Beyond CMYK: The Digital Print Enhancement Opportunity

Jim Hamilton
May 30, 2017

I love print. I particularly love it when it knocks my socks off. I’m a fool for gloss varnishes, metallic foils, velvet finishes, neon colors, and lenticular images. You get the picture. I’m also a huge digital print advocate. Yet much of production color digital print is process color only. Cyan, magenta, yellow, and black are great, and they are perfect for a lot of work, but sometimes I yearn for more. Maybe it’s that I’ve been spoiled by all the fantastic capabilities of offset print.

CMYKplus collage

InfoTrends estimates that 30% of offset printed color pages have some type of enhancement beyond the four process colors. I often refer to this as “CMYK+.” CMYK+ may be a spot or flood coat, a Pantone color, a metallic gold or silver ink, opaque white, or a range of other value-add special effects. Sometimes print will even use a combination of two or more special effects. All in all, this amounts to more than a trillion color offset pages that have some type of an enhancement beyond process color in promotional document applications. How many digital pages have such special effects? A small fraction, less than 3% of the total production color digital print pages.

Some of the CMYK+ digital print pages are done in-line with systems that have an extra imaging station in addition to cyan, magenta, yellow, and black. HP Indigo, Kodak NexPress, and Xeikon were some of the earliest system providers to offer digital enhancements beyond CMYK, but others have come to the market with such features more recently including systems from companies like Fuji Xerox, Oki Data, Ricoh, RISO, and Xerox. There are also off-line digital enhancement systems from companies like Konica Minolta, MGI, Scodix, and Steinemann that use UV inkjet to produce spot gloss, dimensional, foil, and other effects. Yet today, the digital print enhancement market (both in-line and off-line) only amounts to about nine billion pages annually. That may seem like a lot, but it’s just a tiny sliver compared to the total 1.8 trillion print-enhanced color pages produced each year. The conclusion is pretty clear. There is a significant growth opportunity for digital print enhancement processes.

One of the reasons for this opportunity is simply to add value to digital print pages, but there is an interesting synergy between digital print and CMYK+ special effects. First off, CMYK+ allows high-value effects to be done affordably in shorter runs and with quicker turnarounds than with conventional methods. The personalization capabilities of digital print also make it possible not only to add the special effect, but also to make each and every printed piece unique.

To explore the size, scope, and growth prospects for digital print enhancement, InfoTrends conducted a market study last year called “Beyond CMYK: The Use of Special Effects in Digital Printing.” This study includes a forecast plus research that was conducted with three key groups: print service providers, print customers, and system vendors. We also created a tool to help calculate return on investment (ROI). The result, we believe, is the first comprehensive look into the size and potential of the digital print enhancement market.

Here’s a look at the samples we showed to the print customers in the study:

CMYK plus study samples

From our interviews with more than 100 print customers we come away convinced that there is an appetite and a willingness to pay a premium for these special effects. Print customers indicated that they are willing to pay a premium of 24% to 89% over CMYK only for digital print enhancements. They also said that these special effects could apply to a significant amount of their work. Spot colors (58%) and spot/flood coatings (38%) were at the top of the list. Brochures and other marketing materials were the most commonly mentioned applications that could benefit from these special effects. It is clear that some of these special effects apply to a wider range of applications than others, and some special effects are likely to garner larger premiums than others, but all in all we see a strong opportunity for print service providers.

If you are interested in learning more about this study, please don’t hesitate to contact me. Also, if you’d like to see some of these special effects in action you should have a look at my YouTube channel. It contains many videos, including some that address CMYK+ special effects.

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