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The UK printing sector is recognized as one of the most technically advanced and forward looking not only in Europe but worldwide too and there is probably no one better to talk about its present and future than Gareth Ward, the editor of Print Business. Here are his views on the most important trends affecting the sector.

1. There is more and more a division in the industry between low cost producers and innovators. Low cost producers must focus on a limited range of products, on lean manufacturing, on automation and use of technology to increase efficiency. They will deliver the long runs of standardised, commoditised products, magazines and so on. They must invest frequently and think on a European scale.

The innovators must develop new products and services using the technology and skills they have to serve customers who are beginning to understand that print can make an impact. This happens when it is printed well, uses interesting papers, adds value through binding, varnishing, foild and other effects. This may be personalised printing.

2. Runs are much shorter and are wanted immediately. Printers must consider how to make same day delivery possible, or next day at the latest. The design and approval stage may take weeks, but print cannot take more than 24 hours. Customers want to order only what they need at any point in time and to hold artwork in a digital warehouse, not a real warehouse. This began with books and point of sale and is going to happen in packaging.

3. Packaging is adopting the techniques that have affected commercial printing. Digital plays a much bigger role in packaging, though to create supply chain efficiencies and versioning to reduce huge levels of waste rather than personalisation, though high profile personalisation projects will increase.

4. Inkjet is becoming a very important printing process and will be the dominant digital printing technology. This applies mostly to high speed web printing, where quality will match offset. In turn this will force printers to consider whether a long perfecting sheetfed press or an inkjet web press will be the better investment. Sheetfed inkjet will start to take volume from HP Indigo in particular. But this is a price sensitive market and the investment must be justified.

5. The environment returns as a key issue. In recent years customers have chosen uncoated rather than recycled papers and this will continue as issues around sustainability of forestry are better understood. But sourcing of that fibre becomes more important. There will be a drive for transparency throughout the supply chain affecting all elements of the industry and as a consequence, a drive to understand environmental impacts and then how to reduce them, whether waste at source, at the printer, in the supply chain.

In short, printers need to become more aware of their place in the world and be more professional.

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