Data from Smithers’ Latest Five-Year Industry Outlook

Smithers’ data forecasting charts “The Future of Package Printing to 2027” in a report of the same name.

It examines how a global market valued at $456.3 billion in 2021 will increase to $473.7 billion this year and then continue to flourish at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 3.1 percent for five successive years to ultimately reach $551.3 billion. It simultaneously identifies seven current challenges that will shape the package printing and converting world for the foreseeable future.

Print volume is pegged to increase as well—from 13.0 trillion to 15.4 trillion A4 print equivalents—across the corrugated, folding carton, and rigid and flexible plastics and label print segments.

Analysis holds that flexography will remain the most widely used print process representing around 36 percent of the contemporary market. Smithers projects a positive growth outlook (+2.4 percent CAGR, by value) for flexography through 2027. Projections in North America run slightly ahead of the global trend.

Web Smithers Future of packaging
Image courtesy of Smithers

An earlier report, The Future of Flexographic Printing Markets to 2027 (see page 16 of FLEXO Magazine’s May 2022 issue), holds that demand for flexographic print in North America (Canada and the US) will increase by 2.8 percent to reach $47.0 billion, making it a significant component in a global market valued at $173.1 billion in 2022. Continuing expansion of packaging segments and penetration into developing markets will see global expansion where flexographic production will be valued at $196.4 billion. Global volume output will reach 4.84 trillion sq. ft. (449.7 billion meters square) in 2022.

Innovate to Compete

Smithers contends that, “Packaging print is becoming increasingly competitive and will be the focus for further technical innovation through the 2020s.” Beyond flexography, it maintains, “Other analog processes, including offset litho (+2.5 percent CAGR), will see similar organic growth across the five-year study period, mainly from developing markets. The greatest expansion, however, will come from digital print for packaging—with a CAGR of more than 10 percent for the forecast period.

“Analysis holds that flexography will remain the most widely used print process representing around 36 percent of the contemporary market.”

Among the main challenges facing print providers, regardless of process that Smithers highlights, are:

  • Improving the sustainability of print systems by minimizing waste, optimizing the energy efficiency of print equipment and developing systems that can print on an array of new, more sustainable packaging substrates, including flexible barrier papers, molded fiber and mono-material polymer constructions
  • Adapting to new legislative requirements to move away from single-use plastics and improving recyclability of all formats
  • Reducing turnaround times, embracing print-on-demand business models, and enabling more economic short promotional and versioning commissions
  • Re-shoring or near-shoring of production of certain essential fast moving consumer goods (FMCGs)
  • Evolving print technologies and business models to capitalize on opportunities in the booming e-commerce segment, innovating with print designs and graphics to optimize engagement with home delivery customers
  • Implementing the latest automation advances in both digital and analog production. These Industry 4.0 technologies have the potential to simultaneously reduce the need for skilled pressroom labor while increasing responsiveness and overall print quality, consistency and uptime
  • Benefiting from advances in workflow software making printing more streamlined and cost-efficient; thereby allowing more low-run jobs to be produced

Specific to flexography, Smithers analysts listed corrugated as the dominant sector with a 37 percent market share; then identified folding carton as the leading growth sector, followed in second place by flexible packaging. The team indicated that, as the market evolves:

  • Flexography will benefit from continuing growth in demand for packaging print as an increasingly cost-competitive alternative to gravure and offset lithography
  • The need to produce shorter printruns and manage new demands for variable data print will stimulate further development of hybrid (flexography + inkjet) configurations
  • Adoption of computer to plate (CtP) and other automation features, and inline finishing, will improve order turnaround
  • Effective integration of electron beam (EB) curing stations and inks especially suited for high-speed flexographic print on newly popular mono-material flexible plastics substrates, will become a critical focus of ongoing R&D work

Editor’s Note: A new dedicated study—The Future of Package Printing to 2027—is now available to purchase from Smithers, the leading consultancy for the paper, print and packaging industries. Similarly, a still current and related study—The Future of Flexographic Printing Markets to 2027—remains available. For further details, including pricing and order placement, visit