Data & Findings from Smithers’ The Future of Print Equipment to 2026

Smithers is now forecasting that the global market for print and finishing equipment will reach $15.9 billion this year.

Data from its new report, The Future of Print Equipment to 2026, reveals a drop in sales values from $17.3 billion in 2019 to $13.2 billion in 2020. The research team believes that:

  • In the post-COVID world, sales will struggle to recover to pre-pandemic levels after an initial—and dramatic—20 percent rebound in 2021
  • The market will be essentially flat, with a -0.2 percent compound annual growth rate (CAGR) for 2021-2026 at constant prices

Expectations hold that the nature of that kind of operating environment will, “place a premium on new technologies, value-adding systems and services, and greater automation, as print OEMs look to maintain profitability.” Analysts decreed, “In the midst of recovery from the disruption caused by COVID, the outlook remains challenging through to 2026.”

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All graphics courtesy of Smithers

They did, however, point to snippets of good news:

  • North and Latin America will see moderate rises in equipment sales by value over the period—close to 1.0 percent CAGR
  • Flexographic printing equipment sales will rise from $1.23 billion to $1.57 billion in the five-year period—a gain of nearly 28 percent
  • Flexographic printing equipment is gaining market share, closing the gap with sheetfed offset

At present, inkjet leads all other print classifications with $3.1 billion in 2020 sales. It’s followed by sheetfed offset at $2 billion, then electrophotographic at $1.43 billion, then flexography.

According to Smithers, “Across 2021-2026, the largest growth market for equipment sales will be in Asia, especially India and China. Demand will decline in both Western and Eastern Europe.” Analysts maintain, “The seismic impact of 2020 is being felt in all technology sectors and geographic markets, but not equally.”

Study findings indicate that, “The most severe effect will be in sales of analog platforms used in commercial print and publications, with some smaller print service providers pushed out of business. These applications were already in decline with falling print volumes across the 2010s, now exacerbated by COVID.” The forecast calls for a 1.9 percent decline year-on-year for analog equipment over the next five years. Most heavily impacted is the second-largest print classification—sheetfed offset. It will experience a drop in sales totaling hundreds of millions of dollars, as volume trails off to $2.25 billion in 2026.

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That said, the market observers report, “Overall increased demand for packaging press and digital technology will largely balance out this market decline… The installed base of digital presses will grow overall, with electrophotographic presses adding particularly to the installed base. The installed base of inkjet presses is forecast to be essentially static between 2021 and 2026, as the removal of wide-format presses compensates for greater use of single-pass and sheet-fed units in packaging and other alternative applications.”

A leading trend that has seen a marked acceleration in 2020 is the shift to shorter printruns, which is shifting the per unit print costs in favor of digital (inkjet and electrophotography) presses. Digital equipment is easier to integrate with e-commerce, web-to-print and print-on-demand service models, which are increasingly popular; and deliver value-adding variable data print.

In the short term, Smithers observes that, “Many technology leaders are more focused on incremental improvements to existing platforms, until revenues recover. Tighter budgets mean there will also be more pressure on OEMs to revise their ink pricing strategies.” Elaborating on the point, it says, “Traditional analog press builders are innovating in this space. On analog presses, automation in prepress, on-press plate making and automated washup is a priority, to boost operational effectiveness and maintain margins and profitability.”