Rolling back the years

Rob Goleniowski

By Rob Goleniowski, head of sales, Roland DG

30 years is a long time in any industry, but nowhere more so than printing, where the pace of technological advancement has driven evolution at a startling pace.

With Printwear & Promotion celebrating its 30th anniversary this year, what better time to look back at how the industry has changed over the last three decades? This article will do just that, plotting the evolution of our industry in the context of three key areas – textile technology, software, and the journey from analogue to digital.

The rapid advancement of textile technology

For those of us old enough to remember, January 1992 doesn’t even seem that long ago. Queen were top of the UK charts with Bohemian Rhapsody, John Major was in No.10 Downing Street, and Leeds United were on course to win the Football League First Division. However, when it comes to textile technology, many of the things we now take for granted didn’t even exist then, creating a very different landscape to the one we know today.

Most notably, there was no internet (it didn’t become available in the UK until March 1992), and very few PCs had high-capacity hard drives, which made it extremely difficult to work with large files. Elsewhere, the vast majority of printers only worked with specific drivers via a ‘one-to-one connection’, while the lack of WiFi (which was still at a concept stage) meant they had to be connected using parallel ports – pretty inconvenient, to put it mildly!

From a print head perspective, most printers were still only working in the 60-90pl range, compared to the 3-12pl we’ve become accustomed to today, meaning the level of detail they were able to achieve was extremely poor compared to modern standards. Many inks were also ‘hard-solvent’ based because nobody thought from a safety or eco point of view back then. It would be a number of years until this started to change and more eco-friendly plant-based inks became more widely available.

Another huge difference between textile technology then vs. now is the cost. Back then it was much more expensive, meaning it was only accessible to large, established companies. Fast forward to today and printers can scale in terms of both size and price, without impacting on quality. As a result, printing is now available to the masses and nearly anyone can start their own printing business, regardless of size or budget, which is fantastic.

Better software has made everything quicker and easier

Back in 1992, printing could be an arduous sector to work in. Many print runs were managed and collated manually, which could be incredibly time consuming. Today, centralised computer systems and automation have taken away much of this pain.

The same centralised systems have also streamlined customer journeys and purchasing processes, from original order creation through to shipping, while the power of the cloud continues to simplify things even further, in terms of flexibility, scalability and operational efficiency.

However, better software isn’t always a good thing for everyone. 30 years ago, colour management was a dedicated area of expertise, with many printers building reputations on their unique knowledge and capabilities. Today, software is increasingly making colour management a standard function selection in the production process, simplifying production, and making it harder and harder for printers to be unique, or stand out on printing quality alone.

The all-important journey from analogue to digital

While many of the things discussed above have had a huge effect on the printing industry over the last 30 years, nothing has had a bigger impact than the shift from manual and analogue processes to digital and automated processes.

Like other leading companies, Roland DG’s portfolio of products has continually developed and evolved alongside market developments like this, helping us stay at the forefront of such an amazingly innovative sector. The same can be said for our customers, many of whom have grown and developed with Roland DG products at the heart of their business, working closely with us to make the all-important transition from analogue to digital.

Of course, not every business has been able to make the transition successfully, whether because of failure or unwillingness to move with the times. While Kodak springs to mind as perhaps the biggest and most high-profile casualty, it is far from the only one to fall foul of technology’s unstoppable march.

The past 30 years have been an incredible time for the printing industry, with technology leading a veritable revolution in the way nearly every aspect of operations is conducted. While some may argue that technological advancements have made it harder to stand out in such a competitive marketplace, it is also responsible for exponential leaps forward in terms of quality, convenience, and customer experience, to name but a few areas. I, for one, cannot wait to see what the next 30 years have in store.

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