Smithers Pira Report Sees Significant Growth for Flexography

In 2018, the global market for print equipment has a value of $19.77 billion, according to the latest exclusive analysis from the Smithers Pira report The Future of Global Print Equipment Markets to 2023.

The global value for print equipment sales (at constant prices) grew from $19.11 billion in 2011 to $20.96 billion in 2017 before falling back to its 2018 level. Across the next five years, market value will recover slightly to reach $19.92 billion in 2023.

Flexo in Perspective

In terms of overall value, only one analog process—sheetfed offset litho—will see real growth in the value of equipment sales across the Smithers forecast period. There will be a small boost for postpress equipment as quality finishing becomes a higher priority for print buyers.

Globally, flexography will remain the second-most-lucrative process for print equipment across 2018-2023. In 2018, the installed base of flexo printers worldwide is just under 160,000 presses. Flexo accounts for around 8 percent of new sales of all print equipment worldwide (Smithers Pira’s figures do not include second-hand presses). Annual sales of flexo presses—worth $1.58 billion in 2017—will see only a marginal decline over the next five years. In 2023, annual sales will be $1.52 billion.

Significant growth will also be seen in digital print segments, as demand for flexibility, variable data print and short runs dovetails with better performance and higher throughput machines. Interestingly, real increases will only be seen in sales of inkjet machines, with the electrophotography (toner) segment of the market declining faster than many analog ones.

Installed Base for Printing Equipment

All data courtesy of Smithers Pira

Global Demand for Flexography Machinery

Asia is the largest region for new sales of flexo equipment—around 43 percent of global demand. Over half of these regional unit sales are in China, with Japan accounting for 28.5 percent of regional demand in 2018. Unit sales in Asia as a whole will fall back slightly over the five-year period to 2023.

North America is the next largest regional market for unit sales of flexo equipment, with 19 percent of global demand in 2018, followed by Western Europe and Latin America with 14 percent and 12 percent of global sales, respectively. Demand for new flexo presses in North America and Western Europe will fall in the years to 2023. The regional and national markets that will experience an increase in sales across this period are those with unsaturated consumer markets for flexo print products, especially packaging.

Latin America overall will see a moderate rise in demand, which will be most pronounced in its largest national market, Brazil. Eastern Europe, the Middle East and Africa will also see a positive increase in demand for flexo presses, especially Russia.

Technology Priorities

Maintaining market share for press builders in an increasingly globalized sales environment will be dependent on evolving machinery in line with—or anticipating—future needs of print service providers. Currently, developments in modern flexo presses are aimed at reducing operational costs so they can be cost-competitive at shorter printruns with newer digital print engines.

Much of this depends on greater automation with better mechanical and temperature controls, and systems that enable shorter makeready times. Many newer flexo presses have short web paths to reduce the time and cost of job changeovers, while tone value increases (dot gain) are controlled and adjusted during production. Improved leveling and dot reproduction on plastic films during high-speed printing is also being aided by newer water-based flexo ink sets reaching the market.

“…the volume and value of flexo work will grow across the forecast period. Data from Smithers Pira’s The Future of Flexographic Printing Markets to 2023 shows value will rise from $164 billion in 2017 at 2.3 percent year on year to reach $187 billion in 2023.”


Reductions in prepress times and costs are an important component in ensuring low cost and better efficiencies in the flexo print process. The introduction of computer-to-plate (CTP) processes has been a key factor in reducing prepress times, as well as providing improved reproduction quality and service to customers.

Computerization of production processes has already increased the degree of sophistication in flexo plate designs that provide higher levels of consistency of printed images with higher definition. This is increasing flexo work to offer print quality that approaches offset litho and gravure output, but at lower cost than with these two processes. The wider use of sleeves has also—and will continue to—help reduce makeready times.

This trend is a boon for flexo pressrooms, where there is an increasing shortage of skilled operators as older staff leave the labor force.


The trend in all print processes is to improve productivity. So while the value of flexo machine sales will remain static across 2018-2023, the volume and value of flexo work will grow across the forecast period. Data from Smithers Pira’s The Future of Flexographic Printing Markets to 2023 shows value will rise from $164 billion in 2017 at 2.3 percent year on year to reach $187 billion in 2023.

In North America, output is forecast to rise at 0.8 percent annually for the next five years. As this happens, the product mix will shift. Flexo presses will take on more work in certain packaging segments—cartons, labels and, in particular, flexible formats. Corrugated board work will see a marginal decline in the region, but volumes will fall most significantly in non-packaging applications, such as newspapers and envelopes.

About the Author: John Nelson is a commissioning editor in the market reports and consultancy team at Smithers Pira. John is responsible for coordinating and commissioning expert market research and technology scoping reports for a spectrum of clients within the paper, print and packaging industries. He also has a deep knowledge of other business and technology areas across the wide-ranging specialties within the Smithers consultancy portfolio. He can be reached at 44-1372-802000 or [email protected].

Comprehensive data on flexo press equipment sales for North America and the world is given in the two Smithers Pira reports: The Future of Global Print Equipment Markets to 2023 and The Future of Flexographic Printing Markets to 2023.