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Expert’s Guide to FESPA 2015

A wide-format printer’s guide to the triannual show, which comes to Cologne this month with a new focus on diversification and the increasingly blurred lines of print sectors.



With transport becoming easier from most parts of the globe, and despite competitive events such as ISA and SGIA Expo taking place in the US, the expectations of a strong FESPA international audience are high for this year’s show.

It was to FESPA’s good fortune that the introduction of digital technology into the mainstream came at a time when the association’s concentration on screen printing was, by the nature of the beast, being challenged by innovative processes. The exponential growth of digital technology means it has now overtaken the analog element of the exhibition. It has, in fact, even become a strong enough influence to warrant a show of its own in the FESPA Digital series that started in Amsterdam in 2006 and dovetails neatly into the framework of the main show.

The timing of FESPA’s events increasingly brushes against shows such as drupa, which is now shifting to a three- instead of a four-year cycle. Yet Cologne, the latest venue, retains the emphasis on Germany as a strong choice of venue and, to date, FESPA expects 700 exhibitors at the five-day event. The international appeal of FESPA exhibitions spreads its tentacles far and wide, with evident emphasis on emerging markets as well as those that are ever becoming more advanced in the technologies they employ. There has been significant growth in shows designed for specific nations but, for more established demographics, its overall attraction has continued to draw international exhibitors and visitors.

FESPA 2015’s focus on the continued evolution of travel and exploration is reflected in their suggestion that print businesses should broaden their horizons. To this end, FESPA attendees should welcome the addition of Printeriors, which is focused on interior design applications – one of the fastest growing sectors for those already immersed in wide-format processes.

The organic crossover in the three key areas of FESPA Screen, FESPA Digital, and FESPA Fabric acknowledges that visitors cannot and should not be compartmentalized and that exhibitors, too, should be aware that there aren’t always clear divisions between processes and how end results are achieved. Structuring an exhibition into clear zones doesn’t mean one element is divorced from the others. Instead, navigation is organized to ensure that borders between technologies don’t exist.

The emphasis is currently on improving techniques and technologies that are already out there, so expect technological improvements this year, rather than jaw-dropping innovations. In terms of evolution, the growth of LED curing in UV-curable print devices looks set to continue and will certainly step up in popularity as the use of mercury is increasingly frowned upon, even in industrial environments. This is particularly relevant for users wanting to lower energy consumption and work toward more environmentally friendly practices.


With high speeds always apparent on the agenda, there are top-end digital engines that have the added benefit of being able to cater to short to medium volumes, as well as various levels of customization, versioning, and full VDP. Automation is becoming a feature here, too, both to minimize manual sheet handling and add to overall throughput rates. At the other end of the scale, single-pass arrays are now being promoted into the market for volume jobs, particularly for those where long-term durability isn’t an issue and where aqueous-based inks still serve a very valuable purpose. We’re also seeing faster speeds in the eco-solvent arena that continue to challenge latex chemistries on gamut and quality, and certainly shows no sign of diminishing in popularity for a mass of sign and display production.

Textiles, too, continue to be promised their own growth path in the soft signage and interior décor segments, with options available that cover entry-level right through to industrial strength machines. These are boosted by a growth in popularity for direct-to-garment technologies and, while the latter is already using pigmented inks to broaden fabric choice, new formulations are likely to be making an appearance at FESPA to bring the same options to display producers.

One of the key trends becoming increasingly important to print service providers of all sizes is that of efficiency in production operations. The move to integration has been driven partly by the need for greater reliability and automation, but JDF compliance and overall accountability are also becoming vital components for businesses wanting to increase their margins. The strength of a good digital front-end is reflected in its ability to knit together all workflow elements, and FESPA is certain to yield the myriad different options now on offer.

Neil Felton, CEO of FESPA, is unequivocal about the value of the association’s event across the world. The American input both in visitor and exhibitor terms is an important inclusion that adds to the overall value of the shows. “In an international culture, there is not only a divide between East and West but, also, between different western nations, and this is demonstrated clearly by the knowledge bases and purchasing patterns we see in different countries across continents,” he says. “The event’s global focus as a launch platform for many manufacturers is also a valuable benefit for the American market. This, along with the sheer breadth of international exhibitors, provides an important point-of-difference that can’t be emulated in a national show.



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