The global thermal print market reached a total of $35.51 billion value at end-user level sales in 2018. The market is now forecast to expand at a rate of 5.0% compound annual growth rate through to 2023 – yielding a total market value of $45.39 billion in that year. The future success of thermal print will rely on new opportunities and market potential in a few key applications:
Together, there three segments account for over $22.5 Billion (retail prices), 63% of the worldwide market, and will account for the majority of value growth across 2018-2023.
The retail industry is the largest end user of thermal printing technology. Specialist point-of-sale (POS) printers, designed for delivery of transaction receipts, mostly to consumers are common. Receipt paper is direct thermal media. The industry uses both manned check-out, and increasingly, automated self-check-out systems, with built in receipt printers.
E-commerce trade is disrupting retail, diminishing some traditional markets, such as POS receipts, as transactions move to an online world with electronic payment. In response, leading physical retailers, such as Walmart, Kohl’s, and Sainsbury’s, are developing their own e-commerce systems. These rely heavily on thermal print solutions. Customer orders are tracked using thermally printed barcode labels throughout the retailers own logistics chains, and thermally printed bin tags for customer store pickup systems were introduced in 2017, as a way to compete with the likes of Amazon. Also, demand for card printing continues to grow as stores develop more loyalty card systems for customers, and multi-retailer gift cards.
New developments in direct thermal media with greater outdoor capability will enter the space over the next few years. This creates a more flexible mobile situation as thermal printers are typically smaller than a portable inkjet printer. More kiosk type printers will be placed in the future, particularly in the aisles rather than check-outs, to provide more customer engagement opportunities
The transportation and logistics industry (e.g. airlines, distribution, mail, package and freight delivery, railways, etc.), represent the fastest growing application for thermal printing. This industry was one of the early adopters of barcode technology for functions like airline baggage tracking, and shipping packages with delivery giants UPS, DHL, TNT and FedEx.
Printer placement in delivery services is close to saturation in developed markets, but there is a major upsurge in the use of mobile printers for labelling and re-labelling, delivery notes for consumers, and delivery information. The use of postal services for last-mile delivery in North America and other regions is creating some new printer placements and label usages.
Forecasted changes in this sector include the increased use of security features in transportation ticketing to reduce fraud, a reduction in the need for near-infrared readable direct thermal for package delivery; smart labels for trucking of temperature-sensitive foods and pharmaceuticals; and increased use of QR and 2D codes for more trace data.
Manufacturing is the second largest market for thermal printers and associated supplies, with combined revenues of $7.55 billion in 2018. This is divided between $1.7 billion in printers and $5.85 billion in supplies. Thermal printing is used in factory settings for industries as diverse as beverages, aerospace, and consumer electronics.
Barcode printers represent 64.2% of the total printer demand in 2018; and are standard fixtures in European, Japanese, and North American factories. Most of the growth in this segment in 2018-2023 will be in Asia-Pacific, which is becoming the global manufacturing center, where the use of barcode applications is only partially saturated.
The manufacturing industry is moving to mobile work forces in many areas like warehousing, inventory control, and parts picking. This has seen a tremendous increase in the placement of mobile printers, which can be either belt mounted on production personnel, or truck mounted on pallet trucks such as the Printek and TSC line. In all cases, it is usually a complete system (printer, scanner, microcomputer or smart device), which is wirelessly linked to the host system for data exchange.
The increasing use of 2D barcode labels for traceability of critical parts in the automobile industry that require high temperature durability is also an ideal fit for thermal transfer printing. One of the leading manufacturers in this area is Printronix Auto ID. Technologies that will grow in this segment will come from direct laser imaging, which will remove the need for a pressure-sensitive adhesive on the label, and new systems from Ricoh that can create rewritable bin tag labels for machine parts.