Insight into thermal printing markets with Jon Harper Smith

Insight into thermal printing markets with Jon Harper Smith
Ahead of the upcoming Thermal Printing report from Smithers, commissioning editor Kitty Wheeler spoke to industry expert and report author Jon Harper Smith about the key changes in the market and what to expect from the report. 
Printing as a whole is an uncertain market currently Jon, how does this impact thermal printing specifically?
“The market has seen a range of potential threats to the thermal printing industry. For example, direct thermal papers are widely used in many of the end use segments, and some of the chemistry that has traditionally been used has come under scrutiny due to possible safety hazards. Consequentially, this has led to a widespread change to one of the major components; however, there are still some concerns over the substitute materials that are now used. Alternative technologies are also being developed, and these are discussed in the report.”
Let's speak about receipts, what are you seeing there?
“There is a widespread desire to move away from physical print to online receipt provision. There are pros and cons to this, however; pros that there are different methods of achieving the end goal, and negatives that there is a range of different national regulations that any system would have to navigate.”
How has the market been affected by alternative printing technology?
“It’s unlikely that these will pose a significant threat as an alternative to thermal printing in the main end use segments, but some alternative printing technologies, including inkjet and electrophotography could pose a threat.”
Globally, things have changed monumentally in the last few years, how has this trickled down to thermal print?
“Thermal printing is used for a wide range of end use applications including retail, e-commerce, transportation and logistics, manufacturing, healthcare, banking and hospitality. However, some of these sectors were depressed during the Covid-19 pandemic, including e-commerce and associated transport and logistics, and these sectors experienced high demand in this period; leading to strong sales of thermal printing hardware and associated consumables to these segments.

There was an overall softening in demand in late 2022 and throughout 2023

The last two years have been a very challenging time for the market, what has been the catalyst of change here?
“There was an overall softening in demand in late 2022 and throughout 2023 which was driven by a combination of factors; including some normalisation of trade in the e-commerce and transport and logistics sectors, with the systems supplied during the pandemic years able to cope with current demand.

There are also high levels of uncertainty throughout society driven by concern over global events including the war in Ukraine and the ongoing conflict in the Middle East. These events have led to tightening corporate budgets, disruption to supply chains, and depressed consumer demand for goods and services.

This has led to a short term decline in the use to thermal printing systems with many projects that require new equipment either postponed or cancelled. The market is expected to partially recover during 2024, with growth re-established in subsequent years.”

The elimination of silicone-coated release materials (liners) has a significant positive impact on the sustainability credentials

And this leads to the thermal printing industry adapting to demands of wider industry pressures, how is this happening?
“I see technical developments in the thermal printing business as suppliers seek to improve the environmental and safety credentials of their products. Additionally, price increases applied by many suppliers in recent years has led to increased competition, and some complaints of price dumping directed at some consumables providers.”
Looking specifically at the tech, what is changing in the thermal print market?
“The use of thermal transfer technology is playing an important role for linerless labels, because linerless labels are increasing in use for a variety of applications. Regarding sustainability, the elimination of silicone coated release materials (liners) has a significant positive impact on the sustainability credentials of pressure sensitive labels.”
You touched on it there, and we can’t not mention sustainability, how will that trend affect this market?
“There are challenges and opportunities, such as in direct thermal printing, there have been changes to the chemistry used, led by concerns over recycling potential and possible impact to health. Additionally in thermal transfer, new developments are being introduced to address concerns over recycling of used ribbons.”
And in terms of outlook, what can the market expect from this new research, but also in the next five years?
“As far as I see it, one of the key growth areas for thermal printing is in the use of labelling for some end use segments. They are increasingly used for applications such as combined order identification and receipt labelling in the quick service restaurant (QSR) business as well as the ‘Buy online, pick up in store’ (BOPIS) segment. The use of thermal printing in these segments has increased as part of a response to lower staffing levels in many businesses that led to the increased use of automated systems to de-skill some operations and reduce pick and supply errors.”

Find out more

Download The Future of Thermal Printing to 2029 brochure

Latest Resources

See all resources