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SGIA New Orleans – 2011 “Expo” Roundup

Posted by
Dec 02, 2011 10:57am
Posted in: Travels

When you think of New Orleans, what comes to mind?

The Saints?  Bourbon Street? Mardi Gras? I think of all those things too, but – for me – New Orleans is also synonymous with the Specialty Graphic Imaging Association’s (SGIA) annual “Expo” tradeshow and convention.


I remember looking forward to attending the SGIA’s annual “Expo”, back in 2005.  Alas, on August 29, 2005, New Orleans found itself directly in the path of Katrina as she blew ashore as a Category 5 hurricane.

The levy broke, and the devastation that followed was apocalyptic. I doubt anyone in our generation will soon forget the carnage and lawlessness, the heart-wrenching reports from the Superdome, the mass exodus from the Convention Centre.  Just four years later, in 2009, SGIA’s Expo was held in New Orleans once again; a credit to the show’s organizers, and to the massive recovery efforts finally happening in “the Big Easy”. There were still scars of Katrina evident in many areas in 2009. It was nice to discover that – since then – the city has made enormous strides to continue to rejuvenate itself.

SGIA is a fantastic show – offering a broader industry perspective than many of the other tradeshows I attend. If you haven’t ever attended, I strongly recommend it.  And New Orleans is a truly marvelous travel destination.

Today, some of the best hotels you’ll find anywhere in North America are located in the downtown core of New Orleans: Westin, Intercontinental, Loew’s, Radisson, and even a Harrah’s Casino are located in the downtown core. If you prefer boutiques and want more of a taste of the city’s cultural history: there are many smaller, privately owned places scattered throughout the French Quarter region.  And speaking of tastes, New Orleans boasts an incredible selection of restaurants. Throw in a nighttime swamp tour, and you’ve got yourself a great working vacation for a few days, Cajun style.

But, we were there for the Tradeshow, right? Right…

The Ernest N. Morial Convention Centre is an above average venue, featuring great facilities, foodstands, food courts, and amenities.  When you attend as many shows as I do throughout the year – you notice these things.  Likewise, when you have a lot of territory to cover in a short time-frame, how the show is layed out can have a major impact on how much value you get from attending. Again, this show was above average.

Learning Opportunities

Beyond opportunities for networking and keeping abreast of technology and trends, one of the best reasons to attend any tradeshow is for the breadth of educational opportunities provided… and SGIA’s “Expo” never disappoints. As an organization, SGIA is top notch – and the educational aspects of the show reflect that. As with prior years, the seminars were excellent, as expected. The presenters were very professional and, for the most part, remained objective; withholding any bias they may have shown for particular products or services. I respect that – and always do my best to do the same. And it’s not always easy to dampen your enthusiasm for things you really believe in.

Trends and Highlights in Digital Printing

A decade ago, SGIA actually stood for “Screen and Graphic Imaging Association”. The SGIA show floor  has changed remarkably the last 10 years, and while there are still rotary t-shirt presses, inline dryers and the like, these exhibits are getting smaller and less numerous.  Large screen printing industry names such as Thieme are no longer seen, while other companies such as Sericol have pretty much gone fully digital.  As in sign industry shows –  if not more so – digital printing, has for the most-part taken over as the focus at SGIA.

Newsflash: The cost of entry-level digital printing equipment continues to spiral downwards.  For example, Roland Digital rolled out a 20” wide desktop EcoSolvent printer-cutter for around $8,000.  Mutoh offered up a roll-fed-flatbed hybrid utilizing solvent inks for $40,000.  Fuji even unveiled an entry-level roll-fed-flatbed hybrid (a bit of a confusing move for them!) for around $80,000.  If there’s one important takeaway from this trend, it’s that simply owning a wide format printer is no longer a differentiatior, or a competitive advantage. I’m not sure it ever was, but I think it truer today than ever before.

At the other end of the scale, a familiar name is back in the form of Gandy Printers. James and Harry Gandi (ex of Gandi Innovations, ex of Salsa/SignTech) were back in fine form, with the “Pred8or” pumping out both prints and tunes from their booth at the center of the show.  It looks to be an impressive machine – but it should be for $500,000.

I was personally excited to see our friends at Agfa exhibiting the much-anticipated North American debut of the Anapurna 2540FB flatbed – which combines the much-lauded Anapurna print quality… with a true flatbed set-up. To be honest, I never had issues Agfa’s split-table set-up (which I find enhances throughput) but it’s nice to work with a company that listens and responds to its marketplace.  I’m looking forward to the opportunity to put one of these new machines through its paces.

Digital Garment Printing

Direct-to-Garment (DTG) printing isn’t new, but is evolving – and can certainly find a fit in many sign and graphics shops.  Just as we see with Flatbed Digital Printing for signs and substrates, the big questions of the day in DTG printing is “Do I need to be able to print white?”.

Industry leaders such as Kornit and Brother are being challenged by smaller companies such as AnaJet.  Most DTG lines now offer fairly low cost non-white systems, making it easy to print on lighter colours, and even the very hot right now “tone on tone” sort of look.  The choice as to whether you need white ink or not is easy – do you want to print logos, type, and artwork on dark t-shirts, or will your customer base accept light coloured t-shirts only. I know that in the t-shirt world, I’d be buying a machine that can print dark garments with ease. If it isn’t already, not being able to print white will limit your ability to compete.

Flatbed Cutters

Not surprisingly, flatbed cutting systems were plentiful – with several offerings spread through many booths around the show from stalwarts like Zund and Esko-Kongsberg.  One flatbed cutting system that generated a good deal of “buzz” at the show was the new  F1612 flatbed cutter from upstart Summa. It’s very capable, affordable and minimizes any learning curve with user-friendly print-to-cut software included. Based on orders continuing to pour into Summa after the show – mostly for its 63” wide, 47” deep model with kiss-cut, crease, drag knife and oscillating knife options – it looks as though Summa has a winner on its hands.

Going Green

One of the most inspiring booths for me at SGIA 2011 was from an FSC (Forestry Standards Council) Certified manufacturer of paper based fibrous printing materials, CONVERD.

I first tripped across Converd a few years ago on one of my many trips to FESPA , in Europe – where they seem to be leaps and bounds ahead of us in day-to-day use of greener products and processes.

ND currently offers two of Converd’s products, EnviroBoard MR in 1/8” and 3/16” thickness.  When printed with UV ink, EnviroBoard is 100% recyclable, either in a cardboard bin, or a blue bin, and is also biodegradable should it wind up in a landfill site. As importantly, both are a bright white and easy to cut by hand, with a mechanical cutter such as a SteelTrak, or on a flatbed cutting system… so “Going green” doesn’t require a scrap of sacrifice. And whether or not you or your company have a green stripe, it’s nice to be able to offer greener alternatives to customers who do.

Not Quite a Wrap

Vinyl industry leaders 3M and Avery had full-on vehicle wrap demonstrations running in their respective booths.  While this is nothing new, the introduction of 3M’s 1080 Wrap Film has really made people think past digitally printed wraps, and now to more texture, accessory, or paint replacement wraps.  As always, a practised hand in action wrapping a vehicle draws attention, and some of the new products and results were eye-catching, to say the least.

In Closing

SGIA Expo will return to Las Vegas in 2012, as it does every second year.  While Vegas is a great draw, for anyone who attends many shows, it’s nice that SGIA moves its show around – and I hope they keep with that model.  Past shows have been held in Atlanta, Minneapolis, Phoenix, and St Louis.  You might wonder why I would take one of those over Vegas, but I have always found it fun to get out, explore, and experience new cities.

Wherever the show calls home, I highly recommend SGIA if you’re looking for a valuable experience, or a work-related getaway.  From seminars to exhibitors, the knowledge base in and around the show is excellent.  If you’ve never been to a tradeshow of this size and scope, prepare to be overwhelmed – in the most positive sense of the word.

Photo used with permission under Creative Commons “Attribution Generic 2.0” License, with thanks to ScubaBear68.


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