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You had to be there

Oct 1, 2007 12:00 AM

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Think of the most exciting football game you ever saw. How would you describe it to someone else? Would you diagram the winning play? Recall how the crowd sprang to its feet, cheering and spraying beer and popcorn everywhere in the lazy twilight of a perfect fall day?

Very few people would say: “About 65,000 people were in the stadium, and the field was 120 yards long and 53½ inches wide.”

Similarly, the numbers for Graph Expo 2007 tell an incomplete story. The show had a total of 640 exhibitors occupying 460,984 net sq. ft. and a combined attendance of 31,779 people. These vital statistics hardly suggest the event's vibrant pulse.

One digital press vendor had three kids pounding on drums. A trade printer attracted crowds with a casino-like set up. Like carney barkers, booth workers on either side of the aisles enticed attendees to watch various demos and presentations with promises of drawings for MP3 players, noise-cancellation headphones and more. Almost every visitor was burdened with two or three bags filled with brochures, spec sheets, stickers, pens, print samples, business cards, handfuls of candy and enough gewgaws to hold several garage sales. Many carried two or three rolled up posters in skinny plastic bags emblazoned with vendors' logos. Even jaded show veterans joined the jostling throngs in the Wide-Format Pavilion to grab full size Fom-Cor guitars or cartoon character cutouts. On the fringes of the show floor, hungry Graph Expo'ers succumbed to the tantalizing scent of cinnamon roasted almonds, Connie's Pizza and other appetizing McCormick Place fare.

Key trends

Everyone eventually asked the same question: “Seen anything new?” Key themes included evolution, environmentalism, efficiency, expansion and education. The show continues to evolve from its roots as a strictly offset iron show to one that features every digital press supplier and more software than you can shake a stick at. In recent months, many printers have told us about their green initiatives, and this trend mushroomed at the show. From inks to papers to presses to pallets and special programs, all manner of earth-friendly offerings were seen.

There's no crying in baseball, and thanks to overcapacity, commoditization and tight margins, there's no dillydallying in the graphic arts. Vendors showcased versatile machines with speedy makereadies and various programs to promote machine uptime. Web-to-print tools, MIS and integrated workflows abounded.

Attendees seeking to expand beyond the crowded commercial print landscape could explore new opportunities in packaging, mailing, wide-format printing and other areas.

Addressing an educational crisis

“I can't find good press operators.” This is a constant reader complaint and part of a larger crisis addressed at the Print and Graphics Scholarship Foundation's (PGSF) Educational Summit. “We know our problem,” said moderator Ray Prince. “We're here for solutions.”

Prince invited 10 people representing associations, high schools, colleges and other factions to speak. Several suggested the printing industry launch an image building campaign like those of the National Assn. of Manufacturers ( or the Canadian Printing Industries Sector Council (

One educator lambasted the Department of Labor's outdated North American Industry Classification (NAIC) codes. “The national reporting system is broken,” he declared. Although there's a considerable difference between a commercial and a flexo printer, the NAIC makes no distinction. The category, “Printing & Related Activities” lumps all printers together, including etchers and engravers (who must be pretty long in the tooth) and fine artists. In addition to determining some government funding for certain graphic arts educational programs, NAIC data is incorporated in the “Occupational Outlook Handbook.” The handbook, a fixture on high school and college guidance counselors' bookshelves, influences many students' career choices. Stay tuned for more summit details in our next issue.

Just a little bit longer

Traffic was light on the show's last day. One pundit suggested declaring it “Visit Your Fellow Vendor Day” or “Youths Loot the Booths” to reflect the true activity in the expo hall. I propose clearing the main aisle so that Bill Lamparter and his Must See ‘em Committee could perform a heartfelt rendition of Maurice Williams and the Zodiacs’ “Stay.”

Pundit Ray Prince says “We're All in This Together” or other “High School Musical” tunes might be closer to Lamparter's vocal range. He suggests “Great Ideas Day.” Vendors could work with printers to highlight outstanding marketing efforts as well as innovative technical applications.

Prince also proposes “Let's Make a Deal Day,” where buyers could get deep discounts on show models that didn't sell. He also pitched “Free Seminar Day,” where, “All those high-priced speakers would donate one hour or each would have a sponsor.”

Readers, what would make you linger at the last day of Graph Expo? Send us your best ideas!