Now in its fifth full-year since its introduction, the continuous-feed inkjet printer market shows no signs of maturity. There are few other markets in either the printer segment or consumer electronic segments that continue to show growth after five years. This doesn’t mean that the path forward is lined with rose petals; the challenge of where to continue to find enough pages to fill these highly productive printers is not an easy challenge.
Transaction printing remains the largest application of all pages printed on these devices. While actual pages will double through the forecast period, I.T. Strategies is projecting that by 2017, nearly all toner-based mono continuous-feed pages remaining will have been replaced by continuous-feed inkjet printers. This means that future page volume growth will become more dependent upon a combination of both offset page replacement and new application page volumes.
There remain three core applications for continuous-feed inkjet production printers: transaction, direct mail, and book printing. Transaction printer sales continue to do well, but a significant amount of placement volume was due to large account sales. Some of the sites purchased in excess of six engines in a single deal (all U.S.-based), with one account reportedly acquiring in excess of 15 engines. Units intended for direct mail applications also grew, mainly due to growth in Asia (mitigating decline in Europe).
Engines for book printing applications grew in 2012 as existing accounts added more engines. It should however be growing more, as the technology and print quality are well proven at this stage in the market. The issues may well be related to costs. I.T. Strategies is projecting slower adoption for 2013 among book printers as those that have not yet moved to ink jet printing systems continue to be slow to make the large investments required. When adding inline finishing, the cost of total investment can often be double the system acquisition price.
Engine Unit Sales by Applications
Source: I.T. Strategies, Inc.
“Other” applications include those units that are neither strictly transaction nor direct mail printers. Some are printing variable-data catalog inserts, some wealth management reports with photographic image content, customized travel itineraries/brochures, etc. The common link is the heavy dependency on variable data and color photographic images.
The continuous-feed inkjet production printer market is a great market to invest in, especially in the context of most other printer market segments. Total revenue growth is expected to average 18% annually for the next five years.
It may well grow even faster than projected in our forecast here, providing some of the ink coverage and substrate challenges get solved sooner than expected. The focus on applications will be:
- Short-term: Remains transaction focused.
- Mid-term: Must come from direct mail and books.
- Long-term: General commercial print applications on broad range of substrates and PQ, with a heavy focus on variable-data print value creation.
To outpace the forecast projections, I.T. Strategies believes the equipment suppliers will need to make a large investment in:
- Substrate/ink technology development to open up broader application range beyond transaction, direct mail, books, which are mostly printed on uncoated papers.
- Large-scale development and accessibility of variable-data sources to enable the production of high-value pages.
While the journey to be able to print on inexpensive offset coated papers is underway, and may take more resources and time than we’d all like, these issues will probably be solved. The large-scale development and accessibility of variable data is a more complicated challenge. It involves the many more stakeholders, including the specifier who orders the print, the print provider, regulatory bodies, and ultimately the OEM equipment supplier in whose interest it is to have their customers print more page volumes, page volumes that are valuable. Both of these are good challenges to have, ones that the industry leaders will be working hard on to most efficiently and time effectively resolve.