Industry Outlook

The technological developments of the last 20 years have dramatically transformed the printing industry—so much so that it is now commonly referred to as graphic communications.

The introduction of desktop publishing, digital printing, and e-publishing has made many jobs stagnant or obsolete, particularly in the prepress area. For example, typesetters, paste-up workers, and film strippers have largely been replaced by workers who have mastered computerized processes. In addition, Linotype machine operators, photoengravers, and other jobs required for letterpress printing are on the decline. In addition, much of the composition work traditionally done by printing companies now is being handled by customers, who have access to sophisticated design, page layout, and photo manipulation software.

The Department of Labor reported in May 2019 that the printing industry was among the industries with the most rapidly declining wage and salary employment. From 2018 through 2028, the printing industry was projected to lose up to 84,500 jobs, reflecting a compound annual decline of 2.2 percent.

The recent advances in technology have created new opportunities, and the outlook for the digital printing market is more optimistic. A report by Verified Market Research valued the global digital printing market at $17.19 billion in 2019, and projected it to reach nearly $45.7 billion by 2027. The report predicted a compound annual growth rate of more than 14 percent from 2020 through 2027. A Printing Industries of America report indicated that two drivers of this growth continue to be conventional print customers moving to digital processes, and new customers utilizing digital printing services due to its capabilities, including shorter runs, versioning, and personalization.

Students graduating from high school and college today are highly computer literate, which puts them in a good position for a career in printing. Most industry experts advise young people to pursue internships and graphic communications programs, but printing is so diversified that almost anyone can find a niche. With solid computer knowledge and strong initiative, entry-level workers can go a long way.

The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) predicts that employment in the printing industry will lose over 81,000 jobs by 2024. This decline reflects competition from nonprint media, such as the Internet; industry consolidation; and increasing use of nontraditional printing technologies. More companies are doing at least a part of prepress in-house.

The coronavirus pandemic, which started in Wuhan, China, in late 2019, has damaged the printing industry even further. Business lockdowns and social distancing requirements contributed to an economic slowdown. As of late 2020, the U.S. printing industry was valued at about $70 billion, with 45,316 businesses and total employment of 371,251 people. The industry experienced a steep decline of 14.4 percent in 2020. From 2015 to 2020, industry revenue declined at an annual rate of nearly 4 percent. A nearly 2 percent decline in growth was predicted for the U.S. printing industry in 2021. The annualized market size growth was estimated to be at -4.5 percent from 2016 through 2021, according to the market research group IBISWorld. The rollout of the vaccine in 2021 will boost the economy, but the printing industry will continue to decline post pandemic. Prior to the pandemic, demand for printing had been falling and this drop is expected to continue through 2025.

Employment of desktop publishing specialists is expected to decline by16 percent through 2028, according to the DOL. The DOL says reasons for this decline include the fact that more companies are outsourcing these tasks to overseas workers, and that many of these tasks are now automated. Demand for manual paste-up workers, photoengravers, camera operators, film strippers, and platemakers is expected to disappear, as will the number of typesetting and composing machine operators. Employment of offset press operators and letterpress operators should decrease rapidly. Employment of bookbinders and bindery workers will decline in response to the growth of electronic printing. However, some bookbinding opportunities will continue to exist, as demand has grown for hand finishing operations, particularly for high-end and one-of-a-kind publications. This is directly related to the decline in the number of printing shipments. The DOL says two segments that will continue to thrive in the coming years are print logistics (companies that print packaging, labels, etc.) and print marketing (catalogs).

Graphic designers, those who design print publications or perform their layout will see slow employment growth, 3 percent, in the number of jobs available through 2028. Growth in any job in the industry will most likely be in a digital printing or 3D printing related area.