When many in print and converting production and technologies around the globe get together, one of the discussions usually goes something like this: “How many drupa events have you been to?” or, “what was your first drupa?” Full disclosure, I attended my first drupa at Messe Düsseldorf in 1982 and haven’t missed one yet.

When you start to dig into those questions and listen to the discussions, you really begin to see and feel the motivations that have driven the evolution of the Print industry—I capitalize the “P” in Print to reflect the new and expansive role it has grown into. Yes, there are other print events both large and small, some regional and some targeted at a specific vertical, but there is really only one drupa. After the unfortunate COVID-based cancellation of drupa 2020, for those in the industry who have never attended a drupa—now is your chance. And perhaps for those who have, but forget what drupa really offers, perhaps need a catch-up is needed. I recently had the opportunity to speak with Sabine Geldermann, Director drupa, Portfolio Print Technologies Messe Düsseldorf, to discuss the event itself and the various regional events leading up to it.


WhatTheyThink: Sabine, in advance of drupa 2024, I know you have been traveling and holding events around the globe. I am sure there are many factors, but I want to get to the bottom of the drupa allure. What have you found?

Sabine Geldermann: We traveled the world with drupa staff and board members over the last year and so far have made about 25 presentations. On our journeys, we were traveling not just in the established markets of the Americas and Europe, but also in emerging markets, together with the VDMA and some board members of print industries. At each event, you could always feel the excitement and the huge anticipation of drupa. We most recently saw it in Budapest, but also saw it in India, Vietnam, Thailand, and the other emerging markets we visited.

It’s always very emotional when, after a presentation or during a Q&A session, industry experts would say, “it’s my fifth drupa” or “I’ve been attending drupa for over 20 years, and I am very much looking forward to it.” So it’s part excitement, part anticipation, and part the emotional memories they recall while they are talking about drupa and their experiences. drupa always has been identified as the Olympics of print or, as an Indian industry expert said after our presentation, if print were a religion, then drupa is the Mecca.


WTT: Once you get past the emotional allure, there are many other reasons why drupa has this almost required attraction to the industry. Is one of those a need to understand how and where this evolving and growing industry is going?

SG: There is certainly a huge need, now more than ever, given the disruptive times we live in, to come to drupa in order to make sure you maintain or grow your competitive advantage. You have to go there in order to understand how the industry is developing, and how it is evolving. Many of our exhibitors certainly underline, when they’re talking to us, that they will show product premieres that have not yet been in the market or even on the agenda of so many members of the global print and packaging industry.

So I think we can expect, first of all, many and diverse technology trends and innovations, including workflows, integrations, machinery, and a lot more. There have been discussions about how sustainable is it to come and bring large equipment and technology. However, on the other side, everybody says this is the important part of their booth and of the exhibition. If attendees go to an exhibit and they only se digital screens, you are missing the point. Attendees and prospective customers on a global scale would like to touch, learn, and experience the equipment and technologies. This is why obviously many big companies—you know the names—are already organizing their shipments of technology that they will showcase at drupa. And I think that’s a good thing.


WTT: Post-COVID, some printing companies and equipment manufacturers have become more tentative in their decision-making. What are you seeing as you travel around and speak with different audiences?

SG: Last week, we had our drupa committee meeting, which takes place once per year. We were talking about the experiences of our drupa president, who is also the CEO of Koenig and Bauer. While he traveled with us, he was very touched by the excitement, and he shared his experiences with people who were not traveling with us. He said he was taken by the fact that emerging markets are very hungry, they are very dynamic, and in comparison to some of the more established European and Western countries, seem more interested in understanding the industry’s evolution and opportunities.

Everybody has challenges. We were talking about energy prices or paper prices or disruptive supply chains or inflation or interest rates, and it’s not only Germany or Europe that has these challenges, it’s on a global scale, more or less. However, some countries, and specifically in the emerging markets, they take it on with a different attitude, or they have a different mindset. They say, “yes we are living in difficult times, but, hey, you have to continue, you have to be there to learn.” You have to show what you, as an individual company, as a country, or as a technology driver, are able to do and to help. And that’s the big difference.

Industry Growth

WTT: There is a pervasive sense that print is a declining industry, when in fact it is actually an evolving and growing industry.

SG: I can only underline what you said because, at the end of the day, we share very reliable statistics during our conferences and panels to prove it. Currently, ~4 million people are working in the print industry on a global scale, and generate more than $US980 billion turnover [revenue].

Commercial print is more or less stable or shrinking in mature markets like Europe or some of the Americas, although it is very different in Asia. What is certainly encouraging is the fact that the global middle class is growing. There’s one projection that shows that, in the years 2015 to 2030, specifically in India and Asia-Pacific, the middle class will double in size in relation to their population increase. This automatically correlates with what they consume. So, if you have a growing middle class, and this is defined by people that are earning $US20,000 per year on average in these regions, then you automatically consume more. In this case, you’re talking about food, non-food, pharma, and cosmetics. This is all packaged—and this is print for packaging.

And this is pushing growth in the overall print and packaging industry as well, as our customers diversified their portfolios so much. It’s a positive effect in terms of growth. On average, we are talking about a growth percentage of 4% CAGR, but there are countries like India where it’s 6%. In Vietnam, it’s 5–6% growth as well. This is compared to regions in Europe, for example, where it’s only 2% growth. But the powerhouse is certainly Asia, given its population, and Africa and Latin America as well. So they all have an increasing population, and because of that, automatically need more print and packaged goods. That is absolutely driving our industry.

Global Interest

WTT: Many say that drupa is a regional or German event, but, having been there in the past, I don’t necessarily agree with that. But what are you seeing?

SG: Of course, we will have many European visitors. Although it’s very nice to see that, for example, print 21, the Australian-based magazine and publisher group, is coming with a group of, as they say, Kiwis and Aussies. They are, like they traditionally do, organizing a party event downtown in the old town. We are already getting similar questions and requirements from delegations in Asia, including Vietnam, Thailand, Indonesia, Singapore, the Philippines, and Korea. We are having the World Print and Communication Forum and the board meeting during drupa as well. We hope and expect to we see a lot of visitors from Americans, including LATAM, as well. The world is getting prepared.

Nurturing the Next Generation

WTT: One of the things we hear a lot about lately is the need to engage the future generations with print, as the older generations are leaving the workforce. Are you doing anything with the educational communities?

SG: Absolutely. So you’re hitting the mark, because one very central discussion point we heard a lot about during our world tour is the lack of skilled workers in Europe and in mature markets, as we expect a huge percentage to disappear given age and taking retirement. On the other side, we don’t have the growth rates in population, so there’s not as much young talent coming in and growing up, unlike India or emerging markets where you have a very young population. Next to that, we also have this reputation that [print] is not the best for young talent because people think of what the print industry was. So there’s a need for lobbying and for showcasing how brilliant our industry is and showing the potential and the opportunities, as well as the new skills that are certainly needed in our industry.

This is why we are definitely working with universities. For example, the University of Stuttgart is coming with all their cooperating international university partners. We as drupa engage with different schools, and we are engaging with the Academy for Fashion and Design and Graphic Arts here in Düsseldorf. We even developed a program with them for their bachelors studies and the nominees and the winners will showcase their project at drupa DNA in hall 7, which is a dedicated forum allocated to other university partners as well. We are definitely encouraging participation from universities as we think it's important to show the young talents, alumni, and students all the opportunities in the market and to connect and potentially to meet a potential and future boss or company to work for. On one side, it’s employer branding for the big players like HP or Heidelberg, and on the other side, it’s really matchmaking for young people to start early enough to build up their business networks.

We have participation from universities at our dedicated room for visionary intelligent and smart packaging solutions that’s organized by the European Brand and Packaging Design Association. We are cooperating with the Academy of the Fine Arts in Milan. We are also cooperating with groups in the UK and in the Netherlands. In this specific case, young talent collaborates and cooperates with established companies like HP, or Heidelberg, or Koenig and Bauer, and many more. They are creating unique packaging solutions and applications that will be showcased for the very first time at drupa.

Event Size

WTT: drupa has always been a marathon, with lots of buildings and lots of walking. What can we expect this year?

SG: We are covering the overall fairground and we’re talking about 18 halls. Even though our numbering system ends at 17, you have hall 8 A and 8 B, you have hall 7 0 and 7 A, you no longer have a hall 2, but we have the new hall 1 and then it goes to hall 3. So it’s a little bit confusing, but still 18 halls will be included. We are talking about a net space of roughly 140,000 sq. m [1.5 million sq. ft.]. Which is, given the times and the consolidation in the industry, a very good result so far. Interesting enough, we are still getting requirements from the exhibitor side, and new exhibitors—from Turkey, Germany, Israel, and from the US—are asking if there’s still space available. What we are seeing is that the world is making decisions in a much shorter timeline than previously, and probably observing what others are doing, then realizing they have to go because their competitors are there. So even though we are only three months before drupa, there seems to be a huge flexibility in terms of preparation.

All Work and No Play?

WTT: One of the side benefits of attending drupa is that once you have exhausted yourself walking around the exhibits, you get a chance to go outside of the Messe and spend time in Düsseldorf. What kind of special events can we expect this year?

SG: So we are again having drupa City. It’s a hospitality concept that we are organizing together with partners from the town, including restaurants, hotels, retail, etc. We will have our exhibitor party. We are also having meet the press receptions, global association receptions, and so many more events organized either by exhibitors or even trade magazines and their communities to enjoy the evening downtown.

Then we also have a very nice event on June 1st. It’s Japan Day. As you might know, Düsseldorf’s nickname is Little Tokyo, because they have the biggest Japanese community outside of Japan and within Europe, living downtown. So every year, they organize Japan Day. This year, it’s going to fall during drupa. You can expect a spectacular during the day at the riverfront, with people getting in traditional or even manga clothes. There will be one of the most beautiful fireworks shows that will start when the sun sets roughly around 10:30 or 11:00—it’s known to be even more sophisticated and spectacular than even the fireworks for the New Year which are already quite amazing. There are many more events to come, because we’re just now in full preparation to define which event is going to be on which day.

Attendance and Lodging

WTT: What does registration look like so far?

SG: The registration is developing dynamically. So I can, on a daily basis, observe how the ticket shop is evolving. Many of the countries need visas, this is the reason why we have had lots of early registrations. Other than that, I think now with the three months remaining, it’s getting very dynamic. Next to the individual ticket purchasing process from the visitor side, exhibitors are also inviting their customers. As compared to every other industry trade show, it will pick up within the next weeks and months, because still many are just doing it short term as it usually is. Many are making arrangements for their hotel rooms and for their flights already, but the last step is always purchasing the ticket for the event itself.

In general, the number of hotel rooms has been increased since last drupa, even since 2020—and enormously in comparison to 2016. So depending on the quality of a hotel you require, you can easily pay quite an amount for, a one night stop. Some exhibitors and attendees are clever and plan to stay in Cologne or in the surrounding environs of Düsseldorf. So you’re still finding rooms, but it’s always good to start early enough. Airbnbs are also great options.

WTT: drupa 2024 will be held from May 28–June 7, 2024, at the Messe Düsseldorf. Registration, Exhibitor, Program and Travel Information can be found on the drupa site (

WhatTheyThink has also been selected as the exclusive media partner and drupa daily publisher for 2024.  More information on sponsoring the drupa daily is available at 

More to Come…

It’s a new year and with drupa 2024 beginning to shine its light, it will be an exciting one. I would like to address your interests and concerns in future articles as it relates to the manufacturing of Print, Packaging, and Labels, and how, if at all, it drives future workflows including “Industry 4.0.” If you have any interesting examples of hybrid and bespoke manufacturing, I am very anxious to hear about them. Please feel free to contact me at [email protected] with any questions, suggestions, or examples of interesting applications.