For the INKISH NON-EVENT ’22, we asked Pat McGrew to talk to editors from around the world to get their perspective on the future of print. You’ll hear Tony Curcio from Graphic Arts Magazine in Canada – great insights and perfect questions from Pat McGrew.


Pat: Hi, I’m Pat McGrew, and I am with McGrew Group. I’m here for INKISH. We are talking about predictions today. Tony Curio is with me, and Tony is from Canada. So I know he’s going to be very polite, but Tony, before we talk about the future and what’s going to happen, you’ve got one of the more exciting backgrounds of someone in trade media in our industry.

So can you share a little bit about that?

Tony: Yes. Thank you very much for the offer. I appreciate it. I started in journalism and worked for the Toronto Star for 20. In their communications department. After that, I went out on my own and did freelance work. About 12, 15 years ago, I joined Graphic Arts Magazine, of which I am currently the editor.

And we’re a trade magazine that monitors the printing industry. We’ve been around for over 25 years that, that type of thing. I have been around the block a bit. On the first day on the job, I witnessed a group of older men setting hot metal type for the next edition of Canada’s largest newspaper, the Toronto Star.

Go back pretty far away. Thank you again for this opportunity. I just wanted to warn your audience that I’ve made two predictions. One was that the Toronto Blue Jays would be in the World Series. That didn’t quite work out. And the other one was back in 1967 when the Toronto Maple Leafs won the Stanley Cup; I said they would be a dynasty.

I’m still waiting 55 years later for the next win, so I may or may not live that long.

Pat: So we’re not going to hold you to predictions.

Tony: Oh, good.

That, thank goodness.

Pat: We would like to start with what you think the biggest story and graphic arts printing is for the near term because you’re bringing your experience to this question.

You’ve seen a lot. Again, we’re not going to hold you to it, but what do you think the biggest story is coming up?

Right now there are really two right now. Obviously, it’s a supply chain crisis, and this has its own set of variables. They’re really complex. The cost of a shipping container, the people working are still sequestered with Covid 19, and the people are working at the docks the backlog.

That, I don’t think, is going to work itself out until late next year. I would say 2023. So the big story, I believe shortly, will be the rise of an inkjet print. I looked at a study by Smithers; just glancing at it now, worldwide inkjet is worth about 80 to 87 billion. They expect this to rise to just under 130 billion by 2020.

Now inkjets are established in many lower-run applications, but faster presses mean that it will be more cost competitive for longer runs. The greatest expansion is predicted in packaging applications with installations of presses that are now dedicated to corrugated cardboard flexible substrates.

Inkjet is also broadening its growth, and it’s getting really sophisticated and being used in books, catalogs, and magazines. All this being said, I think inkjet will chip away gradually at the toner-based market. I don’t think it’ll affect larger equipment manufacturers like Xeikons. So I think the rise of inkjet will be the, will be the big story for smaller home printers.

I think it’ll still be toner-based, but I think inkjet is going to be the big story for medium and small printers, and it’ll continue strong.

So you’ve picked up on my next question, which is the value proposition for digital. In the graphic arts print industry, many people who’ve never considered digital before move into or add digital print to augment their existing Offset.

And litho and flexo print technologies. What happens going forward? Do we see more digital printing? Do we see more consolidation in that piece? Will new players bring new digital print equipment into the market?

Tony: I think digital will keep growing.

It will continue to attract a small portion of the offset market. The Offset is still huge. It will stay that way and retain its volumes for the longer run. Most of the medium and small printers I talked to right now are a little hesitant to invest in expensive offset equipment, and they farm most of those jobs out to trade printers or existing offset print.

The trade printers especially, I think, will continue to grow because they have both digital and offset printers. But also on the horizon. I think there are going to be two challenges that emerge for printers regarding digital. First is going to be, I believe, Now we have to continue our efforts to attract younger people.

And I’ve talked to several print shop owners, and they’re having a heck of a time getting skilled people to come in and stop, start running from day one. We’ve got to make sure that we attract younger talent. We don’t want this to sound like an assembly line job. We’ve got to make it an attractive creative job.

But I’ll tell you the one bright light in this for me. I attended a couple of awards presentations at Metropolitan University in Toronto, formerly Ryerson, and I have to say over 70%. The Graphic communications management course we’re women. I think that’s excellent news for our industry, and I think that’s where a lot of them will come from.

The other challenge, I believe, Is going to be maintaining existing digital equipment and older digital equipment. I think printers are still hesitant to invest in even new digital equipment because of the after-effects of the pandemic. Most I’ve spoken to have that mindset, but they’re still going to keep an open mind about it, and they’re still going to invest.

Regarding consolidations, I don’t want to sound too much of a liberal socialist, but it’s a double-edged sword in our industry. I don’t mind seeing a pre-press shop be bought out by a printer or vice versa or whatever. I’m always suspicious of a capital corporation buying a printing company, which has happened to a few major OEMs in recent years.

Only. Pat, they don’t have the passion for printing that we do. They don’t have it—everything’s bottom line. And look, that’s fine. Hopefully, it’ll work. Hopefully, things will get better, and there won’t be many layoffs, but consolidations will continue as we move forward.

Whether that’s a good thing or not remains to be seen, but I think the near term for digital is very promising as long as the printers can access skilled talent so that they can come in and they don’t have to spend two or three weeks. I know of one local printer here; it took him almost a month to get press operators and people that could just come in and start working the next day.

So that’s a challenge. But I think it. I think digital is the future, just as inkjet is, and it’ll gradually chip away at the toner market but not influence a larger toner press manufacturer.

Pat: So, with that said, we have a big show coming up in 2024 Drupa. We didn’t get to do the one in 2020.

For years it was the Mecca for offset and flexo printers, and then it became the home of all digital printers. But I’ve heard some people questioning whether such a large show is even relevant any longer. What are your thoughts on that? Do we need one big global trade show for everybody, or are those days gone?

Tony: That’s a tough question because it’s so hard to know what the landscape will look like two years ago; I’ve always trusted German ingenuity and technology. So I think it’s still going to be relevant. The main reason is the majority of printing worldwide. By far, it’s still offset.

Okay. Digital, especially large format, printing embellishment, and packaging, those three, I think, are really going to hit the market drupa. So I think drupa will be relevant because of that. Also, I mentioned earlier that the inkjet, we’ll see prices fall, and print embellishment will allow further diversification in sections such as home decor, transportation, garments, et cetera, and the market will benefit.

Technological advancements enable inkjet and other printers to print on standard substrates with a quality that’s really; they always say quote approaching, offset. So I think Drupa will remain relevant. And the other reason I think it will is that we already have many particular, regional, and localized shows.

For the smaller guys that won’t be able to make it to drupa. Sure. The big trade printers and other people they’ll go there. But I think Drupa will remain highly relevant, and I expect to see more in the realm of packaging embellishment and large format in the digital, and the Offset guys will be there with be on for sure.

Pat: I love it. I like drupa.

Tony: Yeah.

Pat: So let’s do a left turn. Yep. Sustainability seems to be on every print manufacturer’s lips, whether you’re the printer, the printing company, producing print, or the vendor selling the hardware and the software into the space. Everybody wants a sustainability story. Is there an impact there?

Is sustainability something that is impacting how printing companies are making print hardware and software purchase decisions?

Tony: I think, I think it still is, and I, the reason being, for me personally, it’s not that, it’s not that high on my priority list. So I thought, okay am I being, am I being too old fashioned?

So I went, and I discovered a few things. Most of us know that Roto litho screen printing and offset create the most ways. Okay? Those four, but digital printing and now flexography, allowed us to use more sustainable, more recyclable materials. So what that means is packaging will be more sustainable.

It’ll be smart packaging, but it’ll also be more sustainable. So I wanted to check on the figures. So I went online, and for us older guys, baby boomers, about 57% of us think sustainability is important. A recent poll in the US, actually one I believe done in March of 2021, showed that 75% of millennials, 75%, and three-quarters of them feel concerned about sustainability, and they will base their buying decisions on that. When you go further up the age ladder, 63% of Gen Z, 64% of Gen X, and again, 57% of baby boomers. I think this is important. So I think it’ll keep its place. Now that being said, the problem I see, the problem I’ve seen with printers is that, sure, they can buy paper, and it’s got the beautiful FSC-certified logo on that.

But they have to tell their client they have to, they’re, printers are very humble people, but they have to brag about it. They have to boast about it and say, you know what? We’re not polluters. And guess what? The electronic device you hold right now will be more of a polluter than any amount of printing I can produce because I use A, B, C, and D. And I think that’ll be important, and that’s very important to the younger print buyers. As far as the, as far as the print shop, it’s going to be a challenge if you’re an Offset screen printing roto or litho, it’s going to be challenging, but, you do the best you can because those are, you’ve got, For example, in Offset, you’ve got printing blankets.

There’s a company in Vancouver here that can restore those, and you can use a printing blanket 12 times more than you usually do before you throw them out. I remember doing articles for a printer just outside of. Toronto here, that trade printer that claimed they saved enough plates from encircling the earth with it.

I don’t know if that’s true or not, but it’s okay to bose, but make sure that the younger generation especially knows that you’re with it, that you’re sustainable, and that your products are not going to pollute because that is not right—three-quarters of millennials.

Pat: Yep. So, it’s definitely a story. No doubt about it. Absolutely. Tony, the last question I have for you, so graphic arts printers, is that there is a certain kind of animal, but there’s a lot of variation in that animal, right? Lots of different That’s right. Lots of different stripes and spots. So what should they be watching?

Should they be looking at new analog equipment? We know that you get a little bit more waste there than you do at digital. Yeah. Or should they be looking at new digital? Should they be looking at some of the hybrid machines? Should what should they be looking at?

Tony: I have always favored the hybrid machines because they’re so much more flexible, but I think.

I think the biggest, there will be so much new equipment coming out over the next two years, and the hybrids will have more of a place in the upper echelon. And the equipment manufacturers look, the OEMs, I have to hand it to ’em. They come out with so much new stuff; they keep me going. Every week I get something new, something. But I think, what if I, okay, if I was a midsize or a small printer, here’s what I would think about. I would think about customized workflow automation software because running a printing establishment becomes much more complex as these new machines become more complex.

I came across a stunning figure of the 300,000 workflow systems installed in print shops globally 300,000. About only about 10% of them have a significant amount of significant, what you call customization. Now I know printers in the past have. Workflow software and said, here it is.

But now, this older software has become more or less cookie-cutter, and there are so many things that workflow automation can do in a print shop. Now I’m talking about MIS management information systems. So with the influx of these hybrid presses, even the digital presses are becoming more sophisticated; workflow automation will become much more critical. And I’ve seen instances where this customized automation has reduced labor costs by over 50%. Instead of putting through 10 or 15 jobs daily, the shop puts through 30 or 40. There’s less human error and fewer human touchpoints. So I agree with you; they look out for the hybrid.

And they’re not going to make a huge purchase, and they still farm their Offset out. Check out workflow automation and if there may be a learning curve for your staff. But I have to tell you, I’ve seen companies work out hundreds of thousands of dollars for the latest workflow automation, have it customized, and right now, they’re glad they did.

Pat: I think the people who survived the pandemic shutdowns the best were those with workflow automation already in play. Because they didn’t have to worry about sending people home, they could still operate.

Tony: That’s exactly. And they connect; the connectivity inherent in what you just said is very important. Everything’s mobile now. I’ve been on the bus seeing people, hooked up to work, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. I think that’ll be important.

Pat: Tony, you have been all I could hope for in an interviewee.

Thank you so much for taking the time to spend it with us; hopefully, we’ll be able to do this again.

We will end our little conversation here, but thanks so much for spending some time with us, Tony.

I’m Pat McGrew, and this has been for INKISH.TV.

Tony: Thank you.