Benchmarking and Worldwide Market Trends for Flexographic Printing

Projected replacement of screen, letterpress, gravure and offset printing by flexo.

Flexographic printing has had a bad rap for years for low quality output. Enlightened folks in the industry, however, understand that flexographic printing and converting can often be performed entirely inline, on a wide range of materials and substrates, and the quality has improved substantially. These factors equate to a cost-effective process that produces minimal waste. And, in fact, many would be surprised to learn that flexo is the fastest growing global analog print method.

Since packaging is a key growth engine for the graphic communications industry, and flexography is a dominant process for many packaging applications, PRIMIR recently commissioned LPC Inc. to conduct research on the topic. The resulting outcome is a new report, “Benchmarking and Worldwide Market Trends for Flexographic Printing” which was released in May 2010. The study provides a comprehensive assessment of the global flexographic industry while answering how this analog print process fits into a world that is increasingly going digital and which world regions are likely to provide opportunities for future growth. The study investigates flexo in packaging as well as non-packaging applications.

According to the new PRIMIR study, packaging comprises nearly 92% of the global flexographic volume; the remaining volume is in non-package printing applications such as security printing, pharmaceutical products and commercially printed electronics. In the next several years flexo will enjoy a 4-5% growth rate—largely coming from growth in the developing regions, more specifically the BRIC countries.

LPC reports in the study that flexography accounts for nearly 60%, or just more than $260 billion, of the $440 billion printed packaging market. In 2009, flexo’s market share for packaging applications included: $125 billion for corrugated, $81 billion for flexible packaging, $56 billion for labels and tags, and $1.2 billion for folding carton.

Not surprisingly, North America and Western Europe featured the most flexo press installations. However, global growth opportunities lie in the emerging markets where flexo is not currently the dominant process. As urbanization occurs and incomes rise in these countries, consumers will increasingly purchase packaged foods at retail stores versus fresh foods from local outdoor markets. This trend will increase the demand for packaging, and in many cases, flexography. The adoption of flexo in these markets depends on numerous variables such as: training, consumable costs, and changing perceptions about the flexo process—mainly quality concerns.

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