Inkjet for commercial printing – Surviving Covid-19

Inkjet for commercial printing – Surviving Covid-19

Covid-19 is having a profound effect on every segment of the print industry. Commercial and in-plant printers in particular has been impacted badly, as businesses have locked down, and remote online working has become the new norm for many organisations.

With the global Covid-19 death toll now exceeding 1 million worldwide, and a second spike in infections emerging in Europe; an immediate rebound in Q4 2020 is diminishingly remote. The commercial print industry that emerges in 2021 will be leaner and necessarily focussed on broadening its product range to adjust to a new work environment. Calls for flexibility and diversification in print products, will favour the existing trend for inkjet to replace analogue and mono-toner presses.


The Covid-19 pandemic could push overall global print volumes down by as much 10.7% – equivalent to some 7.7 trillion A4 prints – according to the latest scenarios in Smithers’ The Impact Of Covid-19 on the Printing Industry. This reduction will not be spread uniformly however, with graphics and publication print being much more badly affected than packaging and labels segments. A slightly lower reduction is likely into 2021, and these losses in volume will be permanent.

Commercial print in particular has faced a very large drop in demand in the short term. The segment relies on a myriad of business products – including leaflets, signage, invoices, marketing collateral and brochures, certificates, financial and legal documents, event tickets and programmes, and conference agendas and proceedings – all of which have seen a drop in demand in 2020.

Simultaneously print rooms themselves have had to respond to the challenges of furloughing staff, installing social distancing working rules, and interfacing with an increasingly online approach to working. 

Sector impact

The main impact of this unprecedented disruption will be major consolidation in commercial printing. There will be many closures, but stronger companies will survive and as a degree of equilibrium returns can gain market share in a less crowded marketplace.

The composition of a client base will affect how individual commercial or in-plant printers are affected, but overall as the world emerges from Covid-19; digital print will prove more resilient, with strong online and trade print services flourishing.

It is worth noting that this sector was already in decline before the pandemic struck. With global value falling reducing slowly from $108.1 billion in 2014, to $103.1 billion in 2019.

Inkjet and offset

Covid-19 is likely to exacerbate existing trends in print technology for in-plant users, who are increasingly embracing digital technology at the expense of offset and other analogue presses.

The new Smithers study – The Future of Inkjet Printing to 2025 – projects inkjet in commercial applications will be worth just over $8.21 billion globally in 2020, the equivalent of 167.4 billion A4 prints. This has risen from just $3.89 billion in 2015. A further doubling of this market it forecast by 2025, making it the second largest application for inkjet after advertising.

This is reflected in the increasing availability of higher productivity inkjet presses and improvements in print quality. B2 sheet-fed inkjet machines, like Konica Minolta’s AccurioJet KM-1 and Fujifilm’s Jet Press 720S have demonstrated the processes suitability. And demand for more colour work is also seeing it start to displace mono-toner printers in this space. This trend was already evident in 2019, and is being supported by the availability of new B1 format sheet-fed models from OEMs such as Koenig & Bauer, Landa, and MGI.

As Covid-19 has seen more remote working and online ordering, the ability to link this directly to an inkjet press via web-to-print software, has become another demonstrable advantage of inkjet in commercial print. 

Covid-19 products

Commercial printers have had to innovate during the Covid-19 pandemic, printing new products. These will in no way replace the large volumes that have been lost in Q1 through Q3 2020, but does show how in-house users can leverage their inkjet equipment to evolving market demands.

There has been a rise in the printing of health and safety notices, advising on Covid-19 precautions. As institutions have developed their own infection control protocols, there was an immediate demand to print these on demand quickly, and in multiple iterations; which emphasises a strength of digital machines. This is ongoing, as new outbreaks, and shifts in government policies towards more localised restrictions call for responsiveness and variation in print. Simultaneously a need has developed for adhesive floor graphics to advise staff, visitors, and customers in correct social distancing rules; as business have fought to reopen and minimise infections.

Branded personal protective equipment (PPE), mainly face coverings, have been produced. Other protective items include Perspex screens for workers in retail that can be enhanced with brand graphics or health and safety messaging.

Some in-plant digital printers have diversified further. For example, the Ricoh Pro T7210 flatbed press at the University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA) has been used to produce fan cut-outs to populate the stands at its American football stadium. With supporters denied access to games, the UTSA reports it received over 500 orders for personalised cut-outs from fans in the first 24 hours of offering the service.

Recovery and beyond

When and how effectively Covid-19 is brought under control remains a questions for governments, healthcare providers, and medical researchers. Even when this goal is achieved, there will be major changes to working that will impact the commercial print sector.

Price will always be a consideration in print buying, and Covid-19 rationalisation programmes will push to companies to examine their own internal and external print costs. They will be more aware of the potential of supply chain disruption, however, and may seek to safeguard this by using their own print assets. 

For other customers, faster turnaround, less stock held in inventory, and more online print orders– are all factors that favour wider use of inkjet. They will also reward more agile print businesses that can utilise web-to-print and other innovations, while diversifying to identify service lines for new products. Consolidation will reduce the number of service providers, which will leave some gaps in demand that can be capitalised on by those printers that have weathered the Covid-19 storm best.

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