Briefing: What You Need to Know About the Digital and Screen Wide Format Printing Industry

The digital wide-format industry is dynamic and fast-moving. The sector has reached a high stage of maturity all in less than 20 years.

The sector has moved from initiation to rapid growth with strong proliferation of players and consolidation. The number of integral players is shrinking, and start-ups are becoming quite rare. Major players with diverse interests in the printing industry - specifically the digital printing industry - are now active in this particular market segment. Many others, including Inca Digital, Agfa and Mimaki, have established themselves in digital wide-format print.

Meanwhile wide-format screen printing, which for many years has been the predominant technology in the display graphics and visual communications sector, now continues to lose ground. Innovations are few and far between, and it is now confined to a role as a legacy technology, although it will retain an important position for several decades yet as it is still used to lay down very heavy coverages much more cheaply than inkjet. What can we expect to see from these industries in the near future? In this new and exclusive bulletin, Smithers Pira examines the current state of the wide-format printing industry.

Threats to progress

The emergence of electronic displays based on flexible electronics is, potentially, one of the most significant threats to the wide-format printing industry. It is true to say that electronic signage has been considered a potential threat for some time, without taking significant market share. There have been some recent experiments which haven't progressed, such as the Tesco in-store TV, however flexible electronics will be better suited to meet the needs of signage applications, enabling them to take a greater market share. After years of converting to digital, it is somewhat ironic that digital print may ultimately see itself being replaced by yet another form of digital technology, in the form of electronic displays. Roll-to-roll manufacturing will be essential in order to create flexible, low-weight displays that can compete with printed displays from a cost point of view.

The effects of the 2008-2009 recession were most marked in the screen printing market, which suffered more than its digital counterpart. The shipment of screen printers declines rapidly in the Western world as the print shops stopped investing, particularly in old technology. In contrast, 2010 was the rebound year. Broadly the market recovered and regained its 2008 size. However, the gradual decline of screen-based printing will continue, but it is expected to be a long tail.

Geographic forecasts

Worldwide, Smithers Pira predicts that the transformation of this market will continue over the forecast period at a global level. Screen's share of combined screen and wide-format/flatbed inkjet machines will fall 30% in 2011 to 22% in 2017, while screen's share in terms of combined printing output valued at ex-factory prices will fall from 36% to 24% over the same period. This may be due to the fact that digital technologies offer multiple benefits such as reduced set-up time, cost-effective short-run production, rapid response time, consistent output for repeat orders, and a completely digital workflow. In addition, growth of digital is being fuelled by increased reliability, increased productivity and lower cost. The combination of all these factors will lead to an overall market expansion as a growing number of applications become feasible for digital technologies.

Geographically, the replacement of screen technology will be more significant in Western Europe than anywhere else. With a higher degree of environmental focus than in other areas, Western Europe has been quicker than other geographic areas to adopt UV-curable inkjet technology, as well as the more recent latex printer products. Other regions are catching up to these trends, but penetration will remain highest in Western Europe throughout the forecast period.

The screen printing market developed strongly in North America in the 1960s and 1970s and a highly productive installed base remains in place. This has also resulted in a slower penetration of digital technology compared with, for example, Western Europe. With longer print runs and less demand for customisation, conventional (litho and screen) print has retained a larger share of the display graphics market - and for a longer time. With Western Europe, however, the continued development of digital offerings combined with the demographic changes in North America makes it a strong growth market for digital, especially for the new generations of UV - and latex-based printers. Utilisation of the installed screen base is declining, whereas it is increasing for the digital base.

To learn more about digital and screen wide-format printing, take a look at our in-depth report, The Future of Screen and Digital Wide Format Printing to 2017 now.

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