3D printing software

Hardware or Software: What’s Your Investment Take for Next Year

By: amy watson

As per the 4th, GLOBAL TRENDS REPORT 2017 by DRUPA, the growth of digital print halts in 2016 as compared to 2015. The data suggest that in 2015 28% of the printers reported that 25% of their turnover was from digital print, in 2016 the number of printers went to 27%. On the one hand digital print growth halts, inkjet emerged as the dominant technology for most of the application, the numbers increasing from 61% in 2014 to 74% in 2016. Apart from inkjet printing, commercial print and wide format print also saw rapid growth in 2016 up to 50% whereas in 2013 it was just 37%.

The similar report suggests, print finishing emerged as No.1 investment globally followed by new print technology, PrePress/Workflow/MIS – suggesting that print automation is on the charts for most of the businesses. The numbers suggest that businesses are trying to shift their business models via hardware as well as software investments to realize the investments they have made.

Printing businesses have witnessed the proliferation of web to print software, 3D Printing (VDP) software, artwork management software, personalized communication with tailored printing and higher computing power. With all these advancements in printing landscape, printing vendors are confronted with an existential question: is it time to give more weight to software systems than hardware and printing machinery create a balance between hardware and software investment.

The answer to this question lies in three things

Business Vision

Printing businesses must do a lot of introspection and ask themselves questions about critical capabilities, vulnerabilities, and requirements. Businesses need to find out what is working and what is not working, potential partnerships and outsourcing options, and what investments do we need to make to create a competitive advantage for business.

These answers give business a short, medium and long-term gains an action plan to achieve these goals. Print management businesses can adapt to market disruption through strategic investments both in new hardware products along with complementary software services. Print, being a hardware-driven business, print vendors can adopts-a-service’ economy coupling the benefits of the superior product and better services for providing one-stop solution leading to more customer acquisition and retention of past customers.

Re-examining business model and structure to avoid the struggles of declining volumes, lower margins and sustained growth, vendors need to plan out their investments smartly and according to their business vision, varying from being one stop solution or just print service provider or diversifying more in pre-press and post-press print processes. The requirements of investments in hardware and software will greatly depend on business goals and objectives.

Customer Preferences

Customers prefer the one-stop solution for their every need and thus, look for vendors or print services who can cater to their all requirements together. All emerging services in printing arena like managed print services, online print and ship, direct mail services and more became so popular because apart from printed products need, they are providing the one-stop solution to the customers.

There are successful companies that started printing services and converted them into companies offering complete media, advertising, and content services. This is just one way of adjusting your business model. More such examples are offering print and ship online, personalized printing, managing print for corporates and taking orders from print brokers as well.

Do you know, companies spent one and three percent of their annual revenue on printing and there’s scope of saving more than or up to 30 percent by implementing a print management strategy for them. This is such a big business opportunity and no one understands printing better than print businesses operating for decades and specialized in printing. They need to reskill themselves to understand data on print spending and suggest a way to make it cost-effective. This gives them an advantage over industry counterparts and their customers can also get solutions of low-cost effective printing from a single print vendor.

And when we are talking to catering to customer preferences with the one-stop solution, it again depends on current expertise companies have, if they have spent on hardware in previous years and still struggling to make their returns out it, then it’s time for them to start looking at software investments.

Technological Landscape

Industries are getting transformed with Big Data, Artificial Intelligence, IoT, and Smart machines. With so much going around, the print community cannot afford to work with their traditional technologies.

The reason behind print going down and digital mediums going up is one simple reason for the ability to capture data and find out what’s working and what’s not, whereas in print we lack this capability. But print mediums have their own strength of being tangible leading to higher engagement levels. Print vendors need to integrate technology in their offering with third-party hardware (print, visual, digital, interactive, augmented and virtual reality) to create better cross-media and effective communication channels. The one very effective way that printers have adopted is web to print, there they are able to capture customer information, past purchases, returns, the frequency of purchases, additional services they opt for, however, these sets of data remain unutilized.

Many technology vendors have now started integrating 3D printing with virtual reality and brands are getting results out of it. This involves both hardware as well as software investments. One more example of adopting technology is adopting print automation workflow and saving wastages that go in the whole printing process.


There’s an ongoing debate in establishing the right answer for potential investments in hardware and software in printing businesses. This debate has pros and cons on both the side of coins and it entirely depends on the business model and customer base for promoters to decide their next round of strategic investments.

One thing is clear that whatever may hold upside position in investment charts – Hardware or Software, businesses need to tweak their model for long-term survival and coping with the dynamic technological landscape. On the one hand, Hardware can give the capability to achieve excellent and superior products compared to other players, software achieves efficiency and cost-effectivity in processes with automation, digitalization, reducing time to market, add-on services and requires skilled manpower with costs associated as their pay scales.

So far, print companies have been relied highly on revenues to sustain but hardware markets or just being product driven have made their growth stagnant. With already established hardware investments, it is easy for them to expand their services to the same customer base.


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