The CMYK+ Conundrum in Digital Print
Source: Jim Hamilton, Consultant Emeritus at Keypoint Intelligence, March 29, 2021. Provided by Canon Solutions America.
The ability to print more than just the process colors (cyan, magenta, yellow, and black) is a common feature of offset presses, which often have a fifth or sixth unit for printing special effects like Pantone colors, metallic inks, neons, or fluorescent colors. Colors beyond CMYK are also common in wide format digital printing, with many devices supporting eight or twelve colors. Yet in the production digital print market for documents, four-color devices are the most common, with a relatively small number of exceptions.
Systems supporting more than four colors (what is frequently referred to as CMYK plus or CMYK+) have been around since the 1990s in devices from HP Indigo, Kodak NexPress, and Xeikon. In the past decade, CMYK+ capability expanded to a much wider range of digital print devices, which most frequently offer a fifth color for effects like clear coatings, white, and special colors. These extra colors/effects, which are sometimes known as print enhancements, are applied in-line with CMYK. In addition, there is also a relatively new class of offline devices that use digital print techniques to add special effects like spot coatings, dimensional effects, and metallic foils.
How Big is the CMYK+ Market?
According to landmark research conducted in 2016, Keypoint Intelligence (formerly InfoTrends) predicted that the digital print enhancement market (in other words, CMYK+ pages produced via digital print) would experience double-digit rates through 2020. Despite this strong rate of growth, the digital print enhancement market still accounts for less than 2% of the available enhancement market—most output continues to be produced with traditional methods like offset lithography. This means that there is lots of room for additional growth.
Continued introductions of in-line and offline systems, coupled with the expansion of colors and effects for existing systems, were expected to propel the market forward. A declining cost per page for digital enhancements, combined with the perceived high value of these effects, was also expected to contribute to growth. While some of this has happened, there has been significant pushback from print service providers (PSPs) who are struggling with their CMYK+ sales and marketing efforts.
What Are PSPs Saying About CMYK+?
Some digital printers have had trouble marketing and selling CMYK+ print enhancements to their customers. A Keypoint Intelligence study conducted in late 2020 asked users for their perspective on print enhancements. Survey respondents in the United States reported that 14% of their digital print jobs included a print enhancement of some kind and that 16% of their color digital print jobs had some kind of enhancement. Looking deeply into the numbers, it became clear that while a small share of PSPs were handling a lot of print enhanced jobs, most were not doing print enhancements.
When PSPs were asked about the challenges associated with CMYK+ print enhancement, nearly half cited a lack of market demand. Respondents were less concerned about the cost of CMYK+ equipment or consumables, or the time or difficulty required to produce artwork for CMYK+ jobs.