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
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
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
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.