Digital print is on track to further displace demand for traditional processes, according to the latest figures from Smithers Pira.
In its new market report, The Future of Digital vs Offset Printing to 2024, Smithers Pira recorded a total market share by value for digital print of 17.4% this year. This has risen from 13.5% in 2014 and is set to rise again to 21.1% or $862.7bn (£672.7bn) by 2024.
According to the research, this growth will be driven by increased penetration by digital in markets such as packaging, as well as greater competitiveness in longer runs as higher productivity kit is developed.
Population growth and increased urbanisation have reportedly influenced the consumer demand for print, as supply chains move to on-demand or short-turnaround models and the use of artificial intelligence and big data factor increasingly into manufacturing.
As the transition accelerates, many print companies are balancing both conventional and digital outputs, with focus gradually increasing on digital. Jon Bailey, chief executive of Sheffield-based ProCo, has been running digital and litho side-by-side for 20 years with six HP Indigos onsite alongside his RMGT Ryobi LED presses.
“I do not think it is a question of particular jobs for digital anymore as it is such a mainstream requirement for production,” he said. “Its appeal is speed-related but there is also the demand for smaller volumes and personalised or one-to-one marketing.
“At the moment, digital is probably 60% of our turnover and volume but the world was built on litho and its surrounding tech – that market is still innovating and reinvigorating so I can see a mix going forward. We need a cross-section of all kinds of kit in the sector.”
Northside Graphics managing director Gary White was an early convert to the digital way, having started his company using solely digital kit. The Belfast-based outfit still only runs digital and has fully committed to both the advantages and restrictions of the format.
He said: “I decided a long time ago that the future was going to be digital and I put all my eggs in one basket. In the early years, there were a lot of concerns about quality compared to litho but I think in the real world the difference is really negligible for the end user – it is just those of us who know about print that notice.
“By adopting digital we did ultimately turn our back on longer runs, but runs are coming down and the economy of scale lends well to using digital.
“In the future it will be interesting to see what happens – I think the fact long-time litho printers are investing in digital kit is a clear indicator and, with our digitalprinting.co.uk brand, we are crystal-clear to clients about where we stand.”
For Witherbys in London, the transition has been steady and gradual, starting in the early days with the introduction of a Xeikon press, up to now as the company runs two Xerox Versant V80s.
Managing director James Greene said: “You could see the industry was moving towards digital back in the days where your choice was between an Indigo or a Xeikon. We had our Xeikon for a long time and enjoyed many ways of success.
“By turnover, digital is probably around 10-15% of our business, but due to the increasing demand for short runs and quicker jobs, it can be up to 60% of our volume. It is a lower-value form of print and so clients that are quality-driven still tend to prefer litho.
“There is certainly a trend towards shorter run lengths and digital, but from my perspective it is nowhere near as rapid as you might read.”