Tomorrow's World

What does the metaverse mean for printers?

by FESPA Staff | 16/12/2022
What does the metaverse mean for printers?

We look at the newly named ‘metaverse’ and see how the burgeoning digital landscape could offer opportunities rather than concerns for printers.

Around this time every winter, the world’s greatest English language dictionary makers reveal what their words of the year are. For 2022, Merriam-Webster announced ‘gaslighting’ was their word of the year. Collins opted for ‘permacrisis’. But history may look back and judge that these organisations missed something quite obvious. Over the last 12 months one term has emerged that could essentially end up naming our entire era. Welcome to our new reality – the age of the metaverse.

Is ‘meta’ better?

As a word itself, ‘metaverse’ sounds overwhelming, comprehensive and perhaps worryingly remote and impersonal. The term is also not particularly helped by the fact the idea of the metaverse and an official rebranding to the name ‘Meta’ has been adopted by the company formerly known as Facebook, at precisely the time when public trust in it and social media generally is probably at its lowest since the dawn of the internet.

However, the ‘metaverse’ doesn’t have to be a scary concept, conjuring up images of a post-apocalyptic dystopia. In fact, in many ways, we are all benignly interacting with the metaverse every day. 

The metaverse is simply the digital realm where you exist and function beyond the physical world. When you post on social media, that’s the metaverse in action. When you have a video call, that’s the metaverse. When you play an online game, that’s the metaverse. When you use augmented reality on your phone to see how a new table would look in your room or to find out which airline is flying over your head, those are all metaverse interactions.

Reality made digital

In the case of the print industry, embracing the full potential of the metaverse creates many new opportunities.  Of course, you probably already have meetings over Zoom or Teams, but that’s just the beginning. 

We recently wrote about Matterport’s technology which offers full 3D scanning of rooms and buildings to create highly-accurate digital twins – something that could prove highly useful for interior décor printers. The same technology can even be used by printers themselves to give prospective clients a virtual tour of their own production facilities. 

But what about if your production facilities are changing and you’re planning to buy new machinery? How big is it? What are its dimensions? How can you visualise it fitting on your shop floor? Metaverse-driven augmented reality offers you the ability to answer those questions simply and easily by ‘seeing’ the new machine in situ. 

Repair or maintenance sequences can be conducted with pinpoint accuracy by staff on site, to get production up and running quickly

The next stage will be, when that new machine breaks down, that you won’t need to wait for an engineer. With remote viewing through technology such as Microsoft’s HoloLens holographic headsets, repair or maintenance sequences can be conducted with pinpoint accuracy by staff on site, to get production up and running quickly.

Even when it comes to production, there’s the growing realisation that retailers won’t simply stick with the benefits of digital sampling and quick-to-market short runs currently in vogue. Thanks to 2D design and 3D visualisation technology such as that provided Optitex, in time purchasers will be able to specify their product to their exact personal demands and dimensions, thoroughly examine a virtual representation of it, and then have it made for them. Again, that is all thanks to the metaverse.

New approaches

The technology is one thing, but to fully maximise its potential requires a new approach psychologically. In our interview with print-trade innovator Mark Coudray, he explained that this new era, where concepts such as the metaverse, the Internet of Things (IoT), augmented reality and artificial intelligence requires a paradigm shift in what printers are.

“What’s happening is that the vast majority of people in the graphics space don’t understand the full significance of what’s happening. They understand that their core business is communication, through graphic means. Of course, graphic communication could be through print, but it could also be through photography, video, television, the web, it could be any one of a number of things. As printers, we have gone from being ink on paper, or ink on fabric, or ink on whatever, to being graphic communicators,” Mark says.

Printers are perfectly placed to be these communicators who connect the reality of material goods with the virtual world. For example, not only do printers have a hand in making the tailored products but with the use of, say, printed QR codes on packaging, printers also offer the specific gateways into any brand’s own particular area of the metaverse.

For marketers, everything which can be personalised online can now be personalised in print

You might have even come across the most recent stage of this technology, where it’s not unsightly blocky black squares that open a portal to a particular part of the virtual world, but simply pointing your phone’s camera at a magazine advert or brochure automatically generates a video or some other internet-based content. For print companies, similar technology could turn printed documents into portals that allow interaction with charts and graphs. 

Reality to metaverse to reality

And it works both ways. For example, a true back-and-forth, reality-to-metaverse-to-reality relationship that is facilitated by print can be seen in technology such as Canon’s ‘Programmatic Print’ and the Royal Mail’s ‘Programmatic Mail’, which offer highly-personalised physical world marketing campaigns based on metaverse interactions.

“Thanks to advances in digital printing technology, in web-to-print and automated production workflows, real-time marketing is no longer limited to online tools such as pop-up ads, banners and emails. For marketers this means that everything which can be personalised online can now be personalised in print,” Canon says.

“The best way to explain Programmatic Mail is through a step-by-step hypothetical scenario. A customer who has already given contact permissions visits a web page and interacts with the site; the action triggers an immediate, targeted Programmatic Mail response, based on their browsing behaviour; a pre-designed, personalised communication lands on the customer’s doorstep within a 48-hour period.”

Canon believes the impact of Programmatic Print could be huge: “It opens up opportunities for marketers and print service providers to collaborate on multi-channel campaigns that combine all the advantages of print with those of digitalisation — such as the ability to instantly address consumers with personalised content tailored precisely to their profile.”

The history of printing is a long and proud one, and we would never want to divorce the industry from the inherent craftsmanship that it is founded on. However, just as print has survived other revolutions in communication technology – radio, television and the early days of the internet – this progression to the metaverse shouldn’t be seen as a question of whether print will survive. Rather, it offers countless opportunities for print to thrive. 

by FESPA Staff Back to News

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