Wide-format show that seeks to bring creativity to life

By Jez Abbott, Monday 09 April 2018

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Sign & Digital UK just gets bigger and better, says show director Rudi Blackett. This month’s exhibition will take up over 11,000m² at the NEC in Birmingham.


sabnd2“Due to demand for more learning and advice, we have increased the demonstrations, workshops and feature areas for this year,” he explains. Foremost of these is the main stage, which will host panel debates, Q&As and seminars. The stage will also host celebrity retail champion Mary Portas. 

After an interview-and-question session, she will visit stands and demo areas across halls 17 & 18 on the 24-26 April. The main stage will also form the visual focal point of the show’s theme ‘Creativity brought to life’, where the space will double as a TV studio to film show highlights, demos, workshops and exhibition stands. 

“Also new this year will be three live demo areas featuring textile printing, wrapping and decor,” adds Blackett. “The sign trade services section of the show has already increased in size. There will be more than 180 exhibitors and early indications suggest an increase in visitor numbers. More than 5,300 visitors attended the 2017 show.”

New to the show are 60 firms including Aeoon Technologies, ATA Engineering, ColGraphix, Xante Europe, CuttingmatsXXL, CWT Worktools, Sabur Digital, Brand-It Technologies, SIGNET Sign System, and DCR Machines. Confirmed repeat exhibitors meanwhile include Canon, Epson, Zund, Roland DG, Mimaki/Hybrid Services, Mutoh/Colourgen, Jetrix, Vivid Laminating and Longier. 

Sign & Digital UK, which celebrated its 30th anniversary in 2017, will host product launches, show offers and wide-format, textile and finishing kit, new substrates, media and inks and sign and display systems. Visitors quizzed after last year’s event said they wanted more opportunities to see new technologies and learn from experts as well as source new products.

“A big trend last year was soft signage. This year it’s likely to be UV, software and building wraps and there will be a greater presence from textile printing, finishing, inks and media suppliers – this sector continues to grow. Furnishings, personalisation and bespoke display systems will also be big, while the decor market marches on with substrates, wallpapers and surface graphic applications,” says Blackett.

“Content is becoming increasingly important. In recent times there’s been a clear emphasis on applications, and visitors are keen to see what is possible in terms of output. This also ties in with the growth of the show into the design and creative markets. It is not just a visit to see what kit is available, it is about what you can do with the output from those products.”

A new initiative is the introduction of three industry ‘panel debates’ to discuss current and future industry topics. A debate headlined ‘Bringing the modern workspace to life’’ includes leading names from interiors and workspace design looking at how graphics, printed textiles and signage can have a transformative effect on corporate environments.

Antalis hopes to do just that with a stand decked out like a retail area. Visitors will browse through rigid and flexible large-format media alongside kit from Agfa, Revolution Digital and Granthams. Antalis will also give ‘decor live’ demos focusing on coverings such as vinyl, wallcoverings and magnetic substrates.

The retail focus of the Antalis’ stand is especially relevant at this year’s show, given the presence of Mary Portas, says head of channel for visual communications Chris Green. Last year’s stand was themed on a US diner and this year’s will be the company’s biggest ever. A key visitor priority, he feels, will be textiles for walls, windows and floors. The environment will also feature.

“Retail is going through a state of flux and great uncertainty, so people need to do things differently, and print technology is part of that mix. Meanwhile David Attenborough’s Blue Planet TV show on plastic waste in our oceans has resonated strongly. I will be interest to see if the environment becomes a key issue this year in discussion panels and on the exhibition stands.”

Hybrid Services chief operations manager Brett Newman is also interested in themes and trends at Sign & Digital UK. A show veteran, having been to each event for 21 years, this year will have a unique aura for Newman. It is the “first public showing” of Hybrid’s full range of equipment such as the new Mimaki UCJV Series LED UV printer-cutter, billed as a revolutionary new 1.6m device.

The high-spec model, launched late last year and equipped with a four-layer print function, as well as UV-LED print and cutting technology, is suitable for outdoor signage, posters, illumination signboards, banners and flags, POS materials and labels and wallpaper. Just the ticket for Sign & Digital UK, says Newman: “It’s pretty stunning and exciting to have it out there on the main stand.”

He agrees with Green on the momentum for textiles, and Hybrid Services will have a separate stand to give visitors new to textiles a taste of soft signage, fabric printing and die sublimation for promotional goods and light boxes. Learning about new technology has become crucial, he says, as printing businesses strive to boost margins, be more competitive and diversify into new specialisms.

“These are very uncertain times, not just in print and retail, but across the wider economy thanks to things like Brexit. I would argue in such times of uncertainty, exhibitions and trade shows are increasingly important for businesses keen to expand their customer base. There is so much to see and learn about under one roof, while the networking opportunities are wonderful.

“Over the last few years the exhibition industry has gone through a transitional period. It is no longer just about looking at machines and buying them, though that’s still important of course. Shows these days have become much more educational; visitors want to see kit, but they also want to learn in more depth about processes, techniques and trends.”

Evidence of this can be seen in the growing number of seminars and panel debates – thin on the ground in the early years, recalls Newman. On day two of the show he will take part in a panel debate on how commercial printers can reap advantages from wide-format technology for wall decor, vehicle wraps and textile graphics.

“People want to see the technology and talk to suppliers, and that’s what the show will always be about. But there’s a lot more to print exhibitions these days than before. The learning experience has without doubt become a key, and vital, draw to visitors who want to grow their businesses but have come to realise it’s not always as easy as simple as buying a new machine.”

Another show veteran, AG/CAD, has been exhibiting at Sign & Digital UK for about eight years and this year the supplier of digital cutter systems will display new tooling, blades and software. General manager Paul Andrade believes the event is a major entry in the company calendar and probably will be for the foreseeable future.

“We only do two or three shows a year but this one is the biggest,” he says. “It’s great to get in front of existing and new customers, especially at a time when the economy is uncertain. Brexit has made people’s decision making on new kit a bit slower, and though it’s picking up a bit, companies need to get out there and shout about themselves and what is new.”

That’s what I-Sub Digital director Andy Spreag plans to do for the new Agfa Anapurna H1650i LED 1,650mm roll-to-roll hybrid machine. This is showing for the first time in the UK and boasts white ink, high print speeds and photo quality. Also on the stand will be a Digi-Foil system and Mimaki UJF desktop printer for mock-ups, short runs and proofing.

“Shows like this are more relevant than they’ve ever been,” he says. “There are new technologies and a far wider range of applications. Exhibiting is an ideal way of demonstrating not only the technology and what can be achieved but broadening visitors’ horizons on potential new markets and ways of boosting their profits. 

“But it’s not all about closing business on the stand. What we do is all about relationships and long-term service, and this show is a three-day contact hub. A successful show isn’t so much about how many people visit the stand but the quality of the conversation. It’s about educating them on new technology, new applications and getting more from the technology they may already have.”

Many of these technologies may have been around for some time, he says, but what’s new, and getting better all the time, is productivity, quality and the vast range of applications. Print companies can now do so much more with their machines. It is no longer a case of simply buying equipment for what you need it for in the here and now, but its future potential, he adds.

Antalis’ Chris Green concludes: “Sign & Digital is an important part of our market. Even in this internet age you need face-to-face contact with experts who can guide you through the technology. Visitors need opinions – not just one – but a range from many people, including competitors. Sign & Digital is a melting pot of best technology and best practice.” 

Main stage timetable

Tuesday 24 April 

10:45 -11:30

Sign & Digital explains: Surface decor for walls, windows & floors

Find out how you can produce eye-catching, interior enhancing products such as bespoke walls, windows and floors to produce creative applications that can transform a room, business space, or retail environment. 

11:45 -12:30

Panel discussion: Bringing the modern workspace to life

The modern workspace is changing. Companies are working harder than ever to create spaces that are individual, on brand and inspiring. This discussion, with leading names from the interiors and workspace design arena, looks at the ways inspirational graphics, printed textiles, signage and even wayfinding can bring the modern workplace to life. This is a ‘must see’ discussion for anyone interested in discovering new and creative ways to connect and inspire staff and customers – and even the public.


Interior decor: turning opportunities into profit

For any business, planning for the future means taking account of multiple factors that can help determine the most successful route to growth. The portfolio of print applications that you offer to your customers is a natural area to review alongside the emerging trends in print. The beauty of digital print is that many of the same technologies that are used for display graphics can be applied to a host of other diverse and growing applications areas such as decor.


Mary Portas interview

Crowned ‘Mary Queen of Shops’ by the UK media, retail and brand expert Mary Portas will deliver an inspiring keynote followed by a Q&A session hosted by Jon Card.


Sign & Digital explains: promotional printing

Discover the world of dye-sublimation and transfer printing and how you can get started with promotional printing from giftware to garments and uncover a wealth of market opportunities


The rise in personalisation: How to take advantage of the ‘make it mine’ phenomenon

Wednesday 25 April


Sign & Digital explains: textiles and textile printing

Find out all there is to know about getting started with digital printing onto textiles from two of the UK’s foremost industry experts in textile printing.


Panel debate: The future of our industry

Industry leaders debate what the future holds for this exciting and dynamic market


Sign & Digital explains: vehicle wrapping

Lift the lid on vehicle wrapping in this session as S&D looks at how to get started in this fast-moving industry. Find out how you can transform your business with vehicle wrapping from a panel of experts.


How can we increase demand for digital print particularly from the creative communities?

Digital Print represents only 3% of print production, how can providers increase demand for digital print particularly from the creative communities?


Sign & Digital explains: get into wide format printing

You already know how to print, so why not add another lucrative string to your bow? Find out how to make more money for your printing operation with wide format applications


Campaign printing: how to output consistently across multiple print devices

This workshop will discuss and illustrate how to output similar looking print from different printers on different media.

Thursday 26 April


Sign & Digital explains: surface decor for retail applications

Surface decor for retail display is one of the fastest growing trends in the wide format sector. S&D looks into the many varied applications and uses for surface graphic materials for retail with Alan Rigglesford, one of the UK’s foremost retail print service providers. 


Panel debate: Running a successful business in the Sign & Graphics market

A lively debate on what makes a successful business in this market


Sign & Digital explains: textiles and textile printing

From fashion and furnishings to sportswear and interior decor, an expert panel provides guidance on to getting started with applications for digital textile print production.

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