Significant growth in functional and industrial print markets demonstrates potential for printers and suppliers

A new report from Smithers Pira examines the rapidly emerging use of printing-for-profit in novel areas outside the traditional graphics and packaging arenas.

This wide range of applications in professional 3D printing, printed electronics, biomedical and more are driving market growth, in a collective industry quantified by Smithers Pira as being worth $67.4 billion in 2015, up from $32.1 billion in 2010. It will grow to $107.9 billion by 2020.


Printing technology is widely used to decorate many items, from architectural and automotive glass to ceramics and electronics, household items, toys and textiles. It can be used with special inks to create new functions – including biomedical and photovoltaics, which are becoming significant markets. There are established sectors – wallpaper printing, for example, dates back hundreds of years – and there are emerging sectors with lots of hype, such as 3D printing and printed electronics.

Futuristic applications are being developed at laboratories, with headlines on everything from printing human tissue and even replacement organs, to creating synthetic meat in a less environmentally harmful way than raising livestock. Inventors describe new classes of nanomaterials opening new opportunities. Professional 3D printing is used to make key components of jet aircraft, for instance, although, more broadly, many system providers and commentators suggest it will revolutionise manufacturing.

Figure 1: Global functional and industrial print by value

Printed electronics include membrane switches, RFID, circuitry, photovoltaics, display and lighting, all of which are growing in importance. This sector, often controlled by large electronic companies, holds the largest market share and this is expected to increase by 2020. There are great opportunities in electronics to develop functional inks to print circuitry, displays, lighting and photovoltaics, providing improved properties at significantly lower cost than traditional silicon fabrication.

Décor is the second largest market sector, accounting for just over a third in 2010. As the overall market grows, décor’s share is expected to fall as print opens new applications.

There is an increasing trend to use printing as a part of a wider manufacturing process; or in the case of 3D printing where it is the manufacturing process. There will be increasing crossover between sectors and applications. Printed sensors, to monitor health, water and air quality are growing in use – and these can include electronic capability. Decoration will increasingly provide functional capabilities as well. In future a CO detector may be incorporated into wallpaper that could also light the room, for instance.

Regional industrial print markets

Industrial printing takes place across the globe. Some processes and products are falling in certain regions, even as the whole market grows strongly.

Asia is the major region for industrial printing, with strong growth across all processes and applications. Inkjet will see the fastest growth in 2015-20, but screen remains the largest sector. Japan and Korea are leading many high-end developments, particularly in fast-growing electronics. By 2020 Asia will account for 40.7% of the total market, up from 37.6% in 2010.

Western Europe and North America will have higher growth rates forecast in 2015-20. All industrial print processes in Western Europe are growing, with printed electronics and 3D printing leading the way. Inkjet is growing the most rapidly – in value terms it will overtake gravure in 2016. Likewise, in the North American market, it is printed electronics and 3D printing that are growing most quickly, followed by biomedical printing as new applications come to the market.

Opportunities for growth

There is consistent growth across the industrial functional landscape as demand grows for construction, automotive, electronics and manufactured products that increasingly incorporate print. This is in stark contrast to publication and commercial print, where print volumes are declining. Many established printers serving those markets are looking to follow the example of large Japanese print companies and move into industrial markets, where they can use their core skills. The four main players are Toppan Printing, Dai Nippon Printing, Choyoda Gravure and Nissha Printing, which operate manufacturing plants in Japan, China, Europe and North America. It is also attractive to equipment and consumable suppliers to develop niche applications that may grow significantly, as is the case for inkjet printing of ceramic tiles.

Analogue processes are well represented – specifically gravure, screen and pad-printing – with the fastest growth observed in inkjet. Suppliers have developed equipment to broaden applications, with new inks, coatings and functional fluids providing new properties of flexibility, adhesion and durability, together with novel capability in electronics and biomedical. There are also bespoke proprietary methods, often closely guarded by manufacturers.

Industrial printing uses plastics, film, glass, wood, metal, ceramics, textiles, laminates and composite materials as substrates, with paper in the minority, except for in decorative laminates.

The established suppliers may be part of a wider manufacturing company, or a specialist contract supplier. In Japan traditional print companies have grabbed share of the electronics and lifestyle printed sectors, but this is not the case in the rest of the world. There are complex routes to market and supply chains across industrial functional print, but this is opening as the topic is featured in conferences and exhibitions, with the users looking for innovation and process efficiencies. This will provide many opportunities for print companies and for their suppliers. Greater coverage of the topics in the trade press and events is raising awareness in the established players, which might improve their print and decoration using new techniques from new suppliers.

As in most printing processes there are always possibilities to reduce wastage, reduce the time and cost of the process, or to increase the quality of the print and of the item. Expertise of experienced print service providers may be helpful to specialist manufacturing operations. There will be efforts to improve sustainability, and to reduce the environmental impact of the overall manufacturing process.

There are development centres in pharma company labs, electronic companies and universities across the world, with some projects supported with government grants. Joining consortiums and exploring possibilities is a good tactic for printing companies, which have skills and resources valuable to these projects. There are also national organisations funded to promote innovation.

The Future of Functional and Industrial Print to 2020 is available for £4,200. For more information, please download the brochure here.