Printing Outlook 2024 – The WhatTheyThink Overview of the Current State of the Printing Industry

The Printing Outlook 2024 report provides detailed analysis of the latest WhatTheyThink Printing Industry Survey, the latest industry economic data and macroeconomic trends, as well as industry and cultural technological trends to look out for in 2024 and beyond. 

The new Printing Outlook 2024 report provides detailed analysis of the latest WhatTheyThink Business Outlook Survey, the latest industry economic data and macroeconomic trends, as well as industry and cultural technological trends to look out for in 2024.

The executive report was prepared by Richard Romano and looks back at 2023 and ahead to what the industry can expect, economically and technologically, in 2024. The report features the results of the WhatTheyThink Printing Industry Business Outlook Survey conducted in Fall 2023, and includes current and expected business conditions, top business challenges, top business opportunities, and planned investments for 2024. Additional questions asked about shops’ interest in adding new specialty graphics areas such as wide-format or textile printing, shops’ hiring plans for the next 12 months, and the current state of automation, and the extent to which print businesses are implementing artificial intelligence (AI)—and for what.

The report also offers the latest government data on printing industry shipments, establishments, profits, and employment, as well as the economy in general, and includes an industry forecast to 2033, as well as some technology and cultural trends the industry should prepare itself for in 2024.

Report highlights:

  • 26% of print businesses surveyed said that revenues for 2023 had increased more than 10% compared to 2022.
  • In terms of revenues, smaller businesses did better than large businesses.
  • Profitability lagged behind revenues and jobs/orders—more so than usual.
  • “Increasing plant productivity” is now reported by print business owners as their number one challenge, with “national economic conditions” a close second.
  • “Improving economic conditions” and “customers outsourcing more work to us” were cited as the top business opportunities for 2024.
  • Few print businesses have any substantial planned investments for 2024, but of those who do, binding and finishing equipment tops the list.
  • Production inkjet and folding carton printing (and the two are not mutually exclusive) appear to be the areas in which printers look to be expanding.
  • Almost two-thirds of print businesses said they plan to hire staff in 2024, primarily production staff.
  • Almost two-thirds of print businesses said they have implemented some kind of workflow automation.
  • Use of so-called artificial intelligence (AI) was higher than we had expected, and many print businesses do plan to implement it in some form in the future.

Print business owners will find the report essential for their planning, in order to put the marketplace and their strategic actions in realistic perspective. Industry suppliers will benefit from the insights into printer decision-making processes and the foundation of new industry demographic data that debuts in this report. Non-economic trends also offer ideas for what to pay attention to in the new year, and larger cultural and technological; trends indicate where marketing professionals and brandowners will likely be focusing their promotional dollars.

What’s included in this report

Section 1 presents our Fall 2023 survey data about current (2023) and expected (2024) business conditions, specifically how print businesses fared vis-à-vis revenues, number of orders, and profits.

Section 2 presents our survey data on print businesses’ top challenges, opportunities, and planned investments.

Section 3 looks at what new technology or product areas print businesses are looking to expand into. High-speed production inkjet? Wide-format printing? Textiles? Packaging? What’s hot this year compared to 2019, when we last asked this question?

Section 4 presents the results of our survey question about print businesses’ hiring plans. Do they have any and, if so, for which positions? We also asked about where they are looking for employees.

Section 5 looks at two hot topics in 2023: automation and so-called “artificial intelligence.” Have print businesses implemented some kind of workflow automation? If so, what do they think of as “workflow automation”? We also asked an open-ended question about their challenges in implementing automation. We also asked if print businesses were using AI (or, more appropriately, “machine learning”) for any of their business or production tasks. We had added the AI question not entirely unfacetiously, but we were surprised by the extent to which print businesses were using it in some fashion.

Section 6 rounds up the write-in responses to our open-ended question about how print businesses fared in 2023.

Section 7 rounds up a variety of printing industry data—establishments, shipments, profits, employment, and so on. In addition to commercial print, we also include data on publishers, sign and display advertising shops, and several categories of paper and packaging converters.

Section 8 provides the latest general macroeconomic data. These data are important to put industry data into the proper macroeconomic context.

Section 9 offers what we see as the hot, cold, and lukewarm trends for 2024, as well as WhatTheyThink’s economic and printing industry forecast.

The demographics of the respondents who completed our survey are included in Appendix A. The survey methodology and questionnaire are provided in Appendix B. Our entertaining explanation of survivor bias is presented in Appendix C.


Table of Contents


Introduction: Panic! At the Disco 5
A Fever You Can’t Sweat Out 5
Pretty. Odd. 5
Vices & Virtues 6
How This Report Is Organized 6
Nota Bummer 7
For More Information 7
1. Business Conditions 8
Revenues 8
2023 Revenues 8
2024 Revenues 10
Jobs/Orders 11
2023 Jobs/Orders 11
2023 Jobs/Orders 13
Profitability 14
2022 Profits 14
2023 Profits 16
Business Conditions Summary 17
The WhatTheyThink Business Conditions Index 18
Looking Ahead 19
2. Challenges, Opportunities, and Investments 20
Top Business Challenges 20
Business Opportunities 23
Planned Investments 28
Looking Forward 32
Full Table of Business Challenges 33
Full Table of New Business Opportunities 34
Full Table of Planned Investments 35
3. New Products and Services 38
High-Speed Production Inkjet 39
Wide-Format Printing 40
Textile Printing for Soft Signage 41
Textile/Fabric Printing for Garment Printing/Decorating 42
Direct-to-Garment Printing 43
Décor Printing 44
Specialty Printing 45
Corrugated Packaging Printing 46
Folding Carton Printing/Converting 47
Flexible Packaging Printing/Converting 48
3D Printing 49
Printed Electronics 50
Looking Forward 51
4. Hiring Plans 52
Specific Positions 53
Recruitment Sources 54
5. Automation and AI 57
Automation 57
“Artificial Intelligence” 60
Use Now 61
Will Start Using in 2024 or 2025 62
Considering Use After 2025 63
Won’t Ever Use 64
Don’t Know 65
Looking Ahead 66
6. In Their Own Write 67
7. Graphic Communications Industry Economic Trends 70
Printing Establishments 70
M&As 72
Printing Shipments 74
Monthly Shipments 74
Year-to-Date Shipments 75
Annualized Shipments 75
Industry Profits 78
Capital Expenditures 79
Graphic Arts Employment 80
Employees Per Establishment 81
Productivity 83
Publishing and Advertising 84
Sign Manufacturing 85
Establishments 85
Employment 88
Productivity 89
Outdoor Advertising 91
Establishments 91
Revenue 94
Employment 95
Packaging and Converting 96
Paperboard Container Manufacturing 96
Paper Bag and Coated and Treated Paper Manufacturing 99
Stationery Product Manufacturing 102
Other Converted Paper Product Manufacturing 105
Corrugated and Solid Fiber Box Manufacturing 108
Folding Paperboard Box Manufacturing 111
Other Paperboard Container Manufacturing 114
Looking Forward 116
8. Macroeconomic Data 117
GDP 117
Proprietors’ Income 118
Corporate Cash Flow 119
Industrial Production Index 120
Durable Goods 120
Personal Income 121
Consumer Confidence 122
Consumer Sentiment Index 122
Consumer Price Index 123
Employment Cost Index 124
Employment and Unemployment 124
Full-Time Employment 124
Part-Time Employment 126
Multiple Jobholders 127
Unemployment Rate 128
Employment-to-Population Ratio 130
Labor Force Participation Rate 132
Not In Labor Force 134
Self-Employment 135
Unemployment Claims 136
New Business Formation 136
Retail Sales 137
Architecture and Construction 139
Architecture Billings Index 139
The Economic Landscape 140
9. Industry Trends and Outlook 141
Trends Affecting the Industry 141
Hot Trends 141
Lukewarm Trends 143
Ultimately: The Only Trend That Matters 144
Industry Shipments Forecast 144
Inflation Multipliers 146
The Last Word 146
Appendix A. Demographics 147
Primary Business 147
Franchise 149
Products 150
Location 152
Employees 153
Appendix B. Methodology and Questionnaire 154
Questionnaire 154
Appendix C. Survivor Bias 163