Every four years, Messe Düsseldorf, the giant trade fair grounds and organizer in Dusseldorf, Germany, plays host to Drupa, the world's biggest print media exhibition. This year's event, which ran May 3–16, attracted 1,844 exhibitors and 314,500 visitors, down from 1,971 and 391,000, respectively, in 2008. The drop is reflective of the shrinking print and graphic arts sector: in Germany and the U.S. combined, more than 11,000 printing operations have closed down in the past few years. Large delegations were few. Instead, top managers with specific investment intentions were in attendance. Foreign visitors numbered more than 190,000 (more than 60% of the total), and the 15,000-plus attendees from India form the second largest group after Germany.

This year's themes revolved around automation, packaging printing, digital printing, hybrid technologies, Web-to-print applications and eco-friendly printing. The message was clear at the Drupa Innovation Park, where a banner proclaimed, "Content Meets Technology Meets Business."

In Hall 4, HP occupied a space measuring 4,925-sq-m, the second largest booth after Heidelberg's. That speaks volumes about HP's lead in the digital arena and its role in transforming the hitherto analog printing world. In fact, 40% of the visitors polled by Messe Düsseldorf said that their interest was in digital printing machinery and systems.

For Jeremy Kuo of WKT, this biggest event of the industry is "a chance to see where we may be headed in the years to come. This year, the number of visitors was down due to the unfavorable economic climate, but critical decision makers were in attendance and there was no harm in giving them more space and time to look around." As Kuo had expected, the trend toward digital solutions was very noticeable, as was the increased attention on software solutions to meet diversified customer needs. "The Internet is producing market segmentation more quickly and with more variety than has been seen before."

Coming from the book side of the industry, Kuo is sad to see that some major equipment and solutions vendors still do not recognize the particular needs that book printers have. "They may think that book manufacturing will go the way of the dinosaurs, but I beg to differ. I think that we will still be around when many other forms of print fade into oblivion. Books have always been the most permanent form of print, and that will stay."

More significantly, this year's Drupa was WKT's first opportunity to show its D-Tone 5040K neutral-gray color bar solution to the wider international printing and media industry. Its partner at Drupa was Compose, a well-known supplier of hardware and software solutions that provides the marketing and support infrastructure for the D-Tone system. "We are pleased with the results because this is a severe test of D-Tone's underlying premises and method. It is very gratifying to find the audience understanding and supporting our system." As a result of this exposure, WKT is seeing interest coming from Europe, Scandinavia, North and South America as well as other parts of Asia. "We expect to welcome interested parties traveling to our Buji facility for training very soon."

Matthew Yum of Hung Hing finds that while digital printing technology is maturing and various digital solutions were on offer at Drupa, "they pose little threat to conventional printing methods. Digital printing technology certainly adds another dimension to our industry, and by using it wisely we can combine the best of both worlds to offer clients better services."

Kelly Fok of Leo Paper Group also finds digital printing drawing more attention in the market in recent years. "But the move toward digital printing is not very aggressive. We do find that the printing and packaging business models are changing due to the availability and maturity of digital printing technology. Digital printing significantly reduces the need for prepress and make-ready, and there is a strong desire among publishers, brand owners and retailers for customization and shorter, more targeted press runs. Drupa 2012 provided some survival hints for print suppliers. The key now is grasping those hints and adapting to market changes or even forging a breakthrough in the graphic arts industry. Leo Paper will continue to study and evaluate which direction to take."

For John Currie of CTPS, the profusion of digital products in all segments, including prepress/software and postpress, was an impressive sight. "I would sum up the message of this year's Drupa as ‘digital now' or ‘coming of age.' New products from full-fledged digital players such as HP, Kodak and Creo show improvements in print quality and output speed and offer presses with wider reel widths. This year also showcased new KBA and Komori hybrids that combine conventional and digital printing. The focus on supporting print on-demand and just-in-time book production was obvious. Next-generation player Landa Corporation—owned by digital industry pioneer and founder of Indigo, Benny Landa—created immense interest with its Nanographic printing process and is expected to be a major player in the foreseeable future."

Four days into Drupa, it was announced that CTPS had purchased four HP presses—two T410 presses, one Indigo W7250 and one Indigo 10000—to add to its previous purchase of T300. (The Indigo 10000 is HP's first B2 format sheetfed press, and it will only be shipped in early 2013.) Sales to companies such as CTPS, C&C Offset (for two Indigo 5600) and Golden Color Digital Inkjet Printing (two Scitex) highlight HP's strong growth in the Asia Pacific region, especially in China. Overall, Drupa 2012 gave HP its best performance at a graphic arts trade show in its history, with orders from more than 200 customers in 55 countries. Texas-based Consolidated Graphics, for instance, handed HP its biggest order of 11 units of Indigo 10000.

At its 6,300-sq-m booth, Heidelberg showcased 60 innovations and unveiled its new Speedmaster XL 106 (with an inkjet system, faster speed, auto-plating and a larger print width) and XL 75 (with Anicolor inking unit technology, 90% less paper wastage and 50% higher productivity). In fact, two XL 106 presses were at the show. The focus on its large-format presses underlined Heidelberg's success in China, where it has sold such presses to leading players in the packaging printing sector. Heidelberg also announced at the event its collaboration with Swiss company Lüscher to develop a CtP UV platesetter, and a strategic partnership with Landa Corporation to expand digital offerings for mainstream printing. The latter will see Heidelberg developing, manufacturing, selling and servicing a new generation of digital printing presses based on Landa's Nanographic printing technology. Landa's water-based NanoInk is purported to have high uniformity, high gloss and a very broad CMYK color gamut.

The next four years (till Drupa 2016 from June 2 to 15) will no doubt produce more digital products and newer players. And print suppliers, including familiar faces from Hong Kong/China, will continue to prowl the halls at future Drupa events looking for the next in thing that merits investment, and enjoy the cuisine in Düsseldorf, which according to Currie "is generally better than what one can find in Frankfurt."