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New horizons

New horizons


Mark Godden urges signmakers to explore

I was reading an HP whitepaper on the subject of inks a few evenings ago –I don’t get out much.

One little factoid immortalised in the midst of all the other teachings was that, in total, since Latex printers were introduced, together with the matching ink, over thirty-five million square meters of output have been printed amongst its installed base.

You have to admire HP’s dedication to the cause, and its resources, getting out and counting that lot.

It’s a number worth thinking about, particularly if you then consider HP’s footprint, in terms of both the share of the print hardware market it commands – it’s by no means exclusive – and the time it’s been selling large format hardware – it’s a newcomer in relative terms. I won’t attempt to answer the question but I’ll ask it anyway, just to provoke further thought. How many square metres have been produced in total, when you consider the other heavy-hitting members of the printer establishment? Roland DG, Mimaki, Epson, Agfa, Durst… and so on.

It’s a lot.

Of course, the stuff these printers output doesn’t last forever. Some of it is time-limited on a content basis. Images and information are perishable things in terms of advertising campaigns and thus, ninety days or so after posting, they’re gone.

In terms of longevity, vehicle liveries do a bit better. They are often part of the branding spectrum and so their course is a longer one. They last until the vehicle is either scrapped or changes hands.

Graphics in other venues may be discarded simply because they have a span of exterior durability that eventually leaves them looking like faded impressions of themselves, but are not as fondly regarded as Ghost Signs that may have survived a war or two.

All this print then is, for the most part, a transient thing. Despite that, with HP having poured its 35M square metres into the pond, and all the others having a dunk too, there is, I think we can conclude, a lot of it out there.

In the midst of all the big numbers about how much print is produced and deployed, there’s an even bigger number to consider. I reckon it’s an order of magnitude bigger still, maybe even more. It’s the number of square metres still available to display digital print.

There’s inertia to overcome of course, in trying to fill all the spaces. Imagine what the world might look like if every square metre of space that is available for advertising was, in fact, filled by advertising. Not a pretty sight. Similarly, if every vehicle on the road were plastered in graphics, what wouldwe have to do to distinguish the private individuals in the population?

Where then, is the ten times the volume, or more, of print that’s produced today, in workshops just like yours, going to end up? Who will make it? Who will sell it? Who is going to put their hand in their pocket and pay for it?

Here’s the crux of the matter in a very broad generalisation that’s offered with the greatest respect.You won’t produce it and supply it – because you never get asked for it. The buyers who could be coming to you won’t, because they don’t even know what’s possible.


One word, one big market. Drill into it. Domestic décor, retail décor,décor in restaurants, décor in hospitals, décor in public buildings.In fact, décor in practically any place with a roof and four walls to hold it up.Décor for the sake of beautification.Décor serving to refurbish.Décor with a functional intent.Décor simply for the sake of creating an ambience.Décor dedicated to the cause of banishing magnolia emulsion. Décor as a brand continuation.Décor serving as a way-finding scheme.Décor that utterly elevates and transforms the mundane.Décor that inspires and creates a mood of positivity.Décor that promotes a simple homespun philosophy in a few well crafted words. Décor you can print. Permanent decor. Temporary décor.Décor you can supply. Décor you can install – indoors and in a warm, dry place. Décor that can help you to build a thriving business

I expect great things of décor. I don’t claim to be the author of the concept. All I can say is, I have the wit to see a lot of unadorned walls out there that can be covered for any or all of the reasons listed above. Once inertia is overcome and we move out of the early pioneering phase and start ramping up the demand with opinion leaders driving it on at a pace – then, décor is going to explode. Is it going to be the new wrapping? Very likely, says I, and then some.

Let me return to the concept of the market not knowing what’s possible. Debate that with me if you will, but is there a single solitary person amongst our readership who hasn’t heard a customer say something along the lines of “Ooh, I didn’t know you could do that?” I really doubt it. The number of times I’ve heard it probably puts HP’s numbers in the shade. I also have crystal clear recollection of someone telling me, “Nice idea, but we never get asked for anything like that.” That was when I launched the Gerber Edge in the UK and European market. A printer that, with a clutch of others numbering fewer than you have fingers on one hand, defined the beginning of the digital epoch. That was back in the days when putting an image onto vinyl was a truly remarkable thing.

Someone has to grow the market and décor is a heaven-sent opportunity to do so. We need to ensure the market understands and that you are asked for the output you could so easily produce.

I remember showing a designer a decorative frieze produced on the Edge. Got a “Didn’t know you could do that!” which was understandable at the time, because you couldn’t. What happened though, was that single point of contact leveraged many opportunities for customers who bought the printer. If you can get creatives alerted to the possibilities, they really run with the idea.

If you have a machine that’s capable of putting images on wide webs of material, and who reading this doesn’t, then you have the means to enter a market that’s really going to fly. You’ll need a few materials you haven’t worked with before – they’re around. You’ll need a creative leaning toward the subject. You’ll need to tell the population around you that there is a an alternative to slapping emulsion paint over walls and that they don’t have to settle for repeating patterns in wall coverings. You’ll need to introduce them to the idea that there’s a new way to decorate and that it may be a way they simply don’t know about yet.

It’s not too late by any means, nor is it too early to carve yourself a position in the market for printed and applied decor.

Even if you only do it on a local basis initially, you’ll gain experience and make money doing so. At this point, I hope I’m losing you. You’re off. You have an opportunity to pursue!

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