The inkjet printing market is valued at $33.4 billion in 2011 and forecast to grow to $67.3 billion in 2017, according to Smithers Pira, the worldwide authority on the packaging, print and paper supply chains.

According to our new study ( inkjet is growing because it provides significant advantages across many supply chains. The developments shown at drupa further cement and will accelerate more widespread adoption.

Inkjet printing is not a discrete market, and the technology is used in many diverse graphics, packaging and industrial applications using very different types of equipment and materials. Inkjet is used in textile printing, in industrial decoration for glass, ceramics, flooring and synthetic building materials. It is used in manufacturing display screens, photovoltaics and some electronic products and there is great potential for inkjet to be used as a manufacturing process for precisely applying small quantities of material in additive deposition processes.

This inherent flexibility has attracted the attention of many leading print equipment suppliers and they have invested a great deal of money to develop new printing systems, much more than in any other printing technology. The prize is not just a press sale; there is the very lucrative ink and service over the life of a press with attractive margins available on inks.

Global trends

Inkjet is currently a small proportion of global print and printed packaging. In 2011 it accounted for some 4.2% of print value and just under 0.5% of the volume. It is attractive to suppliers because the sector is growing strongly while conventional print volumes fall. It will still account for less than 1% of print volume by 2017, but significantly it will be nearly 7% of the market value.

Visual communications is the largest market sector for inkjet, representing 57% of the value in 2011. But this proportion is steadily falling as the technology is taken up to print books, transactional and direct mail, packaging and labels, and commercial products, which are all growing strongly. Signage was the first market to use inkjet following the launch of the first wide-format presses in the 1990s. It was competitive against screen printing and inkjet has replaced much screen capacity for signage with the sector targeted by many commercial printers. The equipment used ranges from low-cost traversing head machines to 5m-plus grand-format printers and high capacity flatbed machines where the bed moves under a fixed array of inkjet heads to build up the image with quality determined by the number of passes.

Inkjet succeeded there because it helped printers better serve changing market demands, a similar pattern to ceramic tile printing, where inkjet provides many economic and production benefits over screen printing. The technology’s greater flexibility includes infinite variability of natural designs, printing to the edge of a tile, quicker response times and lower breakage levels. For rotary screen printing a job changeover can take a day; every tile can be different in inkjet which makes short runs more economic.

There are some 600 inkjet print lines installed, with sales in 2012 of 500 more systems predicted, ranging from $350,000 (€274,000) up to $1.5 million.

The other area growing rapidly is textiles, where digital printing is taking off with new, faster technology coming on stream.

Dynamic markets

Inkjet is well established in visual communications using wide-format equipment, but the really dynamic sector is in high-speed inkjet, with many print providers moving away from high-volume mono laser printing.

Aurelio Maruggi, vice president of HP’s high-speed production solutions, says that high-speed inkjet is now part of the mainstream, with HP having installed over 60 of its high-volume T-series inkjet press lines. Screen reports over 410 of its high speed inkjet presses installed.

In 2011 HP reported that the print volume from its inkjet presses was 459% higher than in 2010, with well over 8 billion pages printed across the year with volumes accelerating steeply. 

High-volume personalisation

Inkjet is being used in magazine production, with 300,000 copies of the November edition of Popular Mechanics magazine sent to US subscribers with a personalised cover. An outsert from HP greeted the subscriber by name and showed a scene specific to their home town.

Inside the issue was a 16-page advertising section, printed by O’Neil Data, which gave readers locations where they could buy HP products near their homes.

The programme promoted HP’s consumer printers, but it was also useful in showcasing the high-volume print capability.

Publisher Hearst noted that there had been a very good response rate to an associated competition to win an HP printer. The webpage visits werefour times the industry average response rate, of these 86% entered the contest, an 86% visitor-to-entry rate. The print generated 1,427 QR clicks from associated insert content links to web content.and Hearst is examining the potential of using the technology with other titles. One approach could be to vary the creative content by geographic region, providing location-specific messages to help a marketer connect with consumers like the HP ad did with city-specific photos.

drupa saw the launch of Landa’s nanography. This is an indirect inkjet and if it comes to market successfully will prove to be a huge disruptor. One of my Heidelberg contacts commented “This changes the game!” and may prove to be the final step in all the industry firmly embracing inkjet. Those who already have are generally doing rather well.

New market study

With quantitative market sizes and forecasts based on in-depth primary research, The Future of Inkjet Printing to 2017 is a unique market study for business planning. The study is available now for £3,750. For more information, please contact Stephen Hill at +44 (0) 1372 802025, or via e-mail on [email protected] or