The printing industry has a long tradition in Europe. The sector is interconnected with other forest-based industries such as wood-working, pulp, and paper. It is an important employer, providing jobs for highly skilled and qualified staff. The sector is currently facing challenges related to changing habits, shifts to digital communication, and competition from non-EU countries.
Why the printing industry is important
- Employment - the EU printing sector includes about 120,000 companies that employ around 770,000 workers. The industry is dominated by family-owned, small and micro companies that operate mainly on domestic markets.
- EU economy – printing enterprises generate an annual turnover of around €88 billion from printing on paper, plastics, or textiles.
- Demand – the sector reacts to niche markets and local needs. Modern technologies have increased the sector’s productivity and its ability to provide a complete range of services. At the same time, process automation has resulted in a change of the main workforce from craftsmen to technicians.
Challenges faced by the printing industry
- Changing habits - changes in reading habits and the shift toward web-based media and e-solutions have significantly reduced the demand for print and the revenue from paper-based advertising. The growth in printing output is mainly restricted to printed packaging and digital print.
- Competition - competitors from low-cost countries, notably in Asia, are capable of fulfilling European consumer standards and are putting strong pressure on prices. Imports from China have increased more than fourfold over a decade.
- Declining demand - the economic crisis has worsened the decline in demand for printed products and increased financial institutions’ reluctance to provide loans to small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).
- Production costs - the increasing costs of energy, raw materials, and labour in Europe have further decreased profit margins.
- Workforce – the risk of unemployment is intensified by the workforce’s low mobility, partly due to its specialised and non-transferable skills. At the same time, opportunities arising from technological developments change the industry’s skill requirements, making the longer-term replacement of its ageing workforce and traditional skills necessary.
- Environment - the EU printing sector operates under strict environmental requirements and undertakes ambitious voluntary initiatives to demonstrate its commitment to sustainability.
Opportunities for the printing sector
- New services and products - the emergence of new technologies encourages the building of closer relationships with customers and creating more added value through diversified services. New services can include offering printing with database management, while innovative processes such as 3D printing, intelligent labels, and flexographic printing offer potential for new services.
- Image – the sector can benefit from increased consumer awareness toward sustainability as it has an excellent track record of environmental and social performance. This differentiates EU manufacturers from non-EU low-cost competitors. Furthermore, integrating multimedia communication services widens the product range and can increase the attractiveness of the sector to new employees.
- Research and innovation - new paper-based products with added functionality such as paper-printed electronics are needed. These new can open new markets and bring higher added value for the printing industry.
- Strategy for the EU Forest-based Industries: A Blueprint for the EU Forest-based Industries;
- Communication on a new EU Forest Strategy: for forests and the forest-based sector;
- Study on the competitiveness of the European graphic industry: prospects for the EU printing sector to respond to its structural and technological challenges (2007) and Summary (184 kB).