Shanghai Sign Show – Big Event, Big UV, Big Changes

Tim Greene and Lior Meron
Jul 18, 2012

Last week several InfoTrends employees visited the Shanghai Sign Show so we wanted to provide a summary of the event in advance of our detailed show review just as we have with recent drupa coverage (http://store.infotrendsresearch.com/product_p/125310.htm).
For some of us it was the first time attending, others have been attending this Shanghai show for more than 10 years. There are four major impressions made on us here in Shanghai:

  • the show is huge
  • there are many more UV-curable printers than expected
  • there are huge changes taking place in the wide format market here in China that have implications for manufacturers around the world
  • there is an increasing focus on new markets such as textiles and ceramics.

This event is enormous. While the attendance is probably short of drupa there have been tens of thousands of people crowding into the Shanghai New International Expo Centre (although we understand that it is a little less than last year). The grounds are spread out like the drupa grounds and there are 14 halls between the sign show and the LED show that is running concurrently. If you have not been to this event but you are familiar with wide format shows in North America such as SGIA or ISA, this show is comparable to eight or even ten SGIA halls. Most of the global manufacturers of wide format digital printing equipment, supplies and software were there and, of course, there were hundreds of Chinese, Taiwanese, Indian, and other regional suppliers of inks, media, software and accessories. This is the biggest wide format show in Asia which is probably why Xaar chose this event to unveil its latest print heads last week.

While the booths at other wide format printing events are often enormous to fit in the equipment, here there are many halls and many of them have multiple huge booth spaces. Some of the Chinese manufacturers had booths in Hall 1 (the international hall) and in the other halls which were more for the domestic market.

One of the things that we heard over and over is that the domestic Chinese market is still growing. This is why the news http://www.infotrends.com/main/Content/News/2012/07/10/071012.2) of Franchise Services making strategic investments in the Chinese market is unsurprising.  The wide format system vendors reported that the Chinese market is making up an increasingly larger share of the shipment of wide format digital printers of all kinds, not just solvent. There were an amazing number of UV-curable inkjet printers at the show; we spoke with at least 30 vendors demonstrating wide format UV-curable inkjet printers.

Over the past several years many of the Chinese wide format printer manufacturers have started using higher-resolution print head technology mainly from Epson and Konica Minolta to better compete with global manufacturers from an image quality standpoint. The other big change that we heard from numerous vendors is that the Chinese market is developing an appetite for more robust wide format printers than domestic manufacturers have traditionally manufactured. Historically, many Chinese manufacturers sold low-end solvent inkjet printers that were inexpensive, but were not built to last. We believe this means there is a growing opportunity for global brands. In fact, some of the global manufacturers here in Shanghai have reported to us that China has been growing in importance for them. InfoTrends estimates over 40,000 wide format printers are manufactured in China annually, which is a major growth vs. 15,000 in 2008. Many of the Chinese manufacturers reported that they see this trend as well and are spending an increasing amount of time developing products that are more competitive with global suppliers in terms of both image quality and durability of the equipment.

The last big impression from the Shanghai show is that there are many vendors, including some of the biggest such as Universal, Fei Yeung, and Teckwin, that are very interested in the digital textile and ceramic printing markets and even are looking into inline solutions. For textiles the focus is on soft signage, the décor market, and garment printing. For ceramics the focus is on both flatbed units and in-line production. These textile and ceramic segments are also of high interest to many other global manufacturers which seem to have several years lead on the Chinese in terms of technology development.

In conclusion; wide format is a growing market with many opportunities although it appears that several Chinese manufacturers have more manufacturing capacity than needed. There is also more and more adoption of UV curable inkjet technology among Chinese manufacturers and end users. Many of the high-end Chinese products that in the past were targeting the global Western markets are now focused on the local Chinese market. Using the latest inkjet print head technology has
been a game-changer for Chinese manufacturers, enabling much greater image quality that we ever saw before from these suppliers. Finally, the build quality of some leading Chinese manufacturers has greatly improved which actually may enable them to compete in global markets with Chinese domestic manufactured products.

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