Digital Printing

Innovative business models in speciality printing

by Mark Coudray | 05/03/2024
Innovative business models in speciality printing

Mark Coudray discusses the ongoing challenges around competitive pressures faced in the graphics industry. Mark shares the different business models that can be found regarding speciality printing.

This article introduces the building blocks and strategies of applied innovation as a viable approach to differentiation and competitive uniqueness.

All sectors face significant challenges due to commoditization driven by competitive comparison pricing (bid and RFPs) that minimize profitability at the expense of winning the work.

Digital print standardization has led to further pricing pressures and diminished differentiation. This is compounded by the relative low cost and ease of entry at the lower end markets. Examples include the rapid rise of DTF and UV DTF as a short run full color alternative to DTG and screen print.

Considering all this, innovation strategy emerges as a consideration for businesses to maintain competitiveness. Innovation allows companies to differentiate themselves in a crowded market and enables them to evolve driven by customer demands to stay ahead of the curve.

The screen printing market has witnessed shifting trends in demand and supply dynamics. Traditional applications such as apparel, signage, and promotional products continue to form the backbone of the industry.

There is a noticeable increase in demand for specialized hybrid applications such as personalized merchandise, limited edition prints, functional imaging and niche market segments like artisanal crafts and boutique fashion clothing lines. These trends reflect evolving consumer preferences towards unique and customized products, and industrial applications that present opportunities to diversify offerings.

Despite the demand for customization and niche products, the screen printing market faces significant pricing pressures due to commoditization. With the rise of printing technologies and  Print on Demand (POD) online marketplaces, customers have access to a wide array of options, leading to intensified price competition. This is global in nature compared to just regional pressures.

The perception of screen printing as a cost-effective solution has led to downward pressure on margins, challenging businesses to find innovative ways to maintain profitability while delivering value to customers.

The wide-format printing market exhibits diverse segmentation, catering to various industries and applications. The diverse spectrum of products and services present each segment with unique requirements in terms of size, materials, print techniques, and application methods. This naturally drives demand for specialized solutions tailored to specific customer uses.

Competitors are a diverse mix of traditional & digital print providers, niche specialists, and market brokers (specialty products, marketing & advertising agencies.) There is increasing pressure to offer faster turn times and greater flexibility in handling short print runs.

Differentiation by innovation is driven by deeper analysis of customer behavior, market data, and more comprehensive understanding of end use. This includes consideration of collateral services and products like online stores & portals, fulfillment, and kitting.

Exploring Niche Markets

Responding to price pressures, businesses are increasingly turning to niche markets based on unmet needs. Identifying neglected segments such as specialized apparel or themed event merchandise, companies can develop uniqueness and command premium pricing. Niche markets offer opportunities for innovation and creativity, allowing businesses to tailor their products and services to cater to specific demographics or interests.

Emerging Technologies

The rapid advancement of technology presents opportunities for innovation in specialty printing. Embracing emerging technologies such as augmented reality (AR), additive manufacturing (3D printing), wearable electronics, or conductive inks, businesses can unlock new possibilities for product differentiation and customization.

For instance, integrating AR experiences into printed materials can enhance interactivity and engagement, while 3D printing enables the production of intricate prototypes and customized objects. By tracking emerging tech developments and investing in R&D, companies can be seen as industry leaders. This is especially true with the use of generative AI for the creation of automations, chatbots, and generative art creation.

Customization and Personalization

In an era of mass customization, consumers increasingly expect personalized experiences and products tailored to their individual preferences. Specialty printing capitalizes on this trend by offering customizable solutions that allow customers to design and personalize their printed materials. Whether it's personalized apparel, customized merchandise, or bespoke packaging, providing flexible and user-friendly customization options can enhance customer satisfaction and loyalty.

Utilizing Variable Data Printing Techniques

Variable data printing (VDP) has been around for a long time, but is largely under utilized. It enables businesses to customize printed materials at the individual level with unique content, such as names, addresses, or images, based on individual customer data.

VDP represents huge opportunities with significant capacity to expand. Companies can create highly targeted and personalized marketing collateral, direct mail campaigns, or promotional materials. This level of personalization not only enhances the effectiveness of marketing efforts but also adds value for customers by delivering relevant and meaningful content.

Adopting Eco-friendly Practices

Increasing awareness of environmental, climate, and energy use issues are driving sustainable products and practices. Specialty printing companies can demonstrate their commitment to sustainability by adopting eco-friendly materials, processes, and methods. This may include using recycled or biodegradable substrates, minimizing waste through efficient production techniques, and reducing energy consumption through eco-friendly equipment and technologies.

In addition to adopting sustainable practices internally, businesses can also differentiate themselves by offering environmentally friendly printing solutions to their customers. This may involve promoting eco-friendly printing options, such as soy-based inks, water-based coatings, or carbon-neutral printing services. Aligning with consumer values and preferences can attract environmentally conscious customers and differentiate from competitors.

Implementing Automated Workflows

Automation plays a critical role in streamlining production processes and improving efficiency. The underlying factors to implement automations are to make it faster and easier to do business. Think of it as removing friction. Implementing automated workflows and digital production systems can reduce manual labor, minimize errors, and accelerate turnaround times. Consumers are expecting this now. Automated workflows enable seamless integration of design, prepress, printing, finishing processes, and fulfillment. This results in cost savings and enhanced productivity.

Investment in Digital Technologies

Investing in digital printing equipment AND software, specialty printing companies can expand their capabilities. This includes incorporating in-house coding.  This will allow a company to offer a wider range of unique services, and respond more quickly to customer demands. Digital printing also enables variable data printing, versioning, and customization. Again, allowing businesses to deliver personalized and targeted printed materials with precision and efficiency. AI driven automations, generative content, and art creation present significant opportunites to differentiate.

Key Strategies

1. Diversify product offerings through niche market exploration and leveraging emerging technologies to create unique and customized solutions.

2. Embracing customization and personalization by tailoring products to specific customer needs and utilizing variable data printing techniques to deliver personalized experiences.

3. Prioritizing sustainability initiatives by adopting eco-friendly practices internally and offering sustainable printing options to customers.

4. Undertaking digital transformation efforts by implementing automated workflows and investing in digital printing technologies to enhance efficiency and expand capabilities.


This article recognizes the essential importance of innovation in maintaining competitiveness and driving growth. Just incorporating innovative strategies may not be enough to position a company as an industry leader to attract new customers and foster long-term success.

It is imperative to embrace innovation and continually seek new ways to adapt.  In the next installment, I will explore the process of how to engineer differentiation into your business.

by Mark Coudray Back to News

Interested in joining our community?

Enquire today about joining your local FESPA Association or FESPA Direct

Enquire Today

Recent news

WrapFest returns to Silverstone amid vehicle customisation boom
Vehicle Wrapping

WrapFest returns to Silverstone amid vehicle customisation boom

WrapFest, the dedicated show for the vehicle and surface decoration community will return to the prestigious Silverstone Race Circuit this year, running from 3-4 October 2024.

Opportunities for large formt printers in labelling

Opportunities for large formt printers in labelling

Nessan Cleary shares how labelling can present a unique opportunity for large format print suppliers who are looking to grow and diversify their business.

9 lean manufacturing principles for Garment Decorators
Garment Printing

9 lean manufacturing principles for Garment Decorators

Marshall Atkinson share various lean manufacturing principles to help streamline operations, reduce waste increase productivity and lower your business's costs.

Are analytics services worthwhile for wide format printing?

Are analytics services worthwhile for wide format printing?

Nessan Cleary shares how press manufacturers are increasingly offering machine analytics services and shares if these are good value for money in the wide format sector.