Veteran industry journalist Gareth Ward was at Sign & Digital UK 2019 and observed a raft of new product launches and areas focusing on growth sectors of the home decor market including textile printing and direct-to-garment printing, in addition to a line up of presentations touching every aspect of large format printing.


Arriving at the NEC for the first day of Sign & Digital this year resulted in two strong feelings: annoyance at a 25% hike in the daily parking charge and relief that numbers on day one were up on last year. Walking into the show last year there were several visitors heading away from the halls, having already seen what they wanted to see.  However, this year the high amount of interest meant people stuck around from the opening of the event until it closed three days later. 



It was disappointing perhaps that demonstrations and contests for vehicle wrapping attracted larger crowds than those for textiles. Visitors are still concentrating on existing markets rather than try to find new applications for their printers. 


This was a feeling reinforced by the interest shown in cutting tables. One exhibitor who had struggled to interest any visitors 12 months ago in cutting tables was this year in continual discussions. Printers have discovered that finishing delivers productivity.



And for those wanting productivity there was plenty with new presses also: new Jetrix flatbed and roll-fed machines; the latest Canon Océ Arizona flatbed; HP latex flatbed for the first time at the show; new Roland DG printer cutters and alongside these regulars from almost all suppliers. 


Some stands had machines cheek by jowl, others with less space hosting a single machine to take up the majority of it. Few had the confidence to strip back the displays to show applications only. The big exceptions are the materials companies. Both Premier Paper, launching its display products division, and Antalis decorated their stands with wallpapers, posters, decorated tables and so on that demonstrated how the substrates they sell might be used. Art Systems brought the Retail Experience showing how its combination of HP printers and Summa cutting tables might provide everything a retail outlet might want.


Antalis took a Swiss chalet theme and ran demonstrations of wallpaper being applied quickly and easily. Disappointingly perhaps this was carried out by men in civvies rather than in Alpine costume. Premier took a movies studio theme with red carpet, mock movie posters, popcorn, backlot and of course a shark. A foam shark was suspended from the roof of the hall, making a sharp contrast to those hanging standard square of circular banners. 


The gaping maw of the creature was the centrepiece of the display and acted as a photo point for an Instagrammable selfie with lookalike Jack Sparrow, Marilyn Monroe and Star Wars characters. 



“The whole stand is made from our products,” said Premier marketing director Dave Jones. It included rigid materials, t-shirts, films and wall coverings to produce posters, the backlot, film stage and more, including movie memorabilia and posters for a spread of intriguingly named films, each highlighting a product family – Walk the Skyline with artwork inspired by the Johnny Cash biopic Walk the Line, being typical.


“We walked around last year and saw the range of materials used on the stands and how they were used. We decided we needed to do something different, something to stand out when we launched the new division. So everything here has a tenuous film industry link showing how the materials we have can be used to used to produce everything related to the films.”


In many respects there could have been more of this, perhaps even with end user stories about the impact of what had been printed as well as the how behind the printed product. There were exceptions: vehicle wrapping is well established and needs little explanation and t-shirt printing is so simple and direct that no further explanation is needed. 


Epson and Ricoh were leaders in this field, the latter with a steady flow of visitors to a company that is now very much committed to all things inkjet. It introduced a large flatbed last year and this year has upgraded its roll-fed latex printer, now the L5160. As with Ricoh products in other sectors, this is built to last. Gilmex signed up for three at the stand to replace the earlier generation machines it has been using for five years. It’s not that there was a problem with them, but like a mobile that you are comfortable with, the world beyond has moved on with additional functionality and power. 


Textile was everywhere. Some was about substituting lightweight recyclable polyester for non sustainable PVC materials, more was about the opportunities of printing the stuff which is turned into home decor, curtains, cushions and upholstery. Your Print Specialists displayed a chair with an almost punk union jack design as its upholstery which could not have been produced in any other way than with digital print. 



CMYUK went a step further and imported a fabric designer and upholsterer to work on the stand. The designs seen on screen were printed on a Mimaki and used to create new chairs by renovation specialist Phil Rothwell. The package to do this, sans craftsman, comes in around £50,000. What it does not include is the contacts willing to buy this type of print. That requires marketing.


Mimaki’s for fabric printing were everywhere, pointing to a leadership position at least at this point in the market. The company itself, though UK distributor Hybrid Services, also had the small UV flatbed machines that are used for printing phone cases, pens, bottles and any number of small items that need a logo, name or branding message. 


It also had a 3D printer on hand, not for delivering saleable figurines or to fashion prototype parts which is the expected output of a 3D machine, but to create the jigs so that the UJV printer can get to work almost immediately rather than having to wait until a jog for a new model of phone is introduced by the supplier. 



This give away gift market is growing almost as quickly as textiles for home decor, both a long way from retail graphics, window displays and free standing display units even if the technology supplier is the same.


This creates an interesting conundrum for show organiser Faversham House. The sign element is well absorbed into Sign & Digital even if there is little crossover between the specialist sign maker and the display printer. Perhaps home furnishings and interiors will move in the same direction, attracting a new audience to the NEC to look at the same technology that the existing audience is looking at. Is it time for Sign & Digital & Décor anyone?


Gareth Ward is editor and publisher of Print Business magazine.