By John Nelson

Few print segments have suffered more disruption in the past three years than signage. The COVID pandemic shut down most applications for printed signage, as advertising, physical retail, sports, and leisure events were all strictly curtailed.

The marketplace is still febrile, many printers have closed their businesses, while print buyers are demanding new levels of service from their partners. As this happens, there are opportunities for more agile wide-format print service providers (PSPs) in the shape of new customers and market applications. While conventional signage work is increasingly competitive, the demand for textile and interior design graphics are increasing, providing the main diversification options for wide-format presses.

Outlook for Signage Print

Signage has traditionally been the main market for wide-format presses, printing posters, banners, flags, backdrops, point-of-sale (PoS) displays, billboards, decals & transfers, vehicle/fleet graphics, building wraps, corporate graphics, and trade show materials.

Exclusive new data from Smithers show that global value for these in 2023 will reach $40.99 billion. Available to purchase now in its latest report—The Future of Printed Signage in a Digital World to 2028—this is still down around $5 billion on pre-pandemic value (constant prices). Across the same period the volume of printed signage has fallen from 10.81 billion meters square in 2019, to 8.92 billion meters square in 2020.

Demand for printed signage did recover in 2021–2022, after the sharp drop of 2019–2020. Output for all printed signage is projected to reach 10.08 billion meters square in 2023. The upward trajectory is now levelling off, with inflation, rising energy costs, and geopolitical issues all impacting consumer confidence. Smithers forecasts are that demand for printed signage will only grow marginally over the next five years with value increasing at a compound annual growth rate of 0.2% to reach $25.15 billion in 2028. Volumes have a 0.7% CAGR for the same period, meaning global output will reach 10.43 billion metres square in 2028.

North America

The US and Canada are typical of other developed economies. COVID-19 saw advertising budgets switched to online channels, accelerating a trend that was already evident pre-pandemic. Overall signage demand in North America will decline from a projected $11.62 billion in 2023, to $11.13 billion in 2028 (at constant prices). The greatest volume loss will be in large permanent or semi-permanent format work, such as posters, billboards, sails, and hot air balloons.

The outlook is more positive in retail signage, mainly various PoS display formats. The increase in e-commerce has impacted physical retail visits, making signage for in-store discounting an important tool to draw shoppers back through the doors.

As the market evolves, inkjet is becoming even more prominent in signage work—meeting the need for quicker turnaround on orders and greater flexibility that many commercial customers have built into their supply chains in the wake of the pandemic. In the contemporary North American market, the process represents 65.0% of total value; with smaller shares for wide-format offset litho, screen, and other analogue print lines.

Smithers analysis shows inkjet will further strengthen its position in the region across 2023–2028, and attract the vast majority of R&D spending. This will yield a range of new, superior inks, coatings, substrates, and software for inkjet in signage and beyond.

Textiles and Décor

With signage volumes declining, many display and sign PSPs are, by necessity, broadening their market to include alternative products. Home décor has emerged as one promising opportunity, including the potential to print bespoke premium wallpapers or laminate decals on wide-format presses. The majority of such work is on inkjet, although Xeikon has built a specialized wallpaper print platform around its toner presses. Launched in April 2022 this promises production speeds of up to 900 sq. m/hr.

Textile printing was identified as a strategic growth priority for inkjet OEMs during the 2010s, as illustrated by EFI’s purchase of Italy’s Reggiani. As conventional signage print becomes less attractive in developed markets, this is increasingly being vindicated. Textile printers have performed well across the past three years, capitalizing on the e-commerce apparel trend and increased investment in domestic furnishings. Major investments are being made. Amazon’s $0.4 billion purchase agreement with Kornit Digital, to support its Merch business line, was one of the most eye-catching deals of the COVID years.

Analog wide-format is much less well positioned to exploit these opportunities. Ordering—either for single items from a consumer, or repeat refill orders from clothing stores—is increasingly being lodged online, and inkjet is inherently a “digital native” technology. It is much easier to integrate with a host on online tools, including portals that give the purchaser direct control over the design.

The Future of Printed Signage in a Digital World to 2028 is available to purchase now from Smithers. It combines expert analysis of contemporary trends with exclusive data (value and volume), segmenting the market by signage format, print process, geographic region, and leading national market.

John Nelson is an award-winning editor and journalist working in the market reports and consultancy business of Smithers. Here he covers market and technology developments across multiple technical and commercial segments; including home and personal care, sustainability, packaging, printing, paper, nonwovens, rubber, and tires.