responsible end-of-life care Most digital wide-format printers have

never thought enough about what really happens to their material waste or a printed product at the end of its life. The assumption being that everything goes off for recycling. However, the infrastructure around the recycling process is inconsistent and unreliable, with wide variances between different geographical locations. Often materials meant for recycling ultimately end up in landfill or become incinerated. If Kavalan finds its way into landfill, it has a water-based biodegradable coating that starts to break down immediately. Guaranteed sustainable waste-toenergy conversion processes Kavalan has been designed for sustainable waste-to-energy conversion processes. Unlike traditional PVC, it can be incinerated safely without any harmful effects to health or the environment. Any emissions are hundreds of times lower than that of traditional PVC banner and well below the minimum safety levels set by EU guidelines. However, the problem still remains – how to ensure that end-of-life Kavalan once it’s de-installed is route-guaranteed to a clean energy conversion plant. CMYUK is currently working with international partners to develop a scheme whereby no matter the geography, Kavalan reaches specialist waste-to-energy facilities for transformation into clean energy. So the question is no longer, ‘Why do you use eco materials?’ but rather, ‘How can you not?’

www.imagereports.co.uk | Widthwise 2020 | 7

Widthwise 2020

The Findings: Business in Covid-19 context


re you as smart as you like to think you are? Or have you just been the beneficiary of a growing market? These career-defining questions are likely to be clarified in the next 12-18 months, as wide-format printing, like every other sector of the British economy, faces a reckoning that will test the industry’s capability, character and creativity. In the past months, we have been told that we are doing business in ‘unprecedented times’ so often that we may be inclined to take it all for granted. Yet few British companies have experienced this degree of existential uncertainty since the turmoil caused by the miners’ strike in 1973. As wide-format is a relatively young industry, this is the greatest challenge it has ever faced. No two companies will be in the same situation, experience the same threats or, for that matter, be presented with the same opportunities. The experience of the 88 Print Service Providers (PSPs) polled for this second 2020 Widthwise report in July - after the initial survey earlier in the year - illustrates how stark the divide in the wide-format sector is. (It is important to remember that, at the time this poll was conducted, the UK had still not emerged from lockdown.) One in four companies reported that their revenues had slumped to 0-20% of pre-pandemic levels while 18.2% said their sales had not declined at all. This contrast is reflected in other recent surveys across the broader print sector: in the UK by the BPIF (which found that

QA. How do your wide-format print revenues now compare to pre-Covid-19 levels at the start of 2020 0 – 20%


100% +


40 – 60%


20 – 40%


60 – 80%


80 – 100%


QB. How optimistic are you about your business over the next year?


Mildly optimistic Mildly pessimistic


Very optimistic

20.45% 19.32%

Neutral Very pessimistic


QC. What are your top 2 immediate business priorities now? (Select 2)


Grow revenues


Reduce costs


Diversifying your large-format print offering


Improve cashflow Diversifying into non-wide-format print markets Capital investment Other investment 8 | Widthwise 2020 | www.imagereports.co.uk

17.05% 15.91% 6.82%

Widthwise 2020

74% of firms had seen their output fall in the second quarter of this year) and in the US, by Printing Impressions (which found that 24% had suffered at least an 80% drop in revenue in June). The most remarkable finding of the Widthwise survey in July is that 54.5% of respondents remained optimistic about their business over the next year (20.5% went so far as to describe

themselves as ‘very optimistic’) compared to just 26.1% who were pessimistic (with only 4.6% being very pessimistic). At this point, you may legitimately wonder: are British wide-format providers living in cloud cuckoo land? Are they high on the revenues earned by printing floor graphics and cutting PPE visors? Their outlook certainly seems at odds with the

daily drip feed of doomy, gloomy economic news. We are now having to adjust to a unsettled marketplace where PSPs are not just worried about their customers paying their bills late but about the question of whether their customers will still be here in a year’s time. The short-term economic crisis has certainly been eased by the government’s

QD. In the short to medium term, how do you think Covid-19 will effect the overall demand for large-format print in the UK?




Return to about the same as pre Covid-19 levels



QE. Going forward, where do you see the greatest opportunities for your business? (please choose top 2)


Entering new markets


Organic growth




Creative design services Installation services Trade services Mergers/acquisitions

21.59% 18.18% 13.64%

QF. Do you think that technological advances could help mitigate crises - such as Covid-19 - in the future? Mildly agree


Don’t know


Mildly disagree Strongly agree

21.59% 12.50%

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Widthwise 2020

Q6. Do you expect your wide-format turnover ratio to change in the next 2 years?




Remain the same Decrease


Q8. Do you expect your wide-format turnover to grow in 2020?





Q9. If yes, how much do you expect it to grow?


6 – 10%


1 – 5%


11 – 20% 21%+


furlough scheme and its instructions to HMRC to go easy on debts. This may explain why, in July, there were only 955 company insolvencies in England and Wales, 34% down on 2019 levels. The bad news is that much of that financial support will come to an end in October (though the Bank of England has promised to keep stimulating the economy as long as necessary). After October 2020, it is hard to make a vaguely educated guess about what will happen to the wide-format print sector or, for that matter, the British economy. The dilemma facing many PSPs was summed up by one managing director’s comment to the BPIF: “Everything that we have learnt, all the knowledge is gone as retail trends, workload cycles and the security of business has been disrupted. Running your business on best guess is an uncomfortable place to be.” The wide-format print sector’s compar-

ative equanimity partly reflects a feeling that, at when you get right down to it, the worst is probably over. They may be wrong - given all the uncertainties surrounding a second wave of Covid-19 and the imminent scaling down of state support for the private sector - but there is significant, if largely anecdotal, evidence that, since June, business is returning. There is also a growing consensus that companies, feeling obliged to communicate with their customers more often and in more depth, will inevitably look to print, At present, cautious optimism would probably be the best way to describe the state of mind of the UK’s PSP owners and managers: 21.6% expect Covid-19 to increase demand for wide-format print in the short to medium term; 36.4% believe the market will bounce back to previous levels and 42.0% are convinced that the market will shrink.

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If you consider the different vertical markets PSPs operate in, some contraction in demand - especially in the short to medium term - seems inevitable. More than eight out of ten Widthwise respondents produce general banners/flags/signage, almost seven out of ten print posters and six out of ten are involved in exhibition and display graphics. Demand in all these sectors looks uncertain and volatile, as it does so in three other mainstream markets: window graphics, transport graphics and retail POP/POS. There is also a question mark over the future of the ‘experience economy’ in the light of continuing concerns about public health. In short, trying to predict future demand for wide-format print in general, let alone in particular vertical markets, is a mug’s game. The priority for PSPs must be to take stock of their past, present and future customers, keep an open mind and keep

Widthwise 2020

revisiting their assumptions about the market. Dogmatism is most definitely on the way out. Pragmatism is in. On the upside, the British government’s loosening of planning regulations and hefty investments in infrastructure suggests that this may not be a bad time to be supplying building hoardings and wraps, wallpaper and murals and textile print for homes and interiors. In the UK, as in any other developed economy, any recovery is, at best, likely to be a stop/start affair. The latest Bank of England guidance says that, even though the initial rebound in GDP will probably exceed previous forecasts, the British economy will not get back to where it was until the end of 2021. Other experts insist the Bank of England’s forecasts are over-op-

timistic, citing such known unknowns as consumer confidence, job losses and the potential for economic activity being affected by further lockdowns. The 2020 Widthwise survey suggests that many wide-format printers recognise the challenges ahead. The five top priorities for PSPs, consulted in July, as they look to the future are: growing revenue (62.5%), reducing costs (44.3%), diversifying their wide-format offering (39.8%), improving cash flow (31.8%) and exploring new markets outside the wide-format sector (17.0%). In former, more prosperous, times, many PSPs saw diversification into new sectors as too difficult, time consuming and therefore, quite frankly, hardly worth the effort. The responses to this Widthwise survey suggest

that the economic turmoil experienced in the first half of 2020 has convinced 48.9% of respondents that new markets hold the key to their future. Recessions, like takeover bids, are useful for focusing the mind. Almost half of the PSPs surveyed - 46.6% - are prioritising organic growth, while 36.4% are looking to ecommerce and 34.1% are relying on creative design services, presumably aiming to offer buyers a total solution. The results of the initial Widthwise survey - in which 65.3% were looking to add creative design and 42.5% planned to move into installation services - would seem to confirm these trends. There are those who argue that PSPs cannot possibly offer the kind of creative design that a specialist agency can provide but it does seem that many buyers are not particularly

Q13. Which of these wide-format markets will you move into over the next 2 years? (please select all that apply) None of those below Wallpaper/murals Textile printing for banner/flags Textile printing for home/interiors Exhibition and display graphics Building hoards/wraps Packaging Retail/POP/POS Transport graphics Textile printing for garments Posters General banners/flags/signage Window graphics Floor graphics Cardboard engineering Industrial speciality (ceramics, metals etc) Fine art/photography Billboard/outdoor advertising Furniture

74.56% 7.02% 5.26% 4.82% 3.95% 3.07% Q16. Over the next two years, do you expect to employ? 2.63% 2.19% 2.19% More staff 34.21% 2.19% 1.75% 33.77% The same number of staff 1.32% 1.32% 32.02% Fewer staff 1.32% 1.32% 1.32% 0% 0% 0%

Q17. Are you finding it harder to recruit staff?


No Yes


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Widthwise 2020

Q18. Are you finding it harder to retain staff?


No Yes

7.02% Q20. Do you plan to make any of the following strategic changes in 2019? (please select all that apply)

None of those below Research new markets Work more closely with suppliers to identify/sell new applications to new markets Realign your branding/company name/website image Recruit people with particular new sector knowledge Restructure/refocus sales/marketing teams Spend more time on print application R&D Move premises/expand existing premises Involve in-house creative team more in project handling Buy in databases (for your own marketing purposes) Appoint a new business development manager

interested in the lone creative genius in a black polo neck jumper and just want someone to follow their brief even if they are not entirely sure what that brief is. The kind of disruption the UK wide-format sector is experiencing now - both in terms of the scale and the speed of change - will inevitably cause some closures and prompt some owners to get out before the going gets even worse. Yet it might also provide significant opportunities for the survivors. Assets - be they latex printers, entire companies or a particular customer base - are likely to be available at knockdown prices. That may explain why 13.6% of the PSPs polled in July saw mergers and acquisitions as a great opportunity, a far higher level of interest than in previous years. Some wide-format printers may also be tempted to align themselves, formally or informally, with companies that supply other services to their existing customers. The other upside is that British PSPs are unlikely to have to pay more to rent

their premises in the near future. Capital Economics is predicting a 10% drop in the value of commercial property and, as a potential harbinger of a readjustment to come in the UK, the overcapacity in commercial property in America has driven rents down by 20%. The economic shock provided by the pandemic and lockdown may finally provide the incentive the British wide-format industry needs to look to the B2C market as well as B2B on which it has traditionally focused. While serving consumers, as opposed to companies, may be problematic for some PSPs - a few disgruntled punters can make a real difference when margins are so slender - it does, at least, offer the industry a different revenue stream, one which could grow substantially in the years to come. Even for PSPs that hold back from such a strategic shift, investing in ecommerce should save money, time and complexity by easing interaction with corporate customers. The fact that so many wide-format

12 | Widthwise 2020 | www.imagereports.co.uk

38.18% 31.14% 24.56% 19.30% 16.67% 7.46% 6.14% 3.51% 3.07% 1.32% 0%

printers are SMEs - the 2020 Widthwise survey (which remember was of 228 domestic companies in the sector) suggests that almost two out of three have ten employees or less - may turn out to be a strength. If people across the world decide they really don’t want to buy a new car, there is not much, given their respective market shares, that Ford, General Motors or even Toyota can do to protect their revenues and profits. Yet most wide-format printers - even the 28.3% of companies with revenues of £1m or over - still have plenty of scope to win new business and explore new markets. The downside of diversification - especially for larger PSPs - is actually pretty limited. The great worry is that all this economic turmoil will lead to a price war among wide-format print providers. Even before the pandemic, 35.7% of respondents indicated that their clients’ top priority was price, while 26.3% said it was a fast turnaround. If the industry allows itself to be judged, primarily, on unit cost, it is unlikely

Widthwise 2020

Q21. How do you feel about your business’s prospects?


Concerned but less so than in 2019


Confident of growth More anxious than in 2019


Q24. What are your biggest concerns for the business in 2020 and beyond? (please select all that apply)


Price of supplies


Impact of Brexit


State of the UK economy


Pricing of printed products


New UK entrants to wide-format market Labour costs


State of the global economy


Foreign competition Impact of Trump presidency in the US

1.32% 0%

Key insights The divide between success and failure in the wide-format sector is likely to be more acute than ever in the next two years. The mainstream markets for wideformat print all face disruption. PSPs are showing a much greater interest in ecommerce. Mergers and acquisitions may provide significant opportunities for some companies. Brexit has not gone away. Luckily, many printers seem to be focused on opportunities outside the UK.

to benefit printers or its customers. It was Jonathan Swift, the satirical genius who wrote Gulliver’s Travels, who observed, way back in 1738, that “Tis a folly to cry for spilt milk”. Even so, it is hard not to look back, with a twinge of regret, on the pre-pandemic results for the 2020 Widthwise survey, which showed a sector that, given the many uncertainties surrounding Brexit (you remember that don’t you?), was remarkably sanguine about its future,

confident of growth and entrepreneurially adventurous. That confidence may well return, albeit not until 2022 or 2023. The good news is that building overseas trade is probably higher up the industry agenda than it has ever been before. With so much of the detail about the UK’s exit from the European Union yet to be negotiated - if it ever is - and the pan-European pressure on prices exporting wide-format print will not be easy. Apart from the fine

print in the trade deals, there are other challenges - turnaround times, logistics, quality of service - but it is encouraging that wide-format print, which has hitherto probably been too insular for its own good, is now taking a broader view of the world. To be honest, the next two years look like a white-knuckle ride for many wide-format print companies in the UK. Yet those that can hang on without screaming could start reaping the rewards by the first half of 2022.

www.imagereports.co.uk | Widthwise 2020 | 13

Sponsored feature: Roland

Printing during Covid-19: Is now the time to diversify? Covid-19 has had a profound impact on every sector and every society. The print industry is no exception. The industry’s reliance on some of the sectors that have been worse hit economically, retail and leisure in particular, has MFE UP B TJHOJţ DBOU ESPQ JO SFWFOVFT 5IF BMNPTU DPNQMFUF SFQMBDFNFOU PG meetings and events that drive so much printing demand with conference and livestreaming technologies has also had a negative impact.


t is no surprise that the BPIF’s latest Outlook report revealed that 74% of printers in the UK were adversely affected by a decline in output in Q2 2020. The picture is similar right across the European region. With a second full lockdown a subject of daily speculation, print shops know that battening down the hatches and waiting for the storm to pass is no longer an option. As a result, a number of them are starting to explore ways to diversify their core offering and repurpose their technology and workflows to take advantage of the opportunities that exist in a dramatically altered post-Covid marketplace. Social distancing signage A recent Roland DG survey of 2,500 shoppers in Europe found that 82 percent of them are more likely to visit shops with clear social distancing signage and 46 percent have stopped visiting shops with unclear signage altogether. Signs are also in the spotlight more than ever before, with an overwhelming majority of shoppers (79 percent) saying they are more aware of instore signage than before the pandemic. These statistics have demonstrated to retailers that signage is having a tangible and decisive impact on retail footfall, and is vital for safety, building consumer trust, and kickstarting the economy. Moreover, with official guidance on social distancing changing on a daily basis, retailers are relying on printing companies to help them swiftly swap out and replace existing signs with new, updated ones. In response, some print businesses have started marketing and selling social distancing signage and floor stickers. Lewis Pearce at CMYK Design, Copy and Print is one of these business owners. Prior to Cov-

16 | Widthwise 2020 | www.imagereports.co.uk

Sponsored feature: Roland

id-19, he catered for an evenly dispersed mix of small items like business cards and flyers, and a few larger items like posters, banners and vinyl prints. But orders for these dried up when the pandemic hit, and he had to adapt to suit new demand, prioritising wide-format printing for social distancing signage and floor graphics. He invested time into SEO and became number one on Google for ‘social distancing floor graphics’ and ‘social distancing floor stickers’. Now he receives thousands of orders for social distancing graphics every week and has printed a whopping 30,000 floor graphics since April. Social distancing print requirements don’t just stop at floor graphics, and CMYK has become something of a one-stop-shop for anything a business could need: 2 metre, 1 metre, directional arrows, no entry signs, signs that go on staircases, the list goes on. The business’ TrueVIS VG-540 printer and cutter has seen them through the increase in demand, printing nearly 100 metres a day. Face Masks One of the biggest trends of the pandemic has of course been face masks, now mandatory in shops, public transport and other enclosed spaces across Europe. This has prompted a shift to sublimation application for many print businesses, who saw an opportunity to support their local commu-

nities (as well as identify alternative sources of revenue) by manufacturing face masks. Costaest in Sardinia, Italy, used to specialise in signs and promotional items, but has pivoted its business during the pandemic using the Roland VersaSTUDIO BT-12 to create face masks for the local community. Currently, Costaest personalizes around twenty masks per day and combines this with the production of other items created with Roland’s TrueVIS VG2-640 large format printer/cutter. The company is negotiating with seamstresses to increase production to around one hundred units per day. Meanwhile, the Professional Vocational Centre “Colegio Hogar” in Vigo, Spain, has used the Roland Texart to produce more than 40,000 adult face masks, 1,500 childrens’ face masks and a further 15,500 protective face shields. The initiative began at the end of March when “La Cocina Gráfica”, which has a leading digital printing workshop in Spain, received the safety validation for the prototype mask they created. Investing for Success Despite the economic uncertainty that Covid-19 has created in the market, there are examples of companies that have invested in new technology during the pandemic and reaped the benefits as a result. BrandingHub transformed from a sign-only company into a full-service branding agency last year, providing

logo design, social media set-up, vehicle graphics, signage and more. The company has been busy since the pandemic, not only as a result of demand for social distancing signage, but also because many brands took the opportunity to refresh their graphics and rebrand in the natural pause period that lockdown created. The demand prompted BrandingHub to invest in cutting-edge technology, installing the UK’s first Roland TrueVIS VF2-640 to speed up processes. The company can now accomplish same-day prints in stunning quality, such as Scotland’s racecourse operator’s new unusual logo that combines red and pink. With the new productive printer, Managing Director, Graeme Speirs, is now hoping to expand across south-west Scotland. Looking Ahead Covid-19 has well and truly re-shaped the print industry since the outbreak of the pandemic. But forward-thinking businesses are finding entrepreneurial opportunities to modernise their offering, identify new revenue streams and contribute to their local communities. Not only will they be in a stronger position financially as a result, but their service offerings will have been positively transformed and their relationships in the community extended and strengthened. Rob Goleniowski, Head of Sales at Roland DG.

www.imagereports.co.uk | Widthwise 2019 | 17

Widthwise 2020

The known before the unknown An overview of what PSPs told us - pre-coronavirus QBOEFNJD JO UIF ĹŁSTU 8JEUIXJTF QPMM BU UIF TUBSU PG


his is basically a snapshot of former times - but you can also view it as something that will impact how we move forward, which is why you should read it. Bear in mind that a whopping 228 print chiefs running large-format PSPs across the UK and Ireland took part in the first of the Widthwise 2020 polls throughout January

and February. Due to the scale and impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, we polled 88 of those again in the summer - as we discuss in the previous article. Of that initial 228 PSPs, over half (51.3%) have five employees or fewer, though 6.58% have more than 100. Their turnover pretty much reflects that - 43.9% turnover under ÂŁ250,000 though almost one in ten (9.9%) turnover more than ÂŁ5m. For a quarter of respondents (25.4%)

Q2. Where is your main business based?


Midlands North West England South West England North East England

Q4. What is your company’s total turnover?


South East England


ÂŁ250,000 - ÂŁ499,999 ÂŁ500,000 - ÂŁ999,999 ÂŁ1m - ÂŁ1.99m

5.70% 3.95%





ÂŁ5m+ ÂŁ2m - ÂŁ4.99m

6 – 10

51.32% 15.35%

14.91% 13.16% 10.53% 9.65% 7.89%

Q5. What percentage of your turnover is wide-format digital print?

Q3. Number of employees in your company 1–5


Up to ÂŁ249,999



wide-format print accounts for under 20% of their turnover, while for 4.4% it accounts for all of it. The resounding good news from across this grassroots sample of large-format companies at the start of 2020 was that nearly half (47.4%) said they had seen their wide-format profit margins improve in 2019 (Q7). Most (87.3%) said they expected their wide-format turnover specifically to grow in 2020 (Q8). 61.8% expected


Under 20%


20 – 39%

11 – 20


40 – 59%

21 – 51


60 – 79%


80 – 99%


More than 100 51 – 100

6.58% 2.63%

18 | Widthwise 2020 | www.imagereports.co.uk




Widthwise 2020

Q7. How did your wide-format profit margins change in 2019?




Remained the same as 2018 Decreased

15.35% Q10. Looking ahead five years, how do you feel about your business?

wide-format print to become a bigger proportion of their overall turnover (Q6). So far, so good. However, general business optimism, though not bad by any means, was not quite as high as it was in January/February 2019. Then 42.51% said they were ‘very optimistic’ about their business in five years hence. That figure dropped to 27.2% this time around, though more than half of those polled (58.8%) were still ‘mildly optimistic’ (Q10). Bear in mind though that only four companies out of the 228 that responded were ‘mildly pessimistic’, and just two were ‘very pessimistic’. Asked how they felt about their business’s prospects, more than a third (35.96%) said they were confident of growth. In contrast, 58.3% said they were concerned, though less so than they had been at the same point in 2019! (Q21) At the time of the survey, with few businesses in the UK and Ireland having heard of Covid-19, it was not one of the ‘key concerns for 2020’ put in front of PSPs. Of those that were, the price of supplies was by far and away the chief concern, noted as such by 60.96% of respondents. The impact of Brexit was up next (37.7%) followed by pressure on print prices (16.2%) (Q24). In term of business priorities over the 12 months, 46.3% of respondents said, at the time, that growing turnover was their key consideration (Q14). And it seems that adding or extending design related services was once again a focus for those wishing to do so - 65.3% said they were planning to add/extend such services (Q15). Adding print installation services was a priority for 42.5% of companies. This agenda was reflected in the sector’s investment plans. Asked how much they expected to invest in wide-format technology altogether in the next two years, 68.9% said under £20,000 (Q32). Asked if they expected to buy a


Mildly optimistic


Very optimistic Neutral Mildly pessimistic Very pessimistic

11.40% 1.75% 0.88%

Q11. What type of wide-format print are you currently involved in? (please select all that apply) General banners/flags/signage Posters Exhibition and display graphics Window graphics Floor graphics Transport graphics Retail/POP/POS Billboard/outdoor advertising Wallpaper/murals Building hoards/wraps Textile printing for banner/flags Textile printing for garments Fine art/photography Textile printing for home/interiors Cardboard engineering Industrial speciality (ceramics, metals etc) Packaging Other Furniture

80.70% 68.42% 59.21% 45.61% 35.96% 31.14% 25% 22.37% 19.74% 17.11% 11.84% 6.58% 6.14% 3.07% 3.07% 2.63% 1.75% 1.32% 0.44%

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Widthwise 2020

Q12. Which of these is the fastest growing within your wide-format operation? Other Exhibition and display graphics General banners/flags/signage Transport graphics Retail/POP/POS Wallpaper/murals Posters Window graphics Fine art/photography Textile printing for banner/flags Building hoards/wraps Textile printing for home/interiors Floor graphics Textile printing for garments Industrial speciality (ceramics, metals etc) Billboard/outdoor advertising Furniture Packaging Cardboard engineering

40.79% 10.96% 10.09% 6.14% 5.70% 5.70% 4.82% 3.51% 2.63% 2.63% 2.19% 1.75% 0.88% 0.88% 0.88% 0.44% 0% 0% 0%

Q14. What is your order of your priorities for the next year? (Please rank 1-8, 8 being the most important and represented on the graph below) Grow turnover Strengthen company image/brand/reputation Enter new markets Build overseas trade Find new customers Improve margins Invest in new technologies Improve return on capital employed new digital large-format inkjet printer specifically in the next two years 54.39% said no (although 33.8% said yes) (Q29). When questioned about investment plans for software and finishing - with various options flagged up - 73.7% said they would not be investing in any of them. Where any money was expected to be spent it was on design software (11.4%), workflow software and web-to-print software (5.3% respectively) and in terms of finishing, on contour cutters (5.7%) (Q31). Of the 33.8% which indicated that they planned to buy a new large-format inkjet

46.26% 25.66% 10% 7.48% 6.45% 5.12% 1.86% 0.96%

printer in the next two years, 22.1% said it would be a flatbed, with UV roll-toroll having polled 19.5% and UV hybrid 18.19%. Solvent printers were still on the buying list for 20.8% of companies looking to buy presses, while dye-sub machines loitered towards the bottom of the pile (7.8%) (Q30). As PSPs try to recover from the financial damage inflicted by pandemic and lockdown, it is probably worth them considering the markets/type of work undertaken, where they expected to see the fastest growth, and where they planned to

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make inroads when looking at kit/software buying plans. As you would expect, 80.7% of respondents were involved in general banners/flags, followed by 68.4% in posters and 59.2% in exhibition and display graphics. More companies said they now do floor graphics (35.96%) than retail/POP/POS work (25%) – the full breakdown can be found further on in the report (Q11). The most striking finding is probably that, asked to identify the fastest growing markets within their own business, more than four out of ten (40.8%) said it was similar across all their sectors. Opportunities for growth were felt to be highest in exhibition/display graphics (10.96%), and general banners/flags (10.1%) were the most identified otherwise. The oft talked about – and so far overhyped – textile print markets polled much lower down as fastest growing parts of individual PSP’s operations - textile for banner/flags cited by 2.6%, textile for home/interiors 1.75%, textile for garments 0.9% (Q12). Textile print did garner attention when it came to markets respondents expected to enter in the next two years (though it is important to remember that most players are already involved in the more mainstream large-format print applications). While 7.0% said they would be moving into wallpapers/murals, following that came textile for banner/flags (5.3%), textile for home/interiors (4.8%) and textile for garments (2.2%). Cardboard engineering (1.3%), industrial speciality (1.3%) and furniture print (0%) look as if they will remain extremely niche (Q13). What most definitely does not look like remaining niche is environmentally-friendly printing. A whopping 80.7% said it is more important to offer ‘green’ options than it was two years ago, way up on the 40.1% that said so in the 2019 poll (Q39). It’s good news – for the industry and the planet – that 75% of PSPs already had some sort of environmental accreditation (Q41), and that many (47.8%) plan to measure/ cut their carbon footprint in 2020 (Q42). That said, there is one anomaly – 63.2% of PSPs also say only a ‘few’ clients ask about environmental credentials or their sustainability plans. A tiny percentage (2.6%) say most clients ask. That sounds counter-intuitive, but as this year has so emphatically reminded us, the speed and scale of change can wrongfoot us all.

Widthwise 2020

Q15. Do you plan to innovate/add services in any of the following areas within the next year to meet customer demand? (please select all that apply) Creative design Print installation services None of the options Web-to-print 3D print/additive manufacturing Website building/content creation Marketing project management/logistics and fulďŹ lment Print management/outsourcing services Personalisation/Versioning Database hosting/managing/cleansing Integrated print/sound/video Campaign analytics

65.35% 42.54% 18.86% 8.77% 5.26% 3.51% 3.51% 3.51% 3.07% 0.88% 0.88% 0.0%

Q19. Have you made any of the following strategic changes within the last year? (please select all that apply) None of the options Restructure/refocus sales/marketing teams Realign your branding/company name/website image Research new markets Moved premises/expanded existing premises Work more closely with suppliers to identify/sell new applications to new markets Involve in-house creative team more in project handling Recruit people with particular new sector knowledge Spend more time on print application R&D Appoint a new business development manager Buy in databases (for your own marketing purposes)

61.84% 11.84% 10.96% 9.21% 9.21% 7.46% 5.70% 5.26% 4.82% 3.51% 0.88%

Q25. What do you think your clients’ main priorities are? (Please rank 1-7, 7 being the most important and represented on the graph below.) Price Speed of turnaround Quality Service Partnership/consultancy Latest technology Installation

35.75% 26.34% 19.37% 10.27% 4.89% 3.14% 0.44%

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Sponsored feature: CMYUK

Supporting customers through investment and development CMYUK’s demonstration and training centre represents a tremendous knowledge resource, unique in the industry


he joint CMYUK EFI Demonstration and Training Centre in Shrewsbury is specifically focussed on supporting customer development. The largest EFI distributor facility in Europe, it has also become the epicentre for all EFI customers in the UK due to COVID-19 wreaking havoc on international business travel. It is also the largest independent demonstration and training facility in the UK supporting market-leading technologies from ESKO, Mimaki, Klieverik, Canon, Gerber and Graphtec. An investment and development support system More than a demonstration centre, more than a showroom, what this facility does is to equip all customers with an investment support system. So whether you’re a start-up business looking to make your first investment, or you’re a multinational group running multiple industrial production sites, the focus is the same – to understand how your business works, and the best way to progress its infrastructure. CMYUK Academy – a technical resource built for customer development The CMYUK Academy is a major component of the Shrewsbury facility, and puts customer learning at its core.

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It offers an ever-changing array of training to match the wants and needs of customers as they invest in additional equipment, novel applications that may require specialist materials guidance, or support to diversify into non-traditional market sectors. Managed by Amira Bouchiba, former Senior Applications Engineer at EFI’s Demonstration Centre in Brussels, the Academy offers a number of initiatives including in-depth customer audits that identify knowledge gaps within a business, bespoke training sessions and workshops. “Our ultimate objective is to ensure that our customers realise the attainable functionality of the equipment they have

Sponsored feature: CMYUK

purchased,” says Bouchiba. “When customers have a deeper understanding of the total functionality available within a technology, it not only ensures a higher quality of output but also achieves greater production efficiencies saving time, energy, and money,” she says. Free workshop sessions CMYUK also offers free workshop training sessions both online and in-person that cover ever-popular topics such as Fiery XF, EFI’s digital front-end RIP for wide and super-wide format production printing. These comprehensive courses cover all product features including layout, finishing/special print settings, spot colour replacement using a spectrophotometer, Media ID, workflows, backup/restore and online updates. Colour profiling is offered separately as a bespoke option. In addition, CMYUK also offers pre-press workflow workshops with topics including white ink printing, multi ink layering, pre-flighting, cut path creation, nesting, automatic registration and tiling.

Amira Bouchiba, CMYUK Training Academy Manager

Comprehensive process production audits Under the Academy umbrella, customers can book free-ofcharge on-site process production audits. These assessment reports will help to identify areas for improvement within combined technology and human working processes. Audits generally last a day and it is recommended that they be carried out during busy production periods so that CMYUK is able to get an unrestricted view of all current working practices. Company audit reports will identify: • How automation of job file data from CRM all the way through production can be improved; • What knowledge gaps need to be filled to ensure workflow production reaches and maintains peak performance; • Where best practice needs to be applied. After a company has received its report, it can then schedule a meeting with CMYUK to discuss implementing change. This can involve the creation of bespoke staff training and development programmes and/or updates to equipment or software. The customer vantage point Every customer that comes to CMYUK for the first time is impressed with the demonstration and training facility, the quality of the consultancy, the equipment evaluations/road tests on offer, and the opportunity to really explore their potential investment in a personal way. “We put in a great deal of thought when we designed our demonstration and training centre as we really wanted it to support the investment experience from a customer viewpoint,” says Robin East, CMYUK Group Sales & Marketing Director. “Once a customer steps through our doors, it signals the start of a relationship that in our experience evolves into a long-standing one. The customer is the focus of everything we do.”

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Widthwise 2020




efore Covid-19 we had the best start to our financial year (December - March ) that we have ever had, and we were ÂŁ1m over sales budget in those four months and 3% up on net margin against budget. We were very confident with the strength of the market, after a small downturn during the Brexit negotiations and the general election. We had committed to another ÂŁ750k in capex on a new print machine and then all things changed in the blink of an eye with the emerging news globally of the pandemic - at which point we had 85 full-time staff and a subcontract labour bill of ÂŁ 1.3m annually.  My mid-March all the exhibition and event clients had literally vanished as there were no shows, and our construction and retail business took a massive downturn. At the point of lockdown we had to think hard and fast about what we were going to do, and we had to accept that our core markets and clients were effectively on ice and we didn’t know how long for.  We were fortunate that our supermarket clients were still spending reasonable amounts with us, and they and others in the public sector started to talk to us about PPE and safety screens. At that point the market exploded and the requirements for sneeze screens and floor vinyls grew exponentially. It quickly became apparent that the manufacturers of the clear acrylic and floor vinyls couldn’t keep up with the demand of the marketplace. With this in mind we decided to make sure we had the raw materials to be able to supply our clients, and we invested a huge amount of money in acrylic and floor vinyls as it complimented our skillsets in both fabrication and print capability. To give you an idea of how bold this investment was, we basically purchased one year’s worth of stock in one go - a move that proved to be the right one as we were inundated with orders, and from mid-April to today we have worked three shifts, seven days a week.  As of August we still have 40% of our staff on furlough and we will continually monitor this. The reason being that in the ‘normal world’ we would raise around 800 orders a month -

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during this period our average order value has tripled, which means that we are only raising approx 250 orders per month and therefore not needing a lot of our staff. We have made redundancies as we try and navigate our way into the new normal - we are having to be careful and make sure that we are as lean as possible during these turbulent

We beneďŹ ted form a ÂŁ300k CBILS loan, but this has to be paid back times. Events and exhibitions account for around 40% of our turnover, and sport and retail another 40%. With the uncertainty of when the events industry will start up again, it is more important than ever that we are not top heavy with staff.  The furlough scheme has worked really well for us, as it allows us to retain the skillsets within our staff, and has certainly reduced the redundancy numbers and helped us greatly with our cashflow as we have a combined wage bill with sub contract labour in excess of ÂŁ3m.  I do hope that the country, and indeed the world, can come back to some kind of normal soon. However, the timeframe is unknown. We worry about a second spike - and whilst the government has done a wonderful job with the bail-out, and we benefited form a ÂŁ300k CBILS loan, this has to be paid back. The knock-on effects of such high gearing and borrowing will lead to a recession. We just need to hope that our economy picks up and we have a V shaped recovery. Unfortunately, I am of the opinion that many companies across our sector will not survive. I think the market volume will shrink and that inevitably many people will lose their jobs. It will be a case of survival of the fittest.

Widthwise 2020

Andy Wilson 1SFTT0O PXOFS


he most immediate change when lockdown hit was to try and establish how the rules set out by government effected PressOn. The guidance was very clear - only go to work if you cannot work from home. I considered many of the team at PressOn to fall into the category of being unable to work from home, but it became clear very quickly in late March, that there was going to be little point in being on-site anyway. Suddenly you are faced with a whole company of people looking to you for guidance - not just for how they are going to work, but for reassurance that there is going to be a future for them. Furlough when announced, and once understood, became a massive relief and gave us the breathing space to start crunching numbers, develop a new P&L and a cashflow forecast - I hadn’t done one of those for a while. Realigning the business was basically a tearing up of the previous plan and writing a new one. It’s chicken and egg - what cuts need to be made to achieve a profit, what turnover needs to be achieved to cover the cut costs? Its pure economics really, we have a number we have to hit to keep the P&L black, and that is the focus plain and simple. How we do that is by having regular conversations with our already diverse client base and looking hard at what we think will be a good sector to engage in for the future. I established ground zero as 1 April 2020, and ran a new P&L and cashflow to run 12 calendar months from there. That was sobering, as it showed that at our usual rate of spending when we would run out of money. From there the calculations are quite straight forward - if we make cuts in one area what’s the impact on the cashflow, and where does the P&L sit - how much revenue do I need to get into the black and when will that happen? It’s systematic - cuts and borrowing until the scales sit level again. As it stands, we have lost 25% of our staff from all departments. We run a tight ship anyway, so general staff costs were not where the big gains were going to be made on the P&L.

The fact of the matter is that we need the economy to bounce back and that is unlikely to be accelerated until a Covid-19 vaccine to comes into play. The retail market was challenging even before Covid-19 mind - OOH advertising is largely digital now. While nobody could really see the spectre of Covid-19 looming before lockdown, and what impact that would have on our industry, as a business owner or manager it is for us to build businesses that are diverse enough to sustain market change or correction. We are printers, we have been diversifying since Gutenberg, and we will print our way out of this crisis! A good example of this, is those within our industry that have adapted to printing signage and graphics to inform and direct the public about where to stand and what to wear. Social media is virtual - when you get out into the real world you still need a sign to say ‘stand here’, ‘don’t stand there’. I don’t know how the industry will change exactly is the honest answer, but I’m confident that the market will bounce back quickly and adjust to the new norm - whatever that will look like.

Realigning the business was basically a tearing up of the previous plan and writing a new one

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Widthwise 2020



re-Covid lockdown our turnover went up 25% as we grew globally, and our team was increasing to meet this demand. Due to the international nature of our business, our people are based all around the world and are used to working with us remotely. We have a strong team of creative people who thrive on challenges so, fortunately for us, the lockdown restrictions did not negatively impact us. Online Teams and Zoom chats are nothing new to us and we are always in contact via our WhatsApp group across all time zones. So, although the retail and hospitality slowdown has reached us, we have used the downtime for R&D innovation, in which we have invested over £200,000. The results have been stunning. We have some impressive new projects in the pipeline with some top brands in the later part of this year and going into 2021 - and a multi-million pound projected increase in turnover. The major change we have experienced is the availability of those previously unreachable people. Some of those we have been in touch at various brands for a while suddenly became more receptive to meetings, and the overall more sociable tone of online conversations has really helped us move partnerships forward to reach mutually beneficial goals. Long term I hope that much of the traditional formality in the business world will relax a little like it has done during the pandemic. People seem more receptive to new ideas and new ways of working, which is what team StackaWraps has always been about. In our experience, working from home with the constant online support of multinational colleagues has been rewarding; building friendships and commonalities and overcoming corporate conservatism. We are now hoping to cut down on those long-haul business trips and reduce our carbon footprint overall. Although we are keen to see hospitality and retail back on track, our main fears are the health and safety of people around the world. It may sound a little trite, but we have purposefully evolved our business with an ethos of people and the planet first. As much as we can, we want to share best practice with brands and manufacturing partners globally to reduce the environmental effects of old school and plastic alternatives to our 3D printed systems. I have not always been so ecologically aware in business, but thanks to the mindful resolve of StackaWraps co-founder, Natasha Leigh, we have geared our company towards more proactive and responsible practices. If the Covid-19 crisis

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continues longer than anticipated, our POS and shelving may take a hit and we have ensured that we have spent our time and resources protecting the longevity of the business with alternative applications such as our PopHeads 3D poster range for home consumers. The feedback we are getting from the sector is that we are a much needed and welcome change to 2D traditional alternatives. We see increasing requests for on-boarding as people are embracing the new landscape. Sustainability is key and our eco range is enabling printers to showcase their capabilities to the max with the introduction of our patented system and technology. Working together - rather than competing - with companies of all sizes, we are helping to create a new dimension in displays, capturing full photorealism and sensory detailing in 3D without compromising on quality and curvature. No one else in the world is able to come close to what we offer, and it is a real honour to be pioneering disruptive marketing with some of the most respected names in the game.

The overall more sociable tone of online conversations has really helped us move partnerships forward

Widthwise 2020



hen faced with the prospect of steering our business through a pandemic my first thoughts were how we could pull everyone together to support each other. Initially we sent everyone home to stay safe with their families. I’m not sure if they appreciated the online training courses on Microsoft Excel, but after years of excuses I wasn’t going to pass up on this opportunity! But our focus was soon drawn to the imminent PPE crisis, and we started prototyping visors and sourcing clear plastic films suitable for making face shields for key workers. In July 2019, we’d invested in a new Arizona 1360XT printer and Zund G3 cutting table, both of which became invaluable to o ur pandemic response efforts. After sourcing sufficient material to manufacture 45,000 visors and volunteering our capabilities to our two local NHS Trusts, we soon became their main supplier of face shields. One of our core strengths is our agility and once the urgent demand for visors had been met, our focus moved to the products others businesses would need to allow them to safely reopen as lockdown measures eased. We developed a range of screening products using flexible and rigid plastics. With supply of raw materials initially under pressure we sized the screening to ensure optimal yields, limiting wastage, to deliver a high quality cost effective solution. As a business that typically orders materials on a short lead time to meet an immediate demand, we have revised our ordering and stock control processes to forecast demand and commit to advance order of materials in volume - which has at times been daunting when the external environment remains so uncertain. We have strong partnerships with our suppliers and we received incredible support from each of them - they assisted us with securing clear plastic films, clear acrylic sheets, floor graphic films and the portable display frameworks we needed. My personal thanks go to all of our suppliers, including Perspex Distribution, Canon, Spandex, Antalis, Papergraphics and Magnetic Solutions - they all went above and beyond to support us. As with many businesses Covid-19 has caused significant disruption to our usual business, moving us from a print focussed business to predominantly the design, manufacture and distribution of screen systems, along with floor graphics and signage. Fortunately we have been able to not just keep our team productive but have been able to create new roles to help us shape our business as we move forward.

The pandemic has opened our eyes to the wider potential of Cotswold Printing Company, allowing us to simulate and prove new routes to market. We’ve grown from three or four parcels a day with TNT to over 100 every day. We’ve refined our processes to shorten our lead times on manufactured products, dispatching the next working day. We’ve developed our own eco-packaging system to reliably deliver huge sheets of

We have been able to create new roles to help us shape our business as we move forward Perspex the length and breadth of the country with a damage rate of less than 0.5%. Looking to the coming months and years, our immediate focus remains on developing and supplying screening products to meet our customers’ evolving needs. Beyond that we’re working on projects that will will allow us to grow our core print capability, but with a new product design and supply focus - creating a new version of our business by leveraging the skills, experience and confidence we have gained during the Covid-19 period. Our industry is one of the lucky ones - many of us have been able to repurpose our operations to manufacture products top meet pandemic requirements. Whilst we will hopefully not see another pandemic in our lifetime, there are some important lessons to be drawn. Being able to use our capabilities to help the community in a time of adversity demonstrates our commitment to the social responsibility we have as part of the Gloucestershire business community. I will always be incredibly proud of my team and the wider volunteer network that ensured we could directly help our frontline health workers.

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The Findings: Technology


epending on your point of view, investing significant sums in new wide-format equipment amid the present uncertainty either takes a lot of guts or lack of wisdom. With the British economy breaking all the wrong kind of records in 2020, many print service providers (PSPs) will choose to play it safe. Indeed, even before the pandemic and lockdown, the 2020 Widthwise poll showed that only 33.8% of respondents expected to buy a new printer in the next two years, marginally lower than in 2019. More than seven out of ten did not expect to invest in any ancillary areas, such as design software or web-to-print either. The obvious rationale for this conservative investment strategy is pessimism about the future of the economy, but the explanation may be a bit more complicated than that. Almost half of PSPs said that their business faced no major technical problems. If production is running smoothly, the need to invest in new kit is less compelling. The case for ROI then comes down to more specific opportunities, such as product innovations, attracting new customers or diversifying into new markets. Having invested heavily in the past five years, many PSPs feel they have all the capacity they need, especially given the uncertainty about levels of demand from certain sectors (notably retail, exhibitions and architecture). Many of the people who own/manage PSPs also cannot foresee a

significant technological breakthrough that will make their existing equipment uncompetitive in the next five years. The structure of British wide-format print has always had a profound influence on capital investment budgets. The vast majority of PSPs are SMEs and nearly seven out of ten respondents to the 2020 Widthwise survey expect to invest less than

ÂŁ20,000 in the next two years. As this poll was conducted on the eve of the pandemic, many PSPs have probably scaled back their investment plans since. With that kind of money to spend, companies will probably be less inclined to take risks, opting to replacing like for like in the pressroom or make incremental investments (11.4% planned to purchase design software).

Q22. In 2030, will large-format digital inkjet business still be your core business?





Q23. Do you invest in in-house research and development?





Q26. What type of printers do you own?


Wide-format digital only Wide-format digital and narrow format digital


Wide-format digital and production digital


Wide-format digital and screen


Wide-format digital and litho


Wide-format digital and exo


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Widthwise 2020

Q27. What type of wide-format equipment do you own? (please select all that apply) Solvent printer (inc. eco solvent) Latex printer UV curable flatbed printer Aqueous printer UV curable roll-to-roll printer UV curable hybrid printer Finishing – laminator Finishing – contour cutter Print and cut roll-fed printer Dye-sublimation Finishing – straight line cutter Finishing – specialist textile (eyelet maker etc) Dye-sublimation (non textile) Inkjet 3D object printer

52.63% 33.33% 28.51% 25% 17.54% 13.16% 10.09% 9.65% 5.26% 4.82% 4.39% 3.07% 1.75% 0.88%

Q29. Do you expect to buy a new digital wide-format printer in the next 2 years?

The main motive for investment (almost as popular now as when the 2010 Widthwise survey was conducted) is to increase capacity. Moving into new markets is driving investment for 15.8% of respondents, with output speed a priority for 7.0%. In 2010, the workhorse of the British wide-format print industry was the solvent printer - more than half of the respondents to that year’s Widthwise survey owned one. Ten years later, it still is: 52.6% of companies in the survey own a solvent printer. The workload is, though, being shared among different types of presses now than it was ten years ago. In 2010, only 2.7% of companies owned a latex printer. Today, more than one in three do. Print and cut roll-fed printers are not nearly as prevalent as they once were: only 5.3% of respondents own one, compared to 23.9% in 2010. Aqueous printers and UV curable printers (flatbed, roll-to-roll and hybrid) have proved consistently popular over the past decade. In contrast, textile/dye-sublimation printers have remained decidedly niche. In some ways, the things that have not changed since 2010 are more significant than those that have. Even though the




Yes Not sure


Q30. If yes, which type of digital wide-format printer do you expect to buy? (please select all that apply) UV curable flatbed printer Solvent printer (inc. eco solvent) UV curable roll-to-roll printer UV curable hybrid printer Latex printer Other Dye-sublimation Aqueous printer Print and cut roll-fed printer

22.08% 20.78% 19.48% 18.18% 16.88% 9.09% 7.79% 5.19% 1.30%

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Widthwise 2020

Q31. Do you expect to invest in any of the following for wide-format in the next 2 years? (please select all that apply) 73.68%

None below


Software – design Finishing – contour cutter


Software - workflow


Software – Web-to-print


Software – MIS


Finishing – laminator


Finishing – straight line cutter


Finishing – specialist textile (eyelet maker etc)


Software – versioning/VDP


Q34. Have you invested in Industry 4.0 technology (e.g. the Internet of Things, artificial intelligence, workflow integration)


No Yes

6.58% Q35. If no, do you plan to in 2020?




Unsure Yes

industry has become more environmentally conscious, solvent printers are still used by many PSPs because they are cheap and reliable (20.8% of companies planning to buy a press in the next two years intend to invest in one). The rationale for investing in UV curable flatbed printers has not changed much either. Capable of printing on a variety of rigid substrates and flexible and thus extending your applications capability especially if you have the right finishing equipment - they remain an attractive option for PSPs looking to diversify their


business. (Which, you could argue, would be every PSP in the UK). The other items on the wide-format industry’s shopping list are contour cutters (5.7% of respondents expected to invest in them), web-to-print software and workflow software (both of interest to 5.3% of companies). In a tight market, with prices already under pressure even before the present difficulties, maximising workflow efficiency is a good, not too expensive, way of making more of what you already have. Revolutions don’t always run to schedule and interest in web-to-print is still much

lower than many industry analysts have predicted. Will the current market volatility - and the need to replace customers who have fallen by the wayside - be the spur for more companies to explore this option? The apathy towards web-to-print is mirrored in the sector’s attitude to the Internet of Things (IoT) and Industry 4.0. The continuing hype, including a 2019 report on the topic published by Drupa, has not persuaded many wide-format printers to splash the cash. Only 6.6% of those surveyed had already invested in these emerging technologies and no other

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Widthwise 2020

respondents said it was a priority this year. In reality, many PSPs will already be using IoT, possibly without realising it, and, as we explore in this report, may find their customers insisting that they embrace it. Those PSPs that say they do face major technical challenges are most concerned about reliability - of their inks and substrates (24.6% of respondents) and machines (12.8%). More than one in five of those polled would like suppliers to focus on innovation that reduces running costs. Lowering capital investment costs

and addressing equipment longevity were a priority for more than 11% of businesses. It will be fascinating to see whether the ‘next normal’ - whatever shape that might take - radically changes the wide-format sector’s investment strategies. Wide-format has grown consistently over the past decade but has never faced a challenge of this magnitude. Demand from some customer sectors - even retail - could well recover to pre-pandemic levels within two to three years. In some markets, especially exhibition graphics,

the shift is likely to prove more long lasting, if not permanent. A different set of customers will, at some point, need to be reflected in a different set of investment priorities. PSPs that can read the trends - and invest accordingly - may gain an enduring advantage. The need to do more with less is already paramount for companies that buy wide-format print and will soon become so for those businesses that supply it. And that must, surely, encourage PSPs to get serious about automation.

Q37. Where would you like to see more innovation in wide-format? (ranking 1-9, 9 being the most important and represented on the graph below)


In a particular technology/ink type


Lower running costs Lower capital investment cost


Equipment longevity

11.17% 9.6%

Reliability/uptime Colour management


Higher speed


Improved print quality




Q38. What is the biggest technological issue you face in wide-format?


No major technical issues


Consumables (ink and media) reliability Machine reliability Colour management

12.72% 8.33%

Equipment failing to meet expectation/published spec


Workflow issues

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Widthwise 2020

Ask the manufacturers Bobby Grauf,

Rob Goleniowski,

sales manager inkjet,

head of sales UK

Agfa UK and Ireland

and Ireland, Roland DG

We continue to invest heavily in our total solution approach, which means printers and presses, Web-to-print, cloud and workflow software, and of course inks. We are continuing to release updates, upgrades and model variations for the Anapurna, Jeti and Asanti product families. At the same time, we are developing our new Oberon platform - which had its first showing as a 3.3m RTR at C-Print! Lyon at the beginning of 2020. In parallel to the sign and display sector we are growing our Industrial Inkjet solutions, where we just announced expansion of our water-based ink manufacturing capacity. Both divisions work closely together and it’s no secret that there is a lot of crossover.

The world of large-format inkjet encompasses individual businesses that straddle the borders between industries and a sizeable proportion of our budget is focused on addressing these diverse needs and developing more flexible, more versatile devices that overachieve in whichever market they operate. We have teams dedicated to the key areas of hardware, ink and software.

Agfa has been servicing various high-security sectors for many decades. Take our Cloud hosting and SaaS solutions for instance, which run, amongst others, public and private hospitals, and international newspaper groups. To serve these customers we have implemented the most stringent IT security protocols and processes. Wide-format PSP’s running Agfa systems directly benefit from this, as their systems interact securely with our central servers for updates, upgrades and remote support. Of course, individuals will always be the main gatekeepers in terms of IT security, so we ensure that every operator is trained to keep their systems safe.

A printer should be no more susceptible to security concerns than any other connected or smart device. It’s important to find a balance between convenience and security but, generally speaking, installing a good firewall is key to protecting your network. Your in-house approach to cybersecurity is vital and you should implement a policy restricting access to authorised staff only. At Roland DG we mitigate many concerns by ensuring that our printers don’t hold sensitive data on-board - processing only what is sent from the PC. This means that our users only need to ensure that their PC and network are as secure as possible to minimise any risks.

What are you doing to meet the demand for ‘greener’ print devices/products - in terms of their whole life-cycle not just their operation?

Our aim is to develop, make and supply long-lasting systems in view of multiple ownerships. We service and support pre-owned systems. Of course, technology leaps, such as UV LED curing for instance, help us to reduce a system’s carbon footprint by reducing the number of consumables parts. At the core is Agfa’s patented Thin Ink Layer technology which significantly lowers ink usage and ink waste, hence reduces the amount of journeys required to deliver and dispose of ink. Another major step for us was the introduction of PrintTune to monitor colour quality across multiple devices and multiple sites. By charting a printer’s quality against an agreed standard on a regular basis we reduce the number of reprints for colour quality reasons.

For many years, environmentally neutral production has been a mainstay of our manufacturing and distribution cycle. Notably, we produce devices from recyclable components, we have reduced plastic waste by switching to ink pouches from cartridges and 99% of our packaging is made from recyclable cardboard - but like every conscious business, we recognise that more needs to be done. Once more, demands for greener devices feature highly in the want lists of our customers and potential customers and as such this becomes an ever more important pillar in our ongoing R&D plans.


Every customer we meet is different - with different ideas, needs and solutions. We listen and capture them all and distribute them to our regional Agfa Inkjet Competence Centres (ICC) in each country. Should we not have an immediate answer, we will develop the solution with our customers at one of our ICC’s. During the Covid-19p andemic, as part of our #CountOnUs initiative, we hosted over 30 focused webinar sessions to continue this knowledge transfer. The feedback on those sessions is overwhelmingly positive, so we will continue with #CountOnUs for the foreseeable future.

As part of our aftersales care, we regularly advise our customers on their individual challenges and in the past years these have centred more and more around creating new products and uncovering new capabilities with their existing equipment. Meanwhile, an active community of Roland users has grown up organically around social platforms like Facebook and there we see a constant exchange of ideas. To fuel the appetite for application knowledge we have made significant investment in a new Roland Academy online learning platform. Between now and early 2021, we aim to develop an organic social learning environment in collaboration with a diverse range of Roland users and product experts.

I hope that everyone in the industry is in good health and safe, and that we can all come back stronger very soon.

One of our biggest challenges is keeping up with Roland users. The Covid-19 pandemic has shown us just how vital this connection is - it’s only by adapting to the seismic shifts in our customers’ businesses that we can rapidly adjust our own priorities. In particular, we have placed an even greater focus on developing ecommerce solutions (PersBiz) allowing our customers to swiftly and easily create their own online Web stores. From a service perspective, we have transitioned most of our RolandCare technical support infrastructure to more remote and accessible platforms, purely to address the need for social distancing. In so doing, we have seized the opportunity to streamline our processes and provide even more convenient access for our customers.

Q1 Q2 Q3 Where is your (large-format inkjet) R&D budget primarily focussed, and why?

With increasing print device/system connectivity comes cybersecurity concerns for PSPs. How are you responding to that?

Of the PSPs responding to our summer 2020 Widthwise poll, nearly half said the biggest opportunity was entering new markets. How involved does your company get in helping companies develop new offerings for new markets?

Q5 What is the biggest challenge you face as a supplier to the large-format print sector now - and how are you addressing that?

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Widthwise 2020

Analysis of this year’s Widthwise survey highlighted a number of key questions regarding the supply chain – so we put them to some of the sector’s key manufacturers.

Danna Drion,

Ken Hanulec,

Carmen Eicher,

senior marketing

vice president of

chief sales and

manager EMEA,

worldwide marketing,

marketing officer,




We actively invest about 7.2% of our sales every year in R&D. This budget is used not only to develop and improve our main products, inks and applications, but also used to investigate and develop products related to pre-process and post-process of printing, as well as software for workflow focused on introducing IoT at the production site. In terms of market, our focus remains on the development of the new 3D printing market, while continuing to expand our line-up for the Sign Graphics, Industrial and Textile markets.

We are focusing our inkjet R&D budget on developing technologies in single-pass, water-based inks and automation for the sign and display graphics market as the demand for faster, more efficient and greener printing solutions increases. We are also leveraging EFI’s position beyond hardware to further improve the integrated portfolio with high-speed digital front-end capabilities and workflow enhancements that take steps out of the production management process of largeformat printing.

Our sole focus is on large-format UV flatbed and roll-to-roll devices. Therefore, we spend our entire R&D budget on the development there. Over 25% of our staff at the headquarters in Switzerland work in R&D, which is where we develop and engineer everything - from the mechanical components to the electronics and the output software. With the investment in an ink laboratory last year, we have taken another big step forward. It guarantees that the inks and our hardware work together optimally, and we can ensure the constant quality of the ink.

We encrypt the data in the printing system to increase data confidentiality.

EFI’s wide-format printers connect through our Fiery DFEs, which have extensive security features. Our print systems also employ the Windows Defender features that are part of Windows 10. And EFI Vutek printers feature an internal firewall to help maximise safety when connecting them to an internal network. Also, in January 2020 we removed the default passwords that shipped with all Fiery servers - eliminating much of the risk users faced in exposing their networks if they didn’t change it when putting servers on their networks.


We are constantly working toward developing ‘greener’ products. As an example, we recently introduced a new 600ml eco-cartridge for our popular SS21 inks. This eco-cartridge is reusable and therefore reduces plastic waste. Some of our partners also actively offer environmentally-conscious solutions for their customers. Hybrid Services, our exclusive distributor in the UK, for instance, runs a solvent cartridge recycling scheme.

EFI has helped display graphics professionals reduce their environmental footprint with less waste and reduced energy usage. The LED inks used in many of our printers are also GreenGuard certified. Several corrugated display producers use our single-pass EFI Nozomi C18000 printer, achieving direct-to-board production, which avoids the substantial waste that would otherwise occur in litho-lam production. And, our Nozomi inks achieved a leading certification for recyclability. Of course EFI is also able to refurbish used equipment, extending the life of our printers.

Our shipping distances are short - 80% of our suppliers, providing 90% of all machine parts, are Swiss companies. As mentioned above, the printers are 100% developed and produced at the swissQprint headquarters in Switzerland. The UV printing process requires neither heating nor ventilation, which keeps energy requirements low. LED lamps consume little electricity, have an extremely long service life and low emissions. swissQprint products have a service life of up to 12 years, and are low maintenance, which minimises service calls and consumable parts that need replacing.

We listen to what our customers have to say and what the market demands and then provide technical advice and support as they take the first step into new sectors. On top of that, we strive to be an innovator in the market. We continuously develop our products so that our technology can enable new application possibilities, which inspire and help our customers to expand their offerings and enter new markets.

Helping customers establish a foothold in new areas is an ongoing, proactive conversation. Our work with customers to capture new market opportunities extends beyond the printers we produce. For example, customers are leveraging our MarketDirect platform to establish Web-to-print design capabilities for divisional graphics, packaging and other new applications.

With the opening of our showroom in Bracknell, we are set up to support our UK customers with new application ideas. We have a Nyala flatbed and a Karibu roll-to-roll printer in the showroom - and our application specialists have know-how in different markets and they can run a multitude of tests. The team also offers application training to help customers utilise their machine to the greatest possible extent. Also, we have taken steps at our headquarters to invest in R&D in terms of applications. This year, we have established our ‘Print Solutions Center’ which focuses on exactly this.

Of course, the biggest challenge everyone has faced this year are the changes in consumer preferences and purchasing due to sluggish global economic activities resulting from the Covid-19 crisis. We must respond to these rapid changes appropriately and provide our customers with the added-value they need at this time. In the Mimaki Engineering Group we are thoroughly reviewing our existing medium- to long-term vision and adapting our approach as we build a picture of the ‘new normal’. We will work in order to do this, with the key objective focused on providing increased customer value.

The Covid-19 pandemic of course creates the biggest challenges for us. Early during the crisis, EFI took proactive steps to ensure production capability on products and, from a service standpoint, we have engaged in more remote service capabilities available in the current generation of EFI printers to help ensure uptime - even in scenarios where travel restrictions affected in-person service. We continue to focus on ensuring the health and safety of our customers, partners and employees and it is a good guiding principal moving forward as we work to help customers get back to business and back to growth.

In ‘normal times’ we regularly travel to attend trade fairs, visit customers and our partners. As for everyone else, this year is completely different. However, thanks to the fact that we distribute via local subsidiaries and partners in about 40 countries, we can keep communication up through them. Besides, we have set up some possibilities to keep in touch virtually. We are frequently publishing videos presenting application ideas and special features, and we offer live-streamed demos at our headquarters.

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Widthwise 2020

Science fiction - or fact?


any pundits call it the ‘new normal’. Some consultants prefer to talk of ‘the great reset’ - 2020 speak for ‘paradigm shift’. Whatever name you use, there is a consensus that the Covid-19 pandemic is fundamentally changing the way we live, work and play. One widely predicted change is that companies will redouble their efforts to digitally transform and automate their business. There is logic in this. It is impossible, at this precise moment, to predict when - or indeed,

if - we will return to a model where eight out of ten us work on the company premises. In April, at the peak of the British government’s furlough scheme, 49.2% of employees were working from home. In other words, probably for the first time in the history of British capitalism, more staff worked at home than in a factory or an office. With the outlook for the nation’s physical health remaining distinctly uncertain, many staff are hesitant about returning to the workplace, especially if they must use public transport. Many employees and employers have also discovered that working from home can save significant amounts of time and money.

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While print service providers (PSPs) assess these factors, technologies such as Artificial Intelligence (AI), Robotic Process Automation (RPA), the Internet of Things (IoT), Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) are developing rapidly as, indeed, at a much more mundane level, are such virtual meeting packages as Google Meat, Microsoft Teams and Zoom. If you fancy having a business meeting inside the video game Animal Crossing you can (although why would you?). As for robots, as one expert recently argued: “Whether a machine can be conscious or not, and whether it can feel pain or not,

Widthwise 2020

it will always be better than the average human. Humans are prone to mistakes. They get tired and lazy. They can even get bored. A machine will never do this. It can perform the same tasks over and over again every day without fail.” The expert who wrote this essay was hardly unbiased - it was a machine - an AI-powered neural network known as GPT3. Will any of these technologies transform PSPs between now and 2030? The short answer is: maybe, but it’s complicated. The structure of the wide-format sector reduces the incentive for printers to automate. More than half of the respondents to the 2020 Widthwise survey employed between one and five staff. Less than one in ten firms had more than 50 staff on the payroll. In other words, there is not a lot of labour cost to save to make a return on

investment. Smaller print companies may have to wait until these technologies - particularly AI and RPA - become so ubiquitous and cheap they can be installed on the desktop as if they were part of a software suite such as Microsoft Office. Full automation may also require some companies to change the way they see themselves. Some PSPs, such as Stuart Maclaren’s Your Print Partner, actively sell themselves as tech companies and look to automation to help them sell direct to consumers. Yet many would probably echo the view expressed by Andy Wilson, owner of PressOn, at the 2018 Widthwise round table: “Automated production is not palatable for our generation. The likes of me enjoy the craft part of the business.” Other PSPs, arguing that the risks attached to automation will significantly outweigh the rewards for the foreseeable future, have gone as far as to predict that it will not have a great impact on wide-format printing in the next 10-15 years. There are three reasons to think automation may happen sooner than that. First, the oldest reason in the book, is that PSPs may have no choice. Larger corporate customers are already using AI to manage their procurement networks. They are not doing this for fun but to save costs, drive efficiencies and, after the pandemic exposed the flaws in the global supply chain, build resilience. Many of these companies believe that AI can make better, more informed decisions exponentially faster than people and, if these systems become self-learning, continuously improve performance. Wide-format printers who cannot integrate into these systems may lose business. Secondly, many printers are experiencing what you might call ‘creeping automation’ as, at their customers’ behest, they experiment with such technologies as building scanning tools. The Internet of Things - or Industry 4.0 - can be an unhelpfully amorphous term but if you think of it as using digital technology to pursue manufacturing excellence, it is probably already in use and will, as industry suppliers embrace it further, become widespread. When wide-format printers can digitally identify the bottlenecks in their business, they are much more likely to see the benefit in robotics, automation and VR. Many print companies have already identified one major bottleneck: dealing with the customer. As Richard Clark, managing director of Edenbridge-based PSP Raccoon, told Image Reports earlier this year: “We

all need to work out how to connect to our clients in a more streamlined, automated way. At the moment, it is too manual and too time consuming.” One of the buzzwords in the retail industry, which still buys a lot of wide-format print, is ‘frictionless’ - as in transactions that require no effort - and there is still too much friction involved in purchasing print. This is one area where AI and, further down the line, AR and VR could help. The second reason automation may happen faster than predicted is the iPhone factor. In 2006, the gadget didn’t even exist as a commercial product. Yet it has, as Apple’s Steve Jobs predicted, changed everything. Today, more than three billion of us own a smartphone and we have downloaded more

There is still too much friction involved in purchasing print. This is one area where AI and, further down the line, AR and VR could help than 200 billion apps to use on them. These apps help us do routine stuff - e.g. shop on Amazon - but they also enable us to bank, purchase services and products and improve project management. Developers have only just begun to explore the transformational potential of business apps which as they become more common, more capable and less expensive could encourage automation. There is also the possibility that in the next decade a ‘wild card’ technology as unexpected and transformational as the iPhone could emerge. What if an app could run your business? Or take on nine out of ten things you need to do to run your business? As absurd as that may sound, many consultants - not all of whom have dipped their bread in the tech sector’s gravy - do believe that, by 2030, AI will be sophisticated enough to make day-to-day operational decisions. That may alarm some PSPs and intrigue others. Not all science fiction predictions come true - none of us are yet driven to and from work by a simian chauffeur in a car sped along a pneumatic tube - but this forecast has the ring of a ‘science fact’.

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?????????? Widthwise 2020

The Findings: Environment

38 | Widthwise 2020 | www.imagereports.co.uk

Widthwise 2020


ow many times has a hotel asked you to reuse your towels? It’s all in a good cause of course. And which of us would spurn such a simple opportunity to protect the planet? Yet it was hotel towels - and a note urging residents to reuse them that inspired a young American research student called Jay Westerveld to coin the term ‘greenwash’ in 1983. While in Fiji, he gate-crashed a sprawling beach resort in search of clean towels and saw the note. As he recalled: “It basically said that oceans and reefs are an important resource, that reusing the towels would reduce ecological damage and ended with something like ‘Help us to help our environment’.” Noticing how rapidly the resort was expanding - and how many new beach bungalows were being built he concluded that the owners were more concerned about saving money than saving the environment. That is why he coined the term ‘greenwash’.

For too long, too many printers - and buyers of print - have been content to do the minimum, their own equivalent of reusing towels. In fairness, this was partly down to ignorance. It was all too easy to take such terms as ‘recycling’ and ‘organic’ at face value. There was also a sense that sustainability was something that publicly quoted companies talked about a lot - to reassure their stakeholders - but did not actually do very much about it. That began to change in the first decade of this century when such large retailers as Walmart, Marks & Spencer and Tesco began radically transforming their businesses to reduce their carbon footprint. In the past couple of years, the annual Image Reports Widthwise survey has suggested that the wide-format sector has begun putting its house in order. If anything, the 2020 survey suggests, print service providers are taking the future of the planet more seriously than their customers. Three out of four respondents said they already

have environmental accreditation - a significantly higher proportion than in 2019 - and 9.2% are working on it. In a striking, even puzzling contrast, 92.5% said that few or none of their customers ever asked about their accreditation or, for that matter, about their policies on sustainability. Even more perplexing is the finding that 80.7% of wide-format printers say it is more important to offer green options now than it was two years ago (compared to just 46.1% who felt so in 2019). How to resolve these apparent contradictions? The first thing to say is that just because customers do not ask to see environmental accreditations does not necessarily mean they don’t care about sustainability. Under pressures of time and resource, they may just assume their providers have the relevant credentials. It is also true, as many printers have lamented, that there has been a shift, across all sectors, towards younger, less experienced (and not at all coincidentally cheaper) print buyers,

Q39. How important is it to offer ‘green’ print options?


More important than 2 years ago


No shift - not important


No shift – important Less important than 2 years ago


Q40. Do clients ask for your environmental credentials or ask for your sustainability plans?




None Around 50/50 Most

4.82% 2.63%

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Widthwise 2020

Q41. Do you have environmental accreditations?




No Working on it


who do not necessarily know the right questions to ask. The fact that three out of four wide-format printers could, if asked, prove their environmental credentials is encouraging. The sharp rise in the proportion of respondents that recognise the importance of offering environmentally friendly print options does suggest that many printers are shrewdly anticipating customer demand.

One likely lasting impact of the Covid-19 pandemic which has, so far, largely flown under the radar, is a renewed environmental awareness among governments, businesses, the media and individuals, both as citizens and consumers. The growth of the Sustainable Green Printing Partnership in America reflects this trend. Founded in 2008, the group now has 50 printers accredited but is expecting that number to double over

40 | Widthwise 2020 | www.imagereports.co.uk

the next year. (Given the partisan political context in which the SGPP now operates, that would a remarkable result. After all, a virulent minority of Americans agree with Donald Trump’s view that “The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make US manufacturing non-competitive.�) There is also substantial anecdotal evidence that many British PSPs have concluded that global warming is not

Widthwise 2020

Q47. What is your major environmental focus for 2020 (mark one)


Measure/reduce your carbon footprint


Reduce/recycle your own in-house waste


Consider the environmental impact of your purchasing decisions Reduce your energy consumption


Use recycled/recyclable materials


Use papers from certified sources (FSC, PEFC etc)


‘Upsell’ end print solutions that are recyclable


Provide customers with a print/waste take-back/recycle scheme


Improve your in-house energy generation (install solar panels etc)


Hire an environmental consultant

a Chinese plot but a real threat to the planet and, having reflected on that, become ashamed of their own contribution to climate change. At the last Image Reports printers’ round table in October 2019, Richard Courtney, director of wide-format business Gardners, said: “We used to view environmental accreditation as a boxticking exercise. Now it seems intrinsic to us to be greener, to want to save the planet for future generations. We have all become morally responsible.” British PSPs are not just talking the talk. This new sense of responsibility though not as sweeping as the shift in the retail industry in the 2000s - has led some companies to switch to electric vehicles and water-based inks and reducing the use of Volatile Organic Compounds in the press room. The increasingly urgent and successful drive to find recyclable and greener alternatives to PVC could be


a game changer for the industry’s carbon footprint. One potential remedy, adopted by Chatham-based wide-format firm PressOn (see Printers’ Perspectives) is to use a fabric substrate which eliminates the need for plastics. Other solutions include recycling PVC, which has become a lot easier and more advanced over the past two years. The challenge remains to find a greener substrate that can pack as much visual punch as PVC. In the interim, some wide-format companies have used their print waste to do good: Hull trade printer RMC Digital Print donates its waste to Scrapstore which uses it for various purposes - educational, creative and therapeutic. Hersham wide-format provider Impress Print has worked with the World Land Trust to offset its carbon emissions. And Gardners has turned words into action by launching a speciality print coating that

purifies the air. During lockdown, the ‘virtual meeting’ replaced most physical meetings. That change may be here to stay - if, for no other reason than the uncertain outlook over the world’s health - and, given that global CO2 emissions are estimated to have fallen by a quarter during lockdown, less business travel would be no bad thing for the planet. All that said, it does seem that many printers are only beginning to take their moral responsibility seriously. The 2020 Widthwise survey found that the top environmental priority for 47.6% of respondents was to measure and/ or reduce their carbon footprint. The priority for 16.2% was to reduce/recycle in-house waste while 12.7% said they would consider the environmental impact of their purchasing decisions. These are all laudable and necessary but, as the industry seeks to do more with less, is it not time to be bolder?

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Widthwise 2020: Comment

On purpose


re you on the right side of history? It’s not a question that the people who own and/or run wide-format print providers are used to asking themselves. It’s true that vast majority of the industry’s managers are in it for the long-term, rather than seeking a quick and unsustainable profit. Yet many, asked to define the purpose of their business, would struggle to do so. In part, this reflects an instinctive aversion to the kind of high-flown rhetoric too many companies use to define their ‘purpose’. It is also true that different people launch or run businesses for different reasons and with different aims. Often, the spur may be the simple conviction that you can do a better job than your present employer. Not every company is founded to save the world but it

is possible, nevertheless, to manage a print service provider in such a way as to be as fair as possible to customers, suppliers, staff and the local community. Indeed, that may be a more productive and useful approach than spending hours crafting a statement of purpose. As Giles Gibbons, who founded the consultancy Good Business in 1994, told ‘Management Today’ recently: “Purpose isn’t advertising. Nor is it a marketing statement. It needs to be an organising idea. Very few people go into the world trying to be bad. That isn’t to say bad things don’t happen. But the best businesses are open and engaged. They know they won’t please everybody but they will try to do the right thing if they can.” The good news for wide-format print providers, which tend to be SMEs, is that this approach to purpose does not require you to hire a consultant, force your entire management team to brainstorm for an

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afternoon when they feel they have more important things to do, or to completely redesign your website around a new slogan designed to convince your stakeholders that you are on a mission to save the world. The British charity and think tank Blueprint for Better Business has a succinct, no-nonsense definition of purpose. It consists of five principles: honesty and fairness when dealing with customers and suppliers; being a responsible and responsive employer; having a purpose that delivers long-term sustainable performance; being a good citizen and acting as a guardian for future generations. Few managing directors would argue with any of these principles in theory. The difficult bit is judging whether you put all of them into practice all of the time. The question of purpose - the simple, but powerful query ‘Why does your company exist?’ - has been thrown into sharp relief by the Covid-19 pandemic. At a very basic

Widthwise 2020

ard of corporate purpose, with its self-proclaimed mission to “think differently” and encourage customers to do so. Yet it uses this pitch selectively - rather than on every new product release - disproving the fashionable cliché (especially popular in marketing circles) that “people don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it”. To go right back to basics, if customers have no need for wide-format printing they won’t be buying from you anyway. If they do have such a need, ‘why you do it?’ may come it into the purchasing process, but so will ‘what’ (the kind of products and services you offer), ‘how’ (are you - or your suppliers - doing anything that could damage their reputation?), ‘when’ (can you meet their schedule, no matter how unrealistic?) and, crucially, ‘how much?’. If you tell customers your ‘why’ story every time you compete for their business, you will quite probably bore them, alienate them and leave them wondering if you doth protest too much. Many

level, as people return to work, they will ask themselves: ‘Do I trust my employer to protect my health?’ Clearly, this is not the time for an Arthur Daley, not quite legit, little dodgy maybe but basically alright, approach to health and safety. Equally, when painful discussions about costs and staffing levels take place because of the economic damage inflicted by the pandemic, companies need to put their purpose into practice by being as fair as possible in the circumstances. Many managers say that they have done everything they can to protect jobs but don’t offer any evidence to prove that. If there are specific examples of things you have done - voluntary pay cuts, cutting management costs, etc. - why not share them? Those staff lucky enough to return to the workplace are likely to have another question on their mind: ‘Why am I working?’ On a basic level, we are all working to pay the lives we lead, but work has always been about more than that. Indeed, as social bonds to family and friends have loosened, work has become even more integral to our sense of who we are.

One of the most constant human traits is the quest for meaning and, even before the pandemic, that hunger for purpose was directed at work, where we spent so much of our lives. That yearning spreads far beyond the Millennials and Generation Z, the two demographic groups usually highlighted as being particularly keen to “do good” at work. Given the risks and particular difficulties involved in going to work at this extraordinary time, the demand for a meaning that goes beyond making a profit is likely to greater than ever. Holly Branson, daughter of Sir Richard, wrote in her book ‘Weconomy: You Can Find Meaning, Make a Living, and Change the World’, that “social purpose is the biggest thing to happen to business since the assembly line”, adding that the typical Millennial wants to “work for a company that has purpose baked into its culture”. She may well be right, but it would be hard to identify the “social purpose” behind the dismal service provided by Virgin Trains. Apple is often held up as the gold stand-

Purpose isn’t advertising. Nor is it a marketing statement. It needs to be an organising idea non-executive directors say they judge a company not on what the managing director says but the employee on the shop floor is saying the same thing. So if you’re going to adopt the five, eminently reasonable principles defined by the Blueprint for Better Business, bake them into your culture first before you start promoting them. You need to be sure your approach is credible and consistent. Don’t get caught out like the oil giant Chevron. In 1988, it ran ads promoting the fact that it had created a fenced-in area at its El Segunda oil refinery near San Francisco to protect an endangered species of blue butterfly. It didn’t cost much - $5,000 - but it was a nice thing to do. The campaign failed to persuade Californians Chevron had become an environmental champion largely because, at around that time, it had to pay a $1.5m fine for illegally dumping thousands of tonnes of pollutants into Santa Monica Bay.

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