This week McCormick Place in Chicago is hosting GraphExpo, one of the largest trade shows in the world focusing on graphic arts, printing and mailing. Hundreds of vendors are presenting their latest solutions and displaying their vision for the industry as a whole.
As a trade show attendee, I was excited to see the amazing technology being put to use in the graphic arts, printing and mailing industries. But at the same time, I was struck with the contrast between previous GraphExpo shows and this year’s event.
In recent memory, companies such as Heidelberg and Agfa dominated the show — taking up thousands (if not tens of thousands) of square feet. Prepress vendors were demonstrating imagesetters followed by platesetters. Offset and web press manufacturers were flying through thousands of pounds of paper – printing amazing quality images one after another on hundred foot long presses. The trade show floor was reverberating with the tons of heavy medal equipment in operation. And attendees were mesmerized by it all — gobbling up huge press sheets full of colorful photos and perfect dot patterns to hang on their walls and share with their colleagues back at home.
This year’s show was no less exciting. Companies such as Canon and Konica Minolta dominated the show — with booths that could fit inside corners of Heidelberg booths from years past. “Prepress” vendors were demonstrating software solutions that managed data and enabled personalization. Digital press manufacturers were still flying through paper – but now EVERY image and EVERY page was unique. “Presses” have been replaced with inkjet and laser technology – some still a hundred foot long, but most not much longer than a production copy machine. The trade show floor was QUIET. The equipment was still running, but the cacophony was dramatically reduced. And attendees were mesmerized by it all — gobbling up individual pages of personalized communications to share with their colleagues back at home. They were no longer enamored with “perfect” color, screen resolutions and dot sizes. They were looking for the best way to print VARIABLE DATA at high speed and a competitive price even if that meant a slight reduction in quality from the big iron presses of yesteryear.
I was struck by the shock on our production coordinator’s face when he was listening to software and data presentations while searching for the mechanical equipment he tweaked and maintained since his youth. Gone are the days of changing gears and chains — replaced by the need to manipulate logic controllers and firmware. On the entire McCormick place floor, I was only able to find ONE traditional printing press. One. And I couldn’t even imagine who would be buying it.
But for a techie like me, it’s so EXCITING to imagine the possibilities for marketing professionals in the years to come. Throw out everything you knew about print – not because print is dead, but because it’s ALIVE. It’s organic. It’s personal. I dare say, it’s even green. And it’s changing with the times.