World’s biggest print expo makes a welcome, if downsized, comeback

1,643 exhibitors from 52 nations attended Drupa 2024

After years of preparation and hype, Drupa finally returned to Düsseldorf for 11 days from 28 May to 7 June – its first in-person exhibition since 2016 due to Covid disruptions in the interim.

Exhibitor expectations had ranged from apprehensive to cautiously optimistic, as while there was little prospect that the show would match the 260,165 visitors seen in 2016, it was difficult to predict exactly how many people would turn up to Messe Düsseldorf this time.

While the show organiser had pre-show hopes of hitting the 200,000 mark, the event ultimately attracted 170,000 trade visitors.

48% of respondents to a Printweek poll that asked ‘What did you think of Drupa?’ said they did not attend. Of the remainder, nearly twice as many found that the show met or exceeded their expectations (34% combined) than found it disappointing (18%).

The decline in visitor numbers was fairly noticeable to a seasoned Drupa veteran. Many of the halls were often busy but not usually so crowded that you couldn’t move; a far cry from the turn of the century when the 2000 show attracted nearly 430,000 visitors.

But times have changed, and for many exhibitors this drop-off was acceptable, not least due to the consolidation and changes seen in the industry as well as the seismic global economic and supply chain challenges seen since the 2016 event, and many were happy with enough quality leads and conversations to generate a healthy return on investment.

Running under the tagline ‘we create the future’, 1,643 exhibitors from 52 nations attended. The international share of the visitors was 80%, with attendees coming from 174 countries. After Europe, Asia was the most strongly represented region, with 22%, followed by America, with 12%.

Show forums Drupa Cube, Drupa Next Age (DNA) and the Touchpoints Packaging, Textile, and Sustainability were also well received by visitors.

Sabine Geldermann, director of Drupa and Portfolio Print Technologies at Messe Düsseldorf, said: “The unique and inspiring atmosphere of Drupa, characterised by innovation and international collaboration, has underlined the global importance and relevance of the industry.

“And Drupa itself has remarkably underlined its position as the leading global trade fair for printing technologies: a further increase in internationality and, above all, a high level of decision-making competence of visitors enabled the best possible networking and, in particular, direct investments.”

She added both exhibitor and visitor feedback had been “very motivating as well as encouraging”. 

Sustainability was expected to be one of the major trends at the show and, while it clearly was – with many exhibitors shouting proudly about what they were doing in this area – there probably wasn’t one overarching defining trend, rather lots of separate major trends, of which the green agenda was one.

With the challenges of finding skilled labour highlighted in a lot of presentations during Drupa and at pre-Drupa events, it was no surprise that automation played a large part in the show, with a major focus on AI and smart workflows, including software. Robotics were also everywhere, with extended arms, pallet trucks and more on numerous stands. For more on this, see our technology feature.

Digital print was also dominant, particularly innovations in B2 inkjet and finishing.

“High-speed inkjet is really something that is on everybody’s minds, and while we continue to invest in and develop toner solutions, the majority of our investments are going into high-speed inkjet,” said Eef de Ridder, vice president, Graphic Communications Group at Ricoh Europe.

“The printers currently using offset are really where we see the future growth and the future demand coming from, certainly on high-speed inkjet.”

Digital was also prevalent on many of the stands showing machinery for producing packaging and labels, one of the industry’s core high growth areas, meaning there was a huge focus on packaging throughout the event, with many specialist presses and impressive samples on show.

The 410 Chinese exhibitors also made their presence felt, many showing greatly improved quality compared with what was seen in 2016 (see this month's other briefing for more).

While many exhibitors reported that the show got off to a quiet start on day one, it quite quickly got busier on the second day. And ultimately, major exhibitors including Bobst, Canon, Fujifilm, Heidelberg, HP, Horizon, Koenig & Bauer, Komori, Konica Minolta, Kurz and Landa all reported having signed contracts that exceeded their expectations.

In Hall 17, HP, the expo’s biggest exhibitor, said it attracted over 35,000 visitors and hosted 2,500 customer demos and expert meetings.

During the show, HP industrial marketing lead EMEA Andy Pike said: “It’s so good to be back in front of people, having our own hall again, and the new kit has been very well received.

“Skilled manpower is a challenge and automation is the key. People are looking at their press and they want it to be full capacity, non-stop production. What we’re really trying to do with our presses is to make sure that they are as efficient as possible – short run or long run, that it’s able to do it.”

Duplo International CEO and chairman Bruno Picquet, meanwhile, praised the quality of the people seen on the company’s stand and said, “it has to be quality over quantity”.

“I will be happy if everyone says Drupa is a success and manufacturers, suppliers, printers and we all come out of this show on a high. We all need this – the industry, our competition, everyone.”

Ryan Miles, managing director of Heidelberg UK, said the show had gone “better than expected” from a UK perspective.

“The level of busyness and energy that’s going on in the stands is quite incredible. There’s been a good vibe and everybody’s happy. It’s been a nice uplift for us and what we’ve seen is a lot of genuine, interested customers.”

Hans Schmidbauer, Canon EMEA director for marketing and innovation, commercial printing, said the number of external visitors and invited guests on Canon’s stand with the potential to buy was “quite immense”.

“People enjoy having good conversations, and they are eager to find out new things; they are eagerly looking around and investigating what we have on our stand and really enjoy one-to-one discussions with experts and to share and learn.”

Juergen Gschloessl, head of sales projects and consulting at OneVision Software, meanwhile said the business saw new sign-ups for its vendor-agnostic offerings direct from its stand.

“In the past when we’ve had a new lead, even with existing customers, they like to talk, go home and have a think, so this year has been great for us.

“Everyone is asking us about artificial intelligence, and connectivity is another big trend – we find that in Europe a lot of people are currently rethinking their MIS to make it more integrated.”

Henrik Müller-Hansen, CEO and founder of Gelato, said he had seen a large number of visitors that wanted to become production partners for its platform.

“We are so oversubscribed. The demand is outpacing what we can deliver in terms of requests to sign up.

“We have also met creators who are really interested in what we’re doing and how they can connect and start selling over Gelato. In a way, Gelato is the marketplace where creators and makers meet. Our job is to provide the vehicle for creators to go global and makers to produce for those creators.”

Despite the glowing exhibitor feedback, one of the criticisms levied by some industry analysts was that there were few major innovations that had never been seen or heard of before the show opened.

Many of the big product launches from the likes of HP, Komori, Fujifilm, Duplo, Bobst and more were indeed flagged up at pre-Drupa events earlier this year, but this likely helped to shape and steer serious business conversations and also arguably helped visitors to better plan what they wanted to see to maximise their own return on investment.

Taking a few days out of the factory with the costs incurred of hotels, travel, meals, entry tickets and time away from the business meant that they needed to be able to hone in more than ever before on their areas of interest in the limited timeframes they may have had, so many will have likely appreciated the pre-Drupa previews.

There were still plenty of major announcements saved for the show. Among them, Heidelberg and Canon revealed they would be partnering on B3 and B2 sheetfed inkjet; there were several new launches from Konica Minolta; EFI claimed the world’s first all-in-one full-colour box production system; and SwissQprint presented a prototype of its new automation option designed for all of its flatbeds.

One of the other critiques of the show was that it had not evolved enough since 2016, despite the widespread industry changes seen since. While some old traditions were warmly welcomed back – drinks in the packed bars of Düsseldorf’s Altstadt and the Drupa song playing at the start of each day – some observers felt that the flow and layout in some areas could have been tweaked.

With lots of empty space in several of the halls, some felt these could have been consolidated to make for a tighter visitor experience and to enable individuals, who were perhaps only there for a couple of days, to see as much as possible instead of spending their time racking up thousands of extra steps outside.

Largely, though, the feedback was positive and, post-show, many exhibitors have already started the process of converting promising leads into a healthy sales pipeline that will hopefully last for months, if not years ahead. The early signs are positive going by the high number of machinery investments reported on Printweek.com in the last few weeks for deals either completed at or made public during Drupa.

Meanwhile, Messe Düsseldorf said the dates for the next show – confirmed for 2028 – will be decided and announced at the end of summer, when more information will also be provided. Whether it comes back full scale, for the same duration and making use of the same number of halls as this year, or has a shorter duration and tightened footprint in some way, is yet to be seen.

Either way, for now Drupa remains the world’s biggest print show and one of the best opportunities for printers to get together with their suppliers and contacts, see machinery demos and print samples, and get up to speed on industry developments, all in one place.

While for many exhibitors the scale of their appetite for the next show may depend on what comes out in the wash in terms of tangible results over the coming months, this will more than likely be a positive return for many judging by the high number of reported serious conversations had with quality visitors.

Trade show success in this day and age is becoming less about total visitor numbers and more about the level of business generated from those that do attend and interact.

Drupa is no different and, based on feedback from many exhibitors and visitors, organisers can be largely pleased. But to continue to attract quality visitors for many more years to come, some format refinements may yet need to be made. 


What did you think of Drupa's return?

Simon Cooper, managing director, Solopress

“That energy and the feeling of being a part of something much bigger than you necessarily perceive from the day-to-day – it was lovely that Drupa managed to attract a lot of people. The visitor numbers looked good, at times we were struggling to make our way through the halls. The vendors I spoke to – most of the major printing and finishing manufacturers – all seemed to be having a pretty good time and doing deals, so what I hope that means is there will be another one. Another day at the show without any meetings would have been good, just to roam the halls.”

Alan Bunter, managing director, Remous Group

“I wasn’t sure what to expect post-Covid, but I was pleasantly surprised; it still has that impact. You forget what a leviathan it is! It is a lot of money to go – the flights and hotels are eye-watering, especially for an SME like us. It’s quite an investment for just a couple of days, but I think it’s worth it. It gives companies a heads-up on what the manufacturers think the future is going to be for print. For most of them, it was automation: they all had robots.”

Lucy Swanston, managing director, Nutshell Creative

“Drupa was an incredible experience that has left a lasting impression on me due to its scale, variety, and innovation. The last time I visited was 20 years ago when I was a young estimator/account manager looking to source a new MIS. Many discussions and displays focused on future trends and innovations; topics like AI, sustainability, and digital transformation were prevalent, emphasising the direction in which our industry is heading. The international presence enriches the attendee experience, offering diverse perspectives and a broader understanding of our industry.” 

Del Simmons, managing director, Dayfold

“The show was great; it must be 2012 the last time I was there, and you just forget how big the place is. But there was a really good buzz and vibe. What I really liked is that there were lots of talks with printers about collaboration and working together, and that was a really nice feel – I think the industry really needs that. I was also looking around the packaging area and seeing what was happening there and was just keeping my eye out for things that I haven’t seen and things that are new.”

Miles Linney, CEO, Linney

“It was amazing to see how things have moved on since the last Drupa. Everything is so fast! We sent two teams to look at developments across the board. When we got back, we challenged ourselves, if we had a blank sheet of paper what would we do in terms of production? And then looking at the products and the clients that we’ve got and where are they going to be, too. We’ve done a bit of that of course with the Fujifilm-Barberan investment. The great change and pace of technology we saw at Drupa, the speed and everything else, really makes you think – and the rise of inkjet was apparent.”

Jonathan Tame, managing director, Two Sides Europe 

“I was at the show to talk in the Drupa Cube about sustainability and I spent time with some of our key partners that were exhibiting, looking at what they were doing, particularly on sustainability. I’d never been to the show before and I was shocked by how big it was, it really blew my mind. I was walking around all of the halls impressed by just how much equipment there was. Clearly, the focus was on digital printing, and there is no doubt that everyone was talking about sustainability.”