The signage, graphic imaging, screen and digital printing markets are expected to grow by an average of 20 per cent in the UAE, according to industry players.
More than 400 exhibitors from across 30 countries with a large contingent from China and pavilions for Turkey and Korea will converge at the annual Sign & Graphic Imaging (SGI) Middle East trade show.  International Expo Consults (IEC), the organisers of the event, say the show has grown by about 20 per cent this year.
The industry is broadly classified into categories such as sign/substrates equipment, fabricating/finishing equipment, large format printing, outdoor advertising, digital signage, graphic imaging, screen printing and many others.  

Discovering new areas
Abdul Rahman Falaknaz, Chairman, IEC, says, In the  region, the UAE, Qatar and Saudi Arabia have created a huge demand within the sign, graphic and imaging industry with several high-end malls, new airports, industry exhibitions around the clock and the  launch of many other upscale cluster projects.”
Falaknaz says in order to grow in 2013, companies within this sector need to discover new areas such as textile printing or hologram printing by using traditional presses that have been duly modified. “Some exhibitors will be showcasing products within these new-age printing sectors. Research from Infotrends also predicted ‘dramatic’ growth in print volumes that originate online over the next two years,” he says.
He adds that the industry witnessed a growth rate of around 10 per cent in 2012. “It is a very good sign considering the global market conditions. The industry was in the consolidation phase and every organisation wanted to capitalise on the opportunities presented by their respective markets. Last year, the show was a great success as several million dollar deals were signed during the event, which kept the exhibitors busy throughout the year. We could gauge the pulse of the market through that evidence,” he says.
Falaknaz also says exhibitors at last year’s show have secured a larger floor space this year. “This shows their confidence in and the future potential of the industry. Every company wants to expand and diversify their business. The right business strategy for 2013 is that firms ensure that they have a thorough understanding of the market and the needs of their existing and potential set of customer base,” he says.
Yasin Merchant, Managing Director, Signtrade International, agrees, “If the entire industry supports each other and works as one, it will enjoy double-digit growth every year. From 78 machines in 2011, we sold 200 machines at the SGI event last year despite economic conditions.”
Signtrade International is a leading player in the printing industry. “I believe our industry was never under recession. Players who focused on their core business were doing well. Our comments are based on the evidence from our suppliers and vendors,” he says.
He estimates that the industry consists of 5,000 plus companies in the GCC with around 1,500 players based in the UAE.
“We feel 2012 has been the best year since the global recession that followed in 2008.  Both 2009 and 2010 were tough for the local industry due to the drop in real estate business, which needed signage. However, some of the positive signs are the increased number of new print houses and sign companies that have opened in the region,” says Anand V. Joseph, General Manager, Blue Rhine, a company focusing
on the sign and advertising materials sector.
Merchant sees lot of opportunity in the markets due to the strong infrastructure and backing of the UAE government. “My smallest clients are my success stories. There is plenty of opportunity in the market for existing as well as new entrants. There is no need to cut prices or competition since it is a huge business,” he says.
When the Abu Dhabi Urban Planning Council changed its signage guidelines, it did pose an issue to some players in 2012, says Joseph. “It was challenging for those who went for the traditional ways of signage — the light box, which is prevalent in the industry. But the new guidelines ensure that signage looks more attractive. We have also seen a shift to using many different kinds of products (some which offer high energy savings) instead of the few options,” he says.
Due to the renewed surge in construction activity within the GCC, his firm is trying to increase its presence within the architectural segment. “We have a presence in Saudi Arabia and it has been our highest growth market. Six months ago, we also started in Oman. Meanwhile, our partnership in Qatar is doing well — we witnessed a 40 per cent growth in Qatar,” Joseph concludes.