In Conversation with Phil McMullin, Epson UK Head of Sales, Commercial & Industrial Printing
CMYUK, Shrewsbury: Epson digital wide format printers is well known for its position within the photographic, fine art and proofing applications arena, but in recent years the company has invested a proportion of its daily $1.2m R&D budget into digital textile printing with its dye sublimation range of printers. Currently Epson is also one of the headline sponsors for the CMYUK Creatives in Residence Live (CIRL) initiative. We speak to Phil McMullin, Epson UK Head of Sales Industrial & Commercial Printing about the print industry/education dynamic at Epson and why digital textile printing has become such a company focus.
Q: Why did Epson want to be part of the CIRL initiative and how has it participated?
Phil: “We started working with CMYUK just prior to the Pandemic, which was not the best time to put a new programme together. However, the creativity of the team at CMYUYK and its ideas about how to help the new generation of creatives coming through the digital printing industry really appealed to us as a business. Epson is heavily committed to its Corporate Social Responsibility programmes, which includes things like our global impact and our investment in the future. We’re interested in inspiring the younger generation to become involved in digital print.”
Q: What has Epson participation looked like during the CIRL initiative?
Phil: “We have been actively involved in training the creatives to use our full range of dye sublimation printers that are installed at the CMYUK demonstration facility in Shrewsbury. This includes the SureColor SC-F100, our first A4 desktop printer; SureColor SC-F500,our first 24-inch table top printer, and the SureColor SC-F9400H, a 64-inch-wide printer that outputs yellow and pink fluorescent inks perfect for sportswear, workwear, and get-you-noticed fashion.
“As well as Epson customers acting an industry mentors to the graduates, we have given each of the CIRL graduates an opportunity to pitch their ideas for a redesign of the Epson showroom at its UK HQ in Hemel Hempstead, as well as new designs for branded T shirts and baseball caps.”
Q: How important is it for Epson to partner with education?
Phil: “We’ve been working with local schools in the Hertfordshire area to try and encourage the concept of a career in the print industry. We also work with a number of universities including Birmingham City University that have created designs that we’ve incorporated into our branded workwear – the sort of designs that you might see us wearing at a trade show. The CIRL initiative fits into our desire to work with the younger generation and the CMYUK graduates are incredibly creative and enthusiastic. It’s a real positive for us to be associated with this. We all genuinely feel that the opportunity is important for the industry in general.”
Q: The print industry has historically had issues in attracting the young to its ranks, do you think technological advancements will change this?
Phil: “Traditionally the print industry has had problems not only attracting the young but also attracting girls. The traditional perception has been shaken as digital print processes supplant old analogue technologies. Print has expanded its reach and is very strongly aligned with design and marketing. Printing can no longer be considered industrial in the true sense of the word. Digital offers huge advances in terms of improving the sustainability of the industry, and giving customer access to customisation and personalisation, which are industry drivers particularly in the retail sector.”
Q: Epson has bought out a variety of dye sublimation machines, why is there such a focus on digital textile printing?
Phil: “The Reshoring revolution has been happening right before our eyes aided and abetted by digital communications, political and supply chain issues. Printing big and then shipping items half way across the globe is no longer a viable or attractive option. Printing and producing what you’ve already sold is the Holy Grail for the industry both from an economic and environmental point of view. Digital printing allows this – it’s all about on-demand local producer manufacturing, which is as close to the end customer as possible and drills down on unnecessary waste.”
Q: Why did it take you so long to launch an A4 dye sublimation printer?
Phil: “Industry watchers will know that for a long time Epson A4 photo products were used in dye sublimation printing. Customers would swop the aqueous water-based inks for dye sublimation but this had mixed results and often killed the printer as the printheads weren’t designed to handle dye sub inks.
“Epson became a little bit frustrated at the suggestion that its printers were not performing well when they were never designed for that actual usage in the first place. Recognising the uplift in personalisation and customisation – particularly in the hobbyist, home creative producer market, Epson recognised a genuine need for an A4 solution using Epson firmware, inks and papers. This solution offers reliability, consistency, and the best possible image quality that you would associate with an Epson product. As soon as we launched the product we sold out, our challenge is to keep pace with the demand. CMYUK has been the largest UK supplier of this new product.”
Q: With focus on textile printing, what does your customer base look like these days?
Phil: “Trying to nail down what a typical customer looks like these days is really difficult. Our base is really wide ranging and diverse. It can be anybody operating from their front room with an A4 model, to a specialist printer who is directly selling to the big brands or where someone's operating as a bureau offering a sampling service or a bespoke print service.
“The commercial print industry has been badly hit during the pandemic and is looking for additional profitable revenue streams. And you know, textile production is one of those areas that commercial printers are looking to diversify into with the addition of an Epson 44-inch or 64-inch dye sublimation product for instance, which just adds another string to their bow.”
Q. What can we expect to see from Epson in the next year?
Phil: “Going forward we are looking to invest huge amounts of R&D dollars into textile. Over the next two to three years, expect to see big advances in Epson dye sublimation technology, in direct to garment technology, and also in direct to fabric printing with the purchase of the Italian Robustelli organisation with its Monna Lisa Eva range of high-end textile printers. It’s all part of the big strategy to develop digital printing. The numbers vary, but globally less than 10% of textiles are printed digitally, so there is a huge opportunity ahead.
“We’ll also be looking closely at the CIRL graduates as they leave the programme and navigate their way in the commercial world. We have really enjoyed supporting them and wish them every success in the future.”