Digital print to continue to grow: Smithers

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The latest commercial print market report from industry analysts Smithers, available for a mere €5950, says over the next five years digital print will continue to grow in volumes and value, while litho will remain static.

Digital print: growth to continue
Digital print: growth to continue

According to Smithers in 2017 the analogue print industry was worth $734.5bn; by 2027 this market is expected to be worth $721.4bn. Digital print in 2017 was worth $122.9bn, and is expected to reach $189.8bn by 2027.

Between 2022 and 2027 the global analogue printing industry is expected to achieve growth globally, albeit by just of 0.8 per cent. The digital printing industry by contrast is expected to witness an annual growth rate of 5.7 per cent.

The Smithers report says inkjet and electrophotography (toner) print continue to threaten to displace offset litho in multiple applications, as the market space adjusts to an increasingly digital future. The Future of Digital versus Offset Printing to 2027 tracks the dynamics of this competition across the next five years, profiling how the latest technology developments will redefine the sector.

Offset litho (sheetfed, heatset web, coldset web) remains central to global print technology. In 2022, a total of 27.69 trillion A4 prints will be produced on offset litho presses – almost exactly two thirds of total print output – worth US$326.8bn. In contrast, digital printers will output 1.67 trillion A4 print equivalents this year, however the total value of this work will be $144.1bn, highlighting the value-adding potential of switching work to digital print.

Heatset and coldset litho represent the majority of output. These processes are used mainly for magazines and catalogues, and newspaper print, respectively, all of which have suffered major losses over the past two years, as Covid-19 has helped accelerate many readers towards electronic media.

Demand for sheetfed litho has been more robust, but is increasingly reacting to the challenge of inkjet in several core segments. Other analogue process, led by flexo, will be more resilient to this trend, mostly due to expanding demand for labels and packaging print.

Advertising and commercial print are the major applications for sheetfed litho, both of which suffered severely during the pandemic. The primary advantages digital offers in these applications are faster turnaround, low cost customisation, and better cost profiles on shorter print runs. As higher productivity machines are introduced the cost of printing on inkjet continues downwards.

The report says print buying is moving towards shorter commissions as well, and budgets have been revised to target higher returns. In response press sheetfed OEMs are working to develop more efficient presses, minimising downtime and other operating efficiencies. Push-to-stop technology will continue to develop, and be enhanced with machine learning and AI software to maximise uptime and make intelligent smarter maintenance cycles. This trend is already evolving into a greater emphasis on post-sales services from litho OEMs, helping to maximise returns for their customers.

Smithers says that simultaneously the installation of more very-large format (VLF) offset presses offer economies of scale, which will further pressurise smaller litho press operators.

A further challenge is that the print quality achievable on digital has improved significantly, with some now indistinguishable from offset litho production. Within digital, the latest generation of B2 and B1 format inkjet presses is also eroding the demand for electrophotography, with much mono continuous commercial work migrating onto high-speed inkjet machines.

Over the forecast period, advertising applications will account for the highest absolute volume increases for inkjet. Packaging, particularly corrugated and flexibles, commercial print and books are also growing strongly. Toner print will see some moderate growth in commercial and graphics applications, including specialty products, like photobooks.

Adoption of digital has been led by North America and Western Europe. Neither of these is saturated however, and all regions will see wider adoption of the technology – Asia in particular. In this region access to digital technology is being bolstered by the production of locally produced entry-level presses, while the global market benefits from more dedicated media and inline finishing.

According to Smithers The Future of Digital versus Offset Printing to 2027 contains authoritative market data for the historic, current and future demand (by value and volume) for all digital, offset and other analogue print processes (flexo, gravure, screen, letterpress, other analogue). The relative merits of both offset and digital print are summarised with technology profiles including cost comparisons across standard run lengths, inks and consumable costs; including the impact of hybrid printing and the digitalisation of print rooms.

This is quantified and presented in almost 150 data tables and figures, segmenting each market by:

  • End-use application (books, magazines, newspapers, catalogues, directories, advertising, commercial, transactional, security, labels and packaging)
  • Geographic region (Asia, Africa, North America, South America, Western Europe, Eastern Europe, the Middle East, and Australasia).

This "in-depth strategic" study for the print industry is available to purchase now, priced €5,950.

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