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Digital printing is on the rise, as sustainability, labor and production benefits drive expansion in new and existing markets.

Digital printing continues to grow across the board, in markets raging from wide format and ceramics to packaging and textiles (which will be covered in separate features in Ink World’s July and October issues, respectively).

Digital printing is already a sizable market, and the use of inkjet printing is growing rapidly. This can be seen in the growth of inkjet ink sales. According to Adroit Market Research, the market for digital printing ink is anticipated to grow to US$ 3.33 billion at a CAGR of 12.7% in 2030. Market Research Future sets the market at $3.1 billion in 2023, with a CAGR of 7.23% through 2030.

Ink industry leaders are seeing similar growth in sales and in interest in digital printing, David Lopez, product manager, Professional Imaging, Epson America, Inc., said that the digital printing market is experiencing substantial growth marked by a steady incline.

“This is driven by increasing customer demand and the adaptability of print shops that are accepting and implementing evolving trends and new technology,” Lopez noted. “Additionally, a contributing factor to the growth is the shifting landscape of the labor force. The integration of digital printing allows print shops to optimize operational efficiency, requiring fewer employees and mitigating overhead costs for employers.

“Furthermore, today’s digital printers are highly efficient and productive, empowering print shops to achieve more with fewer resources,” added Lopez. “The latest advancements in digital printing, including new and faster printhead technology, rival the productivity of traditional analog printing techniques. These advancements offer digital print shops the ability to provide more customized output, increasing output capabilities and meeting customer demands.”

Richard Bowles, president and CEO of Nazdar, said that Nazdar continues to see significant growth in the digital printing market.

“We are seeing excellent growth across most digital print segments, highlighted by significant growth in the industrial segment, as more applications, equipment and inks are available,” Bowles noted.

Paul Edwards, VP of the Digital Division of INX International, reported that digital printing continues to grow, even under the more recent challenging global environment.

“There are many applications and niches which make up the digital printing segment, and you have to look more closely at them to understand the full picture. Some areas are growing quite strongly, and some less so,” added Edwards.

Andrea Connor, worldwide solutions marketing manager, Kodak, said that significant growth can indeed be observed in the digital printing segment.

“For Kodak, this has been confirmed by the fact that we were able to install the first KODAK PROSPER ULTRA 520 and KODAK PROSPER 7000 Turbo Presses at customer sites in 2023 and that we are seeing growing interest in these groundbreaking inkjet presses from all regions of the world,” Connor noted.

Danny Mertens, corporate communications manager for Xeikon, said that Xeikon continuously notices a 10% year-over-year growth within the markets and applications it serves.

“That growth is due to transitioning work between different printing technologies (offset to digital), but also new volumes,” Mertens said. “Sustainability is no longer a buzzword but is integrated into our lives. The drive to more sustainable packaging solutions also drives more volumes to digital print because it reduces job lengths and more JIT (just-in-time) production. At Xeikon we notice a growth in any packaging requiring paper-based substrates instead of plastics.”

Simon Daplyn, product & marketing manager, Sun Chemical, reported that in general, digital print markets have been growing, but at a slower pace in recent years due to a range of external factors bringing volatility to many segments.

“As the post-pandemic market began its recovery, the Russia-Ukraine conflict introduced a new round of global instability, increased energy costs and cost of living, and political uncertainty,” Daplyn said. “Despite the challenging environment, a number of markets within the digital printing sector have continued to exhibit strong growth, including digital labels, packaging, and décor printing. Graphics printing has remained stable, while the digital textiles sector has shown some stagnation, due in part to the cost of energy in production and to the evolution of consumer habits as a response to the increased cost of living in many areas. Most reports point to 2024 being a turning point for market growth of digital printing.”
Growth Markets
Throughout its years, digital printing has progressed from its early usage in personalization and direct mail to becoming the primary printing technology for billboards and ceramics and healthy positions in label printing among others.

While digital printing has a slight share of textiles, that market is growing fast, and packaging, including direct-to-object printing, is a huge opportunity where inkjet printing is expanding rapidly.

“A positive for INX is the growth related to the packaging segment, an area where we are typically strong and robust,” Edwards said. “The projections of market growth for the digital segment and the technology developments of ink and printers supports this. That said, other market segments have also shown growth and there is a plethora of new applications.

“There are areas in the industrial markets where inkjet can now be part of the manufacturing process, such as the decoration of flooring,” Edwards observed. “Direct to object printing continues to grow strongly as new applications are developed. A variety of smaller and larger players are targeting this application.”

Lopez said that for wide-format printing as an industry, Epson America is seeing a very strong growth in the customization of textile and t-shirt printing.

“For wide-format signage printing, even as we come out of the pandemic, outdoor activities are still very common in day-to-day life, and many still prefer to gather outdoors,” he added. “Consequently, the demand for outdoor signage remains steadfast, encompassing billboards, vehicle wraps, floor adhesives, as well as durable and weather-resistant items such as restaurant menus, table stop signage, banners, and more. The appreciation for practical outdoor signage has notably intensified.

“Additionally, we are seeing applications trending towards interactive and tactical outputs,” Lopez noted. “Recently, we had a customer leverage UV curable ink to create a stone-like print that looked and felt like real stone. It incorporated the rough feel with the different levels that layering real stone develops on a print that could then be used for an indoor display.”

Connor said that Kodak is seeing an increasing demand for print-on-demand (POD) in commercial printing as well as in educational, publishing and packaging printing.

“There are various reasons for this, such as the trend towards shorter runs, the demand for faster delivery times, the growing demand for personalization/customization, and the desire to reduce inventories as well as the associated tied-up capital,” Connor said. “Of course, the pursuit of greater sustainability and resource conservation in printing also fuels the growth of POD.”

Daplyn noted that packaging has emerged as a key target market for digital print companies. Within this segment, the strongest areas of growth have been in digital label printing, corrugated and metal packaging decoration.

“Inkjet is well established in the label market with a strong presence of UV LED inks and systems delivering exceptional quality. Adoption of UV technology and other new aqueous solutions continues to grow,” said Daplyn.

“Corrugated printing, both for secondary packaging and point of display, continues to expand in terms of share of digital print,” added Daplyn. “While the corrugated market is still dominated by analog print methods, as e-commerce continues to grow, digital print has become more aligned with the need for customization at scale as the package becomes the first brand experience for the consumer. Digital printing’s flexibility in production and potential for on-demand fulfillment also aids companies’ abilities to meet their sustainability goals.”

Daplyn noted that metal decoration has increased its use of digital printing for similar reasons as corrugated.

“As an example, the need for shorter runs of cans to support small batch beer production has established a strong and growing niche market for digital print,” Daplyn said. “In addition to these segments of packaging, the expectation for 2024 and beyond is that digital print for flexible packaging and carton board applications will experience strong growth. The significant investments in developing water-based inks and systems within these packaging sectors are driving the adoption of digital print in these key strategic application areas for inkjet.”
Unique Applications for Inkjet
Over the years, digital printing has grown in some interesting niche markets. Industry leaders spoke about the which ones that have surprised them the most, and why digital printing succeeded with them.

For example, Daplyn said that there are many areas where digital print has offered a solution as a deposition tool rather than a decoration tool, such as in printed biosensor solutions or tests for antibiotic evaluation. These applications show the significant value that inkjet adds to manufacturing processes.

Daplyn added that two more recent niche areas for inkjet that are showing great promise are digital printing of steel coil sheets for use in building clad and other areas, and digital printing
of foodstuffs.

“With steel coil decoration, digital print allows custom designs and the potential to print a landscape on the outside of an industrial building to allow it to blend with the environment, rather than the more obtrusive single-color panels often seen today,” Daplyn noted.

“Digital printing for food has been used for many years by places like bakeries that print celebratory messages onto their edible products,” added Daplyn. “This practice has seen recent growth in a more industrial manufacturing environment, where brands are extending the trend from the product to the packaging, allowing for more advanced customization. Digital print’s non-contact print process removes the concern for damaging fragile substrates while allowing detailed images to be printed onto a range of baked goods.”

Mertens observed that digital printing is and will remain niche by definition, due to its capabilities in versioning and variable printing. He discussed pipe markings and stand-up pouches as two interesting applications.

“Two examples of new applications we came across the past few years are pipe markings for industrial chemical plants. When printing these digitally, you can print all labels in the right order for them to be applied in the plant. This would be impossible with conventional technology,” Mertens said.

“The second one, of which we at Xeikon were among the first to develop, are digitally produced stand-up pouches. In general, marketers love to use pouches as they have an excellent in-store ‘shelf-appeal’ and a perfect product/package weight ratio (when compared to glass). The latest development now includes the use of paper-based materials to produces the pouches such that they can be recycled in the normal paper recycling streams.”

“Direct-to-garment (DTG) has been a major advancement for Nazdar over the last couple of years, as signified by our recent announcement of partnership with DTG OEM M&R to manufacture their DTG inks,” Bowles observed.

Lopez said that Epson America is seeing growth in eco-conscious clients and industries that previously would not purchase outdoor signage due to negative connotation with solvent ink.

“With the introduction of weather-resistant, water-based ink to wide-format printing, it has allowed print shops the ability to work with this niche market and onboard clients who may have taken pledges to be more eco-friendly,” added Lopez. “Some print shops have adopted water-based ink technology just to have the opportunity to work with these customers and meet their unique requirements.

“Digital printing had to evolve outside solvent signage ink technology to succeed in this niche market,” he continued. “Resin ink technology offers benefits such as faster drying times, making output ready immediately for lamination, and reducing the number of VOCs released during the curing process. Epson UltraChrome RS resin ink set is GREENGUARD Gold-Certified.”

“A positive surprise for us with niche markets was that KODAK PROSPER Imprinting Systems are increasingly being used in the production of personal hygiene products to print decorative images, marketing messages and information on films and special substrates efficiently and cost-effectively,” Connor noted. “Technology partners like GDM make our imprinting systems integral parts of their corresponding production lines. Printing takes place as part of the manufacturing process and is not a separate step requiring additional labor and material handling including moving of rolls, unwinding and rewinding of substrates.”

Edwards spoke about the rapid growth of digital printing of ceramic tile and direct-to-film applications.

“Historically, the rapid growth of ceramic tile printing was quite surprising with 90+ percent moving to digital in just a decade,” said Edwards. “This was driven by a combination of technical suitability (speeds and quality requirements were met and exceeded with new technology) and commercial drivers. Just-in-time manufacturing made a massive impact on inventory and delivery times of the new designs.

“More recently, the meteoric rise of DTF (direct-to-film) applications has been quite surprising,” Edwards continued. “Somewhat mirroring the ceramic market conditions, the technology speeds, costs and quality requirements were already good enough for this application. The major factor is market and commercial drivers were strong and in place – personalization and short run being a key driver – along with the ability of the digital print to be applied to many different and challenging substrates.

“People have been eager to pay good margins for the ability to provide a high-quality decoration to a multitude of substrates and objects,” Edwards concluded. “This is a current application where it is easy to enter the market, make money from it and, hence, has been widely taken up by small business entrepreneurs.”
Digital Printing 10 Years from Now
When asked what we can expect in the next 10 years, inkjet ink industry leaders discussed markets that are primarily printed non-digital today that will see digital printing have a significant portion in the future.

“Outside of digital labels, which has taken a long time to grow to the size it is today, I believe packaging is the one area where we will see some significant growth over the next decade,” Edwards said. “There are multiple segments to packaging, and some will develop more quickly than others. A good example is digital can printing, where there is great demand today for short runs and customization of the decoration. Just look at the number of craft breweries in the US today.”

Connor noted that digital printing has made significant progress in transitioning work from traditional print methods in recent years, adding that we are likely to see more commercial and industrial print migrate to digital printing methods as presses become more efficient and cost-effective.

“As technology improves even more, the packaging market is a great space for growth, particularly in flexible packaging and specialty substrates,” Connor pointed out. “Home décor, decorative printing, and tough substrates like ceramics and textiles will likely be incorporated into the digital printing market.”

“Direct-to-film is a burgeoning process we’re currently engaging that will become more and more prevalent,” Bowles observed. “Digital printing will impact many analog printing processes over the next 10 years but certainly not replace them in full by any means. There is a steady growth for digital printing in packaging and labeling.”

“We see that for self-adhesive labels in general, especially in wines and spirits, digital printing provides even the smallest producers the opportunity to use professionally designed and printed labels at an affordable price,” Mertens said.

“Looking ahead, it’s anticipated that the digital printing market will continue to gradually infiltrate markets that are currently dominated by non-digital processes,” Lopez reported. “Analog printing methods have traditionally been the primary resource for mass bulk printing, as it offers advantages in production costs and speeds when it comes to printing orders of more than 100,000 items.

“Over the next decade, digital printing is poised to reshape traditional print markets, with new opportunities to overtake traditionally analog markets,” Lopez concluded. “As digital technology advances, production costs will reduce while productivity, efficiency and image quality will increase, making it easier to digitally print many of these orders that are currently going analog.”

 

 

Author: Ink World Magazine

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