Offset litho (sheetfed, web heatset, coldset web) remains at the heart of global printing technology. In 2022, a total of 27.69 billion A4 prints will be produced on offset litho presses – almost exactly two-thirds of total print production – worth $326.8 billion. By contrast, digital printers will only produce 1.67 trillion A4 print equivalents this year. The total value of this work, however, will be $144.1 billion, highlighting the value-added potential of shifting work to digital printing.
Heatset and coldset litho represent the majority of production. These processes are primarily used for magazines and catalogs, and newspaper printing, respectively, all of which have suffered significant losses over the past two years as COVID-19 helped accelerate many readers to electronic media. .
Sheetfed litho demand has been more robust, but is increasingly responding to the inkjet challenge in several key segments. Other analog processes, led by flexo, will be more resilient to this trend, primarily due to the growing demand for label and packaging printing.
Advertising and commercial printing are the primary applications for sheet litho, both of which have suffered severely during the pandemic. The main benefits offered by digital in these applications are faster turnaround time, low cost customization and better cost profiles on shorter print runs. As higher productivity machines are introduced, the cost of inkjet printing continues to drop.
Print buying is also moving towards shorter commissions, and budgets have been revised to aim for higher returns. In response, sheet-fed printing equipment manufacturers are striving to develop more efficient presses, minimizing downtime and other operating efficiencies.
Another challenge is that the print quality achievable on digital has improved dramatically, with some now indistinguishable from offset lithographic production. In digital, the latest generation of B2 and B1-format inkjet presses are also eroding demand for electrophotography, with much mono continuous commercial work migrating to high-speed inkjet machines.
Over the forecast period, advertising applications will represent the largest absolute volume increases for inkjet. Packaging, particularly corrugated and flexible cardboard, commercial printing and books are also growing strongly. Toner printing will experience moderate growth in commercial and graphic applications, including specialty products, such as photo books.
Digital adoption has been led by North America and Western Europe. However, none of these are saturated and all regions will see wider adoption of the technology – Asia in particular.