Key end-user sectors for booming inkjet printing market

Smithers Pira pinpoints six key end-use markets for inkjet printing – the fastest growing printing technology used by graphics and packaging applications.

The value of the inkjet printing market in 2018 is worth $69.9 billion. According to a brand new Smithers Pira report - The Future of Inkjet Printing to 2023 - this is forecast to grow 9.4% annually reaching over $109 billion by 2023.

The economics and reliability of inkjet are consistently improving as a result of heavy investment in printheads, machinery, inks and drying systems, associated software, and substrates.

There is strong growth across most of these disparate activities because the non-impact process is flexible and capable of printing at high quality and speed, making it suitable to print many products; while the cost position is becoming more economic against most analogue printing alternatives.

Smithers Pira exclusive research highlights six key end-user markets where inkjet printing will have the greatest impact across the next five years:

  • Packaging
  • Books
  • Commercial print
  • Photobooks and photoprinting
  • Magazines
  • Newspapers.


Inkjet has long been used in preparation of pack prototypes and proofing, but has proved slow to take off in production. There is real traction being seen in 2018 however, as high-performance inkjet machines come to market for printing cartons; flexibles; rigid plastics; metal; and in particular corrugated board.

In corrugated, single-pass preprint and postprint machines being adopted enthusiastically by converters. Many boxes and trays are full printed – even bases, which are not seen by the end user. As more corrugated is used by consumers, brands and retailers will work out which designs work well and make changes in the approach to graphic design for corrugated to take advantage of the new technology. One sector showing great potential is the e-commerce sector, which is growing globally.


Inkjet is being adopted into book printing as the high-speed technology provides critical advantages in producing short to medium runs of mono and full-colour books cost-effectively. There has been strong growth for the inkjet book market between 2013 and 2018, growing from $1.5 billion to over $3.8 billion.

This strength in inkjet has resulted in a lack of specialised litho web offset book press manufacturers following the bankruptcy of Timsons, meaning book printers have been unable to invest in new litho machinery. The single-pass web inkjet presses have changed book printing. Linking mono and colour presses to slick cutting and folding systems in order to deliver sections or blocks for near-line binding allows printers to offer economical short runs, helping to reduce waste in the supply chain for publishers.

Commercial print

Inkjet is increasingly being used in commercial print applications, with wide-format and high-speed presses being joined by the very high-quality sheetfed inkjet presses. Products include:

  • Greetings cards
  • Forms
  • Cards
  • Stationery and envelopes
  • Folders
  • Postcards
  • Playing cards
  • Training and product manuals
  • Newsletters
  • Badges
  • Programmes
  • Posters
  • Leaflets.

In 2018 these various applications will amount to almost $5.7 billion – some 126 billion A4 prints. There are many producer companies selling small volumes, but this is changing as more high-quality sheetfed presses come onto the market and web press users broaden their applications.

Ink use for commercial print is growing, with wide-format printers using special effect inks including metallic for short runs, as well as process colours in sheetfed and web single pass machines.

Photobooks and photoprinting

Inkjet is used to print a variety of photo and photobook products, from kiosk and photoprinting photolab applications to large-format canvas and giclée prints. There are wide-format machines, with some of the new high-quality sheetfed presses being used to print photoproducts.

Online ordering using web-to-print has helped the establishment of the sector and widened the range of applications, with intuitive sites – many linked into leading retailers – and brands helping the amateur designer to create a permanent record of a family event, a holiday or a wedding. Gifting continues to grow, with calendars and diaries containing photos of family members or specific interests being popular. There are also professional versions with very high-quality and expensive finishing.


There was little magazine printing using inkjet before 2013, but users of high-speed inkjet lines started to develop magazine applications as quality and reliability improved. The 163% annual growth rate from 2013–18 in value terms is testament to this, indicative of the emergence of the sector.

The use of inkjet in magazine publishing will continue to increase as the installed base of high-speed inkjet presses grows and the range of applications broadens.  

Inkjet magazine printing is a high-value product sector, through the relatively low volumes and high levels of personalisation in covers and sections. As the market for inkjet printing develops so the volume of ink, predominantly water-based on single pass sheet and web presses, grows. It is process-colour based.


While readership of newspapers is, and will continue to decline in the face of competition from online media, inkjet is offering publishers new options to enhance their publications. Litho will remain the dominant process for cost reasons, but these presses can now be enhanced with the addition of inkjet stations for adding variable-data content.

 A smaller market is dedicated inkjet presses for short runs that can be printed in specific locations to eliminate physical distribution costs and, importantly, delays in getting titles to their readers in places far from the main litho printing sites.

The medium- to wide-web presses, partnered with cutting and folding, are able to print onto newsprint and deliver a collated, folded tabloid or broadsheet title that is virtually indistinguishable from litho printing. A benefit is the ability to print different tiles sequentially, eliminating manual collation of titles for a particular outlet and further simplifying final distribution.

There are many examples of inkjet press installations helping to push newspapers; one such is Digitaprint, in France. It was founded in 2015 to sell digital printing for newspapers. One customer is the publishing company Sogemedia which publishes local weekly newspapers with highly localised and personalised editions. One title is a regional weekly that was published in a single edition with a circulation of 8,000 copies, now transformed from one into 11 ‘hyper-local’ editions.

The Future of Inkjet Printing to 2023 is the definitive guide to understanding the outlook for this thriving industry. Download the brochure for more information.

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