Thermal print industry to hit $39 billion in 2021

The thermal printing industry will continues to grow and evolve, finding new markets and applications according to the latest market report from Smithers Pira.

The Future of Thermal Printing to 2021 calculates that the global market for this technology will be worth $31.8 billion (€28.1 billion) in 2016 at end-user price level. It is forecast to grow at an annual rate of 3.9% to reach $38.9 billion in 2021.

Market growth is being powered by a number of trends and evolving business opportunities among organisations that use thermal printing equipment. Smithers Pira identifies the following five as the most significant for 2016-2021:

In 2016 retail and manufacturing represent 53% of the world thermal print demand.

Customer service

Thermal printers are faster, quieter and produce higher quality print than impact printers. Thermal technology is now replacing this older technology in transaction processing – at stores, kiosks, lottery and other gambling terminals, automated teller machines ATMs, self-serve petrol pumps and similar applications – where it leads to greater customer satisfaction and user experience.

There are two added bonuses. First direct thermal receipts are better at reproducing images, such as a cheque deposited in an ATM.

Second as new double-sided thermal paper media, which offer environmental advantages, are gaining acceptance. And retailers can include promotional coupons and valuable product information on the reverse side of their receipts. This ability to communicate with customers as part of the routine sales activity can drive additional sales and repeat visits.

Another recent development is the use of portable printers in mobile point-of-sale applications to speed up service during high-traffic times in convenience food restaurants.

Printing customer loyalty cards on-site, using dye diffusion thermal printers is another way of promoting greater allegiance.

Productivity improvements

The most compelling incentive end users have to acquire thermal printing is to increase their organisation’s productivity. This is the fundamental objective of automatic identification and data collection (AIDC) technologies – principally barcodes, smart cards and smart labels. The productivity gains of adopting AIDC initiatives are varied and include:

  • Automating manual processes, such as data entry
  • Increasing data accuracy
  • Reducing the time to market for a product by speeding up the processing of information
  • Eliminating excess inventory and loss, by computerised tracking and locating items

Barcoding has become the leading track-and-trace technology globally and will continue to be a highly cost-effective solution for the foreseeable future. As North American and Western European markets, and Japan, are well penetrated, the growth is expected to shift to less developed and underserved regions in Asia, Eastern Europe and Latin America.


The total global economic value of counterfeit and pirated products could be as high as $650 billion every year, according to the International Chamber of Commerce. Manufacturers and brand owners are developing various measures to identify their genuine products and protect their markets and customers.

Security printing with specialised thermal transfer ribbons containing unique inks or nanoparticles is a developing segment of thermal transfer technology. Similar technology can also be used for protecting important documents – such as passports and driving licenses. Adding security features to direct thermal media, such as watermarks that are not reproduced when photocopied, is another developing security application.

Product safety

Direct marking for traceability of consumer food and beverage items, such as date and batch coding with thermal printers is a well-established practice in the industry and will continue to serve in protecting consumers.

Outbreaks of illnesses caused by food-based pathogens maintain pressure for the adoption of AIDC technology in food supply chains. Here it allows distributors, retailers and authorities to track, recall and remove from sale infected fresh produce and processed meats more quickly. This market requirement will grow as more developing economies transition to a developed world model of consuming packaged food and beverages.

For the non-food industry the same capacity is vital when a critical component or safety device is found to be defective, as recently happened with car airbags. The inability to quickly identify the source and the magnitude of the problem has caused US automobile manufacturers to mandate the use of 2D barcode labels on all airbag systems purchased from vendors.

Unlike RFID tags that may not survive a crash, printed 2D barcodes do. Furthermore they can carry more information about the exact source, date and time, batch of manufacture which can be retrieved quickly without having to access a remote database.

As an added precaution, parts suppliers are now required to fully scan and validate all 2D symbols before applying them to their products.

Government regulations

Government mandates for product tracking can be stimulants for growing thermal printing market. Legislation like the US Real ID Act 2005 – currently scheduled for full implementation on 22 January2018 – will increase the demand for dye diffusion plastic card printers and supplies.

A similar law from the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued in 2004 requiring barcodes on labels of thousands of drugs and biological products resulted in a huge rise in demand for thermal printing products.

Simultaneously obligations to comply with FDA 21 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) Part 11 requirements for data validation, timestamps, maintenance of records and electronic signature capture is forcing heavily regulated industries – like medical devices, pharmaceuticals, and food and beverages – to modernise their labelling management systems.

The full impact of these drivers in different regions across the world is analysed in depth and quantified in Smithers Pira’s new report The Future of Thermal Printing to 2021.

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