Guest Post: The Digital Signage Conundrum for the Printing Industry

July 16, 2011 by Dave Haynes

Editor’s note: This post originally appeared on the blog of the Specialty Graphic Imaging Association. I asked the SGIA if I could run it here, as I think there is an inevitable confluence of the digital signage and printing sectors … as does the organization representing printers. 


For the specialty graphics industry, digital signage – like it or not – is viewed as a significant “next step” technology, an avenue toward new opportunities, new revenue streams and a totally new approach to conveying visual information.

That said, for the specialty graphics industry, nearly ten years after digital signage was announced as the next big thing, we still find that the deep opportunity of the technology is still just around the corner. So why has it taken so long? Is it that the specialty graphics is moving slowly toward digital signage and just hasn’t reached the corner yet, or is it that the corner keeps getting just a bit further away.

I think it’s both.

Within the results of SGIA’s soon-to-be-released Digital Signage Survey Report, I found that among specialty imaging companies primarily serving graphics markets, interest in digital signage is very high. Nearly one-third report that they are currently involved in the sale or installation of digital signage, and an additional 22 percent plan to do so in the next 1-5 years. That means that more than 50 percent are taking digital signage technology very seriously.

The survey also shows, however, that customer interest in digital signage is low. A full 56 percent of the same companies that currently serve or plan to serve digital signage markets report that between one and twenty percent of their clients are requesting the technology. It seems that supply and demand are out of sync.

I believe the challenge ahead for specialty imaging companies seeking to enter successfully into digital signage is to educate their clients about the technology, and help them understand the benefits, opportunities and limitations.

Going back 15 years, to the time when wide-format inkjet technology was beginning its dramatic march into our industry, many companies adopting the technology found it challenging to sell their customers on affordable, full-color, short-run graphics. While the technology offered a new way, the customers were often stuck in mindsets where long runs and limited color were the norm. It was only when these customer mindsets were overcome that broad customer adoption of wide-format inkjet was able to take place. With digital signage, a similar significant shift will help us round the corner.

The last 10 years have been trying times for many industries – ours included, and cautiousness and uncertainty have prevailed. Many specialty imaging companies have put off their plans to expand into digital singnage, focusing instead on serving their core competencies in printing and imaging. While some retailers, particularly big-box and department stores have grasped the possibilities of digital signage, many smaller concerns have yet to enter the area, reflecting either cautiousness based on economic uncertainty or reluctance based on outmoded mindsets. Each serves to move the corner further away, stretching the timeline for a true digital signage revolution in our industry.

Digital signage offers strong opportunity, but to view it as just another way to produce a picture is to not respect the challenges to successfully entering this area. Reliable models are still in development, and some early adopters were bloodied after jumping in too soon.

Regardless, digital signage is happening. It is not going away. It’s just around the corner.

(Dan Marx is the Vice President, Markets and Technologies, of the Specialty Graphic Imaging Association– which educates and represents companies that do screen printing, digital printing, embroidery, sublimation and pad printing. SGIA will present digital signage technologies in its Digital Signage Zone, a sales-free education area, at the 2011 SGIA Expo Oct. 19-21 in New Orleans. Details can be found at

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