The global market for inkjet printing will grow at a rate of 9.4% year-on-year and will be worth $109bn (£85.4bn) in 2023, according to new research from Smithers Pira.
The print and packaging consultancy’s latest market report, The Future of Inkjet Printing to 2023, said this contrasts positively with the general outlook for the print industry, where growth is occurring at 0.8% annually.
In 2018 the total value of inkjet printing in graphics and packaging applications will reach $69.6bn, Smithers Pira said, with a total print volume equivalent to 749 billion A4 prints.
This volume will consume some 103,700 tonnes of ink, with the end-users spending $8.7bn, while the market for new inkjet equipment will be $3.6bn.
With the potential of inkjet – predominantly in short-run and variable-data printing – increasingly realised, Smithers Pira said the technology is changing printer business models, disrupting established supply chains, and enabling new value-adding options.
Author of the report, Smithers Pira print consultant Sean Smyth, said: “In general terms inkjet is by far the fastest-growing printing process. It’s being used in more and more applications and that is because of its inherent flexibility – you can virtually put any fluid onto any surface.
“The applications are improving all the time as manufacturers spend more money on heads, fluids, control systems, drying and a whole range of things that are required to make a reputable printing machine.
“Billions of dollars are being spent on all aspects of that, which has been going on for quite some time, and now the latest inkjet machines are more productive than flexo, litho and in some cases gravure machines, in terms of throughput.”
While advertising will continue to be the largest end-use application across 2018-2023, the most rapid growth will come from wider use of inkjet in books, packaging and commercial printing.
“Inkjet has effectively allowed book printing companies to re-engineer their manufacturing capabilities. It’s not just the ink on paper, it’s the infrastructure in the eco-system which some people use,” said Smyth.
“One of the key things about inkjet is that it’s not just a replacement for another printing system, but it enables you to manufacture in a different way, with workflow, better controls and better demand forecasting.
“Printondemand-worldwide, for example, are enabling the batch of one by combining lots of jobs together and printing them all in one line. Because it’s totally digital and they’ve got the finishing and everything in combination, it doesn’t matter how many pages or what format it is, you just run the whole lot together.
“That means that instead of the traditional manufacturing cost of one book – pre-press, printing all the sections, gathering sections, binding it, finishing it, trimming it and sticking it out – you get a batch of 100 or 1,000 ones where all of a sudden the unit cost of manufacture is competitive compared to the traditional model.”
He added: “In packaging, changing retail supply chains along with strong growth in e-commerce – now including mobile-enabled ‘m-commerce’ – are pushing further adoption of inkjet as brands and retailers look to communicate with end users in new ways.
“Equipment manufacturers and converters are exploring new functions enabled by versioning and personalisation on packs as packaging is used in new ways to engage with consumers.”
Smithers Pira said developers are also exploring ways of leveraging the flexibility of inkjet to open new market applications such as 3D printing, automotive and transport printing, biomedical printing, ceramics printing, décor and laminate printing, direct-to-shape printing, glass printing, textile printing and printed electronics.
Addressing the higher ink costs traditionally associated with inkjet, Smyth said: “The unit cost of production of inkjet has been plummeting over the past few years as the performance of the engines has increased.
“The ink price is only one component of the overall cost and there are lots of things you can do with clever colour management and other things to help reduce the amount of ink on there.”