An Interview with Frank Romano


Re-published with permission from Drupa. //

“The internet is both a competitor to print and an enabler of print.”—Frank Romano* // 

You have been well-known as a specialist in the strategic analysis of the digital printing business since the dawn of professional technology for higher print runs. How would you assess the development of digital print from the first systems, such as Indigo machines (sold in double packages in the early ‘90s) and Chromapress-Systems, through to today’s Xerox iGen4, HP Indigo- Systems, Kodak Nexpress, Xeikon and Canon machines, etc.?

It took several years for the early digital color printers to meet their promise. From 1993 to 2000, growth was slow – but after 2000, the machines, market, and applications matured and growth has been extraordinary since. Additionally, the industry has made significant progress in digital color printing from its introduction in 1993. Speed, size, capability and quality have increased markedly, and digital printing now represents about 15 per cent of all printing carried out around the world (mostly toner and inkjet). With digital machines getting faster, more efficient and delivering ever-higher quality, we expect to see even more digital printers by 2012 and digital printing volume to continue growing accordingly.

Drupa 2008 was also referred to as “Inkjet Drupa”. New technology from Kodak, Océ and HP showed the strength of inkjet technology. How do you evaluate the potential of inkjet in terms of speed, quality and format?

It really was the “Inkjet Drupa”, and Drupa 2012 will be the inkjet drupa on steroids. There will be no other technology that will get more attention than inkjet at Drupa 2012. I have been to nine Drupas, and each has been based on a dominant technology. Every aspect of inkjet – speed, quality and format – will see significant leaps in performance. Although it took more than 40 years to get to this point, inkjet now has all of the requisite characteristics for production. I believe inkjet will be the technology of the future, and envisage this will be highlighted at Drupa 2012, where printers will buy a significant amount of inkjet equipment.

Do you think digital printing suppliers will one day take over the leadership in the graphic arts industry?
They already have. There are more digital printing suppliers than offset press manufacturers. Most new products are from digital printers, and most trade show space is now occupied by digital printing suppliers. And their representatives are now playing a larger role in trade associations and other organizations.

Are there still unknown companies – manufacturers and developers – that could help shape the future of digital printing?
Definitely. Within the next few years, we will see twice as many digital printing companies – from wide format to document, from inkjet to toner. Hope springs eternal and there are small and large companies developing new printing technology as we speak. One company has a system based on the principle of the failed Dicoweb, which can image offset cylinders directly. And many are applying OEM inkjet heads in innovative ways.

Personalized print products were predicted to be one of the fastestgrowing segments in the digital printing market. Do you think this has materialized?
Variable data printing is one of the most significant features of digital printing – yet it only accounts for about 10 per cent of digital printing, and digital printing itself accounts for approximately 15 per cent of all printing. So, as a percentage, the volume of variable data printing taking place is very low. However, I believe variable data printing has enormous potential and will eventually meet expectations. It has been held up by digital printing suppliers that had proprietary software, no real support for standards, and a lack of training for graphic designers. And marketers are only now discovering the power of database marketing. Suppliers have to develop new solutions and workflows that make variable data printing easier to use for designers.

Looking at e-books, Apple’s iPad, iPhone and other digital devices that allow people to be online wherever they are, do you think printing will ever be unnecessary?
Printing will always be necessary. The question is which printing we are talking about. Some printed products, like forms and encyclopedias, will go electronic. But others, like packaging and promotional collateral, will grow. Industrial printing will be a growth market. Printers must identify printed products that will not be converted to electronic form. The problem with e-books is they are too big. You can´t carry them around. I can read a newspaper and then throw it away, which is something you wouldn’t do with an e-book. We could use our PCs as an e-book, and if one has to decide between a laptop and an e-book, everyone would choose the PC because you can do more things with it, while an e-book is just for reading. And no, they will not have an effect on printing, there will be still printed books. And besides, the instructions for e-books are on paper!


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