by Cassandra Balentine
The photo industry has shifted almost immeasurably in the past 20 years. Companies have gotten creative with ways to take smartphone snaps and turn them into everything imaginable. For example, platforms like Chatbooks offer an easy way to turn Instagram and Facebook posts into little photobooks subscriptions that users can collect. Sincerely Ink is another ecommerce-based platform, this one focuses on sending cards to loved ones featuring images. It doesn’t stop there! Consumers also upload images to create funky socks via DivvyUp. The options are endless, and people are responding.
According to Verified Market Research the online photo printing market size was valued at 14.9 billion USD in 2021 and is projected to reach 24.5 billion USD by 2030, growing at a compound annual growth rate of 6.47 percent from 2022 to 2030. Digital printing technologies as well as finishing solutions and workflow tools help ensure profitability for both commercial and personal photo output.
Photo printing today is a lot different than it looked five years ago, never mind ten or 20. While major outlets like Shutterfly and even retailers like CVS and Walgreens are still relevant, the abundance of niche ecommerce options is impressive.
The photo printing market has long been an area of interest for HP Indigo, having directly contributed to the creation of the photobook printing segment. According to the company, today HP holds over 80 percent of the market share.
The recent COVID-19 crisis took its toll on the entire commercial printing industry, with the photo segment proving no exception. Despite this, Sima Toltzis Morad, global photo market development manager, HP Indigo, has seen a solid recovery, gradually returning to pre-COVID levels. “In our estimations, global trends will continue to fuel growth within this segment for the coming years.”
Driving the rise in personalized gifting culture, being driven by millennials, is a major global trend in photo printing. “Photo brands frequently look to avoid commoditization, create high-value photo applications, and differentiate themselves. Today, we see our customers producing a wider range of photo applications—from personalized decks of cards to gift box packed photos and personalized photo placemats. We also see our customers utilizing the capabilities of HP Indigo presses for a broader range of photo applications, as well as utilizing the HD abilities for higher print quality, extra smoothness, and sharpness results. This invariably leads to growth in both photo printing and the merchandise market,” exclaims Morad.
Social media platforms such as Facebook and Instagram have been successful in the promotion of ecommerce-driven photo products, notes Al Scolari, president/CEO, APS Imaging Solutions, Inc.
On top of this, there is a major trend towards the simplification of custom interface. “Many photo brands consider simplicity to be a competitive advantage and invest in easy to use creation tools, such as artificial intelligence (AI) and smartphone-based tools, making customized photobook and photo application creations easier than ever. Companies like CEWE, My Social Book, Zapptales, and Journi are examples of companies that suitably demonstrate this trend,” says Morad.
Another key driver for growth within the photo printing segment is the rise, growth, and expansion of many photo print networks, such as Chatbooks, Mixtiles, and PastBook. These companies offer unique value propositions, which together with simple creation tools, drives volume to HP Indigo users across the globe, shares Morad.
Along with all of this ecommerce growth, same-day delivery is becoming a standard requirement in the photo market segment, with print service providers constantly searching for a reduction in delivery time solutions. “In that regard we identify extensive usage in automatic inspection systems, such as the Auto Alert Agent, which automatically detects production defects and speeds up quality assurance,” explains Morad. “We steadfastly support HP Indigo customers with workflow automation, production automation, and advanced finishing, resulting in a reduction in delivery times.”
Scolari says that today, more companies offering on demand printing solutions and the overall photo quality of the printers have improved significantly over the years. The fact that these printers can print on a variety of surfaces and substrates have improved in the product offering to choose from as well as easy-to-use software solutions to enhance the production and layouts of book projects.
We can’t forget the growing demand towards more sustainable products and solutions. “We can undoubtedly see that impetus within the media, but also within the production environment with a noticeable trend in more sustainable production methods, while abandoning traditional production methods, such as silver halide,” says Morad.
Advanced finishing is another important aspect of digital photo product production. Sophisticated workflows and automation tools drive improvements in digital photo finishing.
Robust workflow tools are required that work across the entire production process from job creating to finishing and inspection and finishing. This is especially relevant to photobooks. “Each year, workflow software improves to not only work more in tandem with the built-in automation of production equipment, but also to better support the growth of photobooks by reducing the challenges of sort run, quick turnaround book production through page integrity checks, cover book block matching, job tracking, and fulfillment,” shares Don Dubuque, director of marketing, Standard Finishing Systems.
He explains that depending upon the configuration, these systems can reject incomplete book blocks or book blocks with pages out of order. In this case, the rejected book block is identified by the system and a reprint file can be generated. In the case of a mismatched cover and book block, the binder will alert the operator for correction and ejection. “These customers also spend time organizing their phtobooks from cover to cover so they expect the finished product to reflect the work they put in.”
On the finishing side, reliable, automated solutions are able to reduce labor requirements while increasing the number of jobs that can efficiently be moved through the plant. “Automated set up and changeovers on the fly allow the shop to process more jobs with varying page counts and size formats, like photo books, with fewer touchpoint and operators required. Verification and integrity software perform sheet, signature, and book block level tracking as well as cover-to-book block matching,” notes Dubuque.
“Over the years I have witnessed the development and improvements in digital print from companies such as HP, Fuji, and many more. As it relates to photobook and layflat book trends I would have to say the offerings of different surfaces, i.e. lustre, matte, metallic, and the variety of substrates like plastics, bamboo, and canvas have improved. AI and many new high-end software companies are also playing a big role in the success and manufacturing of layflat books,” shares Scolari.
Scolari points out the advancements in UV coating materials and laminations have improved the quality of digital print as well as the overall protection of the product. “Advancements in embellishing a print from companies such as Scodix have also improved the offerings one can make that have attributed in ecommerce growth.”
As previously mentioned, the photo segment is not impervious to the challenges global manufacturing.
Labor shortages have a significant impact on the print industry with the average print employee age reaching retirement and few new workers being trained. “This shortfall forces printers to search for automation solutions, as well as for productive and easy-to-operate print equipment. With the HP Indigo 100K Digital Press customers can utilize one operator on two or three presses at the same time.”
Scolari says shelf life and archivability of products are noteworthy challenges for the photo segment. The “green” effect and sustainability within the paper manufacturing process is another. “Many of the book manufacturers provide UV coating or laminations process to address the archive ability issue and most significant paper manufacturing plants are implementing FSC-approved processes.”
Dubuque sees quality control as a critical challenge, especially in phonebook production. Because the product is so personalized with thousands of unique orders produced on a shop floor on any given day, tracking and matching of photo pages and covers can be a challenge without the right tools.
Quality also covers print, binding, matching, and shipping that isn’t up to standard. “With the amount of competition in the photo book space, print providers cannot risk garnering a reputation for poor print, binding, or matching and shipping errors,” he adds.
By utilizing reliable, accurate automation along with efficient scheduling and tracking technology, providers can ensure consistent production quality and meet the demand of this fast-paced business,” offers Dubuque.
There is no shortage of photo products available to the average consumer. Most people have a high megapixel camera in their pocket, making previous barriers like low-resolution images a concern of the past. Further, ecommerce platforms make it easier than ever to upload photos to turn them into anything from photo books to apparel right from a smartphone. The latest printing and finishing technologies targeting the photo printing space are ready to tackle today’s issues, like image quality and consistency, reduced labor requirements., and improved sustainability.
Apr2023, DPS Magazine