Interview: Picanova – the many paths that lead to print monetization


Areas of print business activity are not static. You “just” have to know how to generate additional sales channels – based on current trends and developments. Picanova knows how to go about that.

More and more photos are being taken every day, and given the increasing range of options, are being printed more and more frequently on different products. One of the few successful online print businesses that has specialized in photo print and that is broadening its market positioning year on year by adding brands and services without straying from its core skills is North Rhine-Westphalia-based Picanova. I spoke with Philipp Mühlbauer, CEO of the Cologne-based company and member of the Initiative Online Print about how this print-on-demand provider has evolved/is evolving and about its current business activities.

Bernd Zipper: You have now been involved with the online market for customizable photo canvases and other photo products for a little over 10 years. What has happened at Picanova during that time and what have been the most important developments at your company– also in terms of your brand portfolio?

Philipp Mühlbauer: In 2006 my brother and I established Picanova in a small garage in the south of Cologne. After less than 10 years we were accoladed as one of the world’s leading providers of custom wall decor and photo products in 2015. Yet we are not resting on our laurels and are continuously evolving and enhancing our portfolio. We have, for example, developed the first mass-market-compatible 3D scanner, which requires just 4 seconds per full body scan. Furthermore we have developed our own social commerce platform, on which social media photos and graphics can be monetized. What’s also new is our API, which enables companies and retailers to offer their customers personalized photo products – either as an interface within an existing store system or as a white-label solution.

Bernd Zipper: The trend across practically all markets and in the print market in particular is increasingly towards customizable, high-price products. Is this something that you as digital print providers are aware of? And how are you as a company with so many brands reacting?

Philipp Mühlbauer: Of course we are well aware of this trend – we have been growing rapidly without interruption for years. We work continuously on improving our products and providing our customers with more customization options. Despite increasing quality, we will continue to offer these products at inexpensive prices to our customers and still generate profits. As a company with Cologne roots, we regard it as important to keep on producing in Germany and not in some low-wage country, in order to be able to guarantee supreme quality.

Bernd Zipper: Last year Flyeralarm discontinued with 3D print and in March 2017 you set up a 3D scanner in a branch of REWE in Cologne. What was all that about? Do you view additive manufacturing as having “genuine” future perspectives in the print industry?

Philipp Mühlbauer: That involved a collaborative venture with REWE. We were able to present’s first mass-market-compatible 3D scanner live to a wide audience. Customers were able to get themselves scanned free of charge, no appointment necessary and no waiting times. Everybody subsequently received a digital 3D avatar. If desired, customers were then able to order a 3D figurine. REWE customers also got a 3D print discount voucher.

The potential for 3D scans is enormous. Scans can, for example, be used for gaming (virtual and augmented reality), for online fashion retailers (to reduce returns rates) or to illustrate fitness program successes. Interested companies will even shortly be able to rent our scanners for events like roadshows, trade fairs etc. Custom branding and a digital 3D avatar after every scan are the perfect opportunity to positively energize your own brand.

Matching products can also be printed as a next step – be they perfect-fit shoes or components for the automobile industry. The technology will first have to be enhanced to make it quicker and more cost-effective before 3D print becomes mass-market-compatible. This however is only a question of time.


At Picanova print also includes 3D print: acquiring your own miniature likeness is made easier thanks to the new, proprietary 3D scanner; Source: Picanova

Bernd Zipper: And how is the social media print program linked to your previous brands? Can you give us a summary of the feedback you have had about this blend of social media and print?

Philipp Mühlbauer: With we have created a social commerce tool that for the first time enables people to monetize social media content. The principle behind it is simple – companies and private individuals can upload their photos and images onto in just a few steps and offer them to their friends, customers and fans printed on canvas, mugs, cellphone cases or mousepads. This adds tangible value to every post and every image and allows people to monetize their content without cannibalizing existing brand partnerships for product placements. is free of charge, no-obligation and offers global shipping. The tool is also of interest to agencies and influencer networks that work on the basis of an expanded commission model. The feedback about is extremely positive. Social media influencers have scores of photos and images and enables them to monetize these. Various celebs already use the platform – the most well-known of them is the Brazilian soccer professional Ronaldinho.

“You can think print customization in various dimensions. The more recent online print companies are to some extent significantly more innovative at it than the long-established market players!” – Bernd Zipper

Bernd Zipper: With your API and you are consciously exploiting other marketing opportunities. Is working with sales intermediaries now just as important for you as direct sales via your own platform?

Philipp Mühlbauer: Our core business continues to be direct sales via our platforms. However we have frequently received inquiries in the past from companies and influencers that want to offer our products to their customers and fans. In view of this fact, we have developed our own API that enables companies to integrate our products into their existing store systems or use them as white-label solutions. Now both customers and business partners can draw on unlimited resources. was also created as a result of this.

Bernd Zipper: Do you think that some print providers will in future have to broaden their market positioning? In other words by offering more brands, products or production methods and services?

Philipp Mühlbauer: Some print businesses will certainly have to adjust. We already have a very broad range of products that we are continuously enhancing and matching to what our customers want. Our relatively new B2B offerings like our API and mean that business partners can utilize our services too.

Bernd Zipper: Do you maintain collaborative relationships with other print and media companies? That’s because as a member of the Initiative Online Print you do in fact have many opportunities for entering into strategic partnerships.

Philipp Mühlbauer: Indeed we now partner with a whole range of supposed competitors. In some cases we are expanding our product range by adding products that we cannot or don’t want to manufacture ourselves. We have many more working relationships where we do the actual printing for other print providers, either because we can do so at lower cost, because they don’t manufacture the products themselves or can’t deliver to certain countries. We are now very broadly positioned and have massive production power, particularly in terms of wall products.

Basic product of the pioneering kind and Picanova hit – the wall image; Source: Picanova

Bernd Zipper: Where do you see the most important areas of print product growth in the next three years and how are you gearing up for the future in this market? Where are you looking to invest next?

Philipp Mühlbauer: 3D print is definitely a massive issue and there will be plenty happening on that front. Whether and how we get involved in this segment will depend significantly on development of the requisite technology. Otherwise we will be expanding our portfolio by adding products where we anticipate that they have long-term potential. We will certainly be devoting more resources to the “Home” segment and we are currently in the process of upgrading our machinery assets.

My Take: Picanova is taking a modern and a successful approach to print marketing! Its services and broad product portfolio are spread out across different brands and the Cologne-based firm is no stranger to using social media for “print purposes”. And given that the additional print API is creating an even wider partner and customer base in the photo segment, Picanova’s business has firm foundations for the future. Programming interfaces to print fulfillers are a topic of the future for many printers, not only for the respective platform provider. As far as the issue of social media in conjunction with print is concerned, I can announce that I will have a fascinating post for you next week. So till next week!

Founder and CEO of zipcon consulting GmbH, one of the leading consulting companies for the print and media industry in Central Europe. The technology and strategy consultant and his team actively support practical implementation in a wide variety of customer projects. His work involves developing visions, concepts and strategies for the players active in the print production process across a wide range of industries. His areas of expertise include online print, mass customization, strategy and technological assessment for print, and the development of new strategies in the print and media environment. Bernd Zipper is the creator and chairman of Initiative Online Print e.V. and, in addition to his consulting activities, is an author, lecturer and sought-after speaker, orator and moderator. His visionary lectures are regarded worldwide as trend-setting management recommendations for the print and media industry. (Profiles also in Xing, LinkedIn).

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