Flexographic Press

2019 Printing & Graphics Equipment Insight And Value Trends

Companies in the graphics services and commercial printing industry provide printing, imaging, packaging, and published products. A large volume of traditional printing has shifted to overseas producers, and global revenue is estimated at $825 billion. The U.S. printing industry includes about 26,000 companies, with combined annual revenue of approximately $82 billion.

The printing and associated industries include numerous segments in various niches and specialties. They may include printing on paper, glass, plastic, textiles, and metal. Many printers now also provide added value services such as bookbinding, mailing, warehousing, and distribution. Many printers also provide graphic arts design, display, sign and banner printing, website development, and other advertising related services. Almost all printing is done on a custom order, job-shop basis for all types of businesses.

Printing press equipment is often broken into various segments with typical equipment and applications described as follows:

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1. Offset Lithographic Sheet-Fed Printing Presses

  1. One to 12+ color presses
  2. Black and white or color process
  3. Small single color presses often called duplicators
  4. Some presses are “perfecting” which prints on both sides of the sheet
  5. Uses custom printing plates for each job
  6. Used for short to long production runs
  7. Can be equipped to apply coatings to paper finish
  8. Can be equipped with dryer systems which speeds production turn times

2. Web (Roll Paper) Lithographic Printing Presses

  1. One to multiple color presses
  2. Uses custom printing plates for each job
  3. Narrow web presses generally up to 24” paper width
  4. Commercial web presses up to 50” paper width
  5. Medium to long run applications
  6. Wide webs generally used for newspaper and book publishing
  7. Narrow webs generally used for business forms printing

3. Digital Production Printers & Copiers

  1. Black and white or color process
  2. Most units print letter to ledger size paper, single or double sided
  3. Direct input from a computer, no pre-press work required
  4. Can be sheet to sheet, roll to sheet or roll to roll printing
  5. Digital printers can be equipped with folders and stapler finishing modules
  6. Used for short to medium quantity press runs
  7. Less operator experience needed than other types of presses

4. Flexographic Printing Presses

  1. Process uses a flexible plate made of rubber or plastic
  2. Width capacities from 8” to 50” or more
  3. Generally configured with 10, 8, 6 or 4 color heads
  4. Requires custom flexographic cylinders for each job
  5. Most flex presses use roll paper stock
  6. Often used in the label printing industry
  7. Used for packaging materials, vinyl bags, foils and wrappers

5. Silk Screen Presses

  1. Presses can be manual, semi-automatic or automatic operation
  2. Various substrates such as plastic, paper and cloth can be printed
  3. Generally require a down-line drying/curing oven
  4. Flat bed presses generally used for sign and display work
  5. Cylinder type screen presses have various applications
  6. Rotating carousel presses are used to produce wearing apparel and caps
  7. Requires custom made screens for each job

6. Wide Format Printers

  1. Wide format is used extensively in point-of-purchase display work
  2. Used for sign and banner production
  3. Images can be placed on a variety of thin and thick substrates
  4. Generally 18” to 100” wide capacity. Grand format is 100+” wide
  5. Some wide format printers use roll stock material
  6. Some wide format printers have a flat vacuum deck and print on sheet material
  7. These printers use inkjet technology
  8. Can be water based, solvent based or dye sublimation inks
  9. Direct input from a computer, no pre-press preparation required

7. Special Purpose Printing Presses

  1. Letter presses use movable type. Present day applications include imprinting, forms numbering, embossing, and foil stamping.
  2. Envelope presses are offset lithographic presses used for high speed envelope imprinting. Designed for low to medium quantity runs.
  3. Envelope converting presses use roll stock paper to imprint the stock, then form the envelope. Some include a clear “window” application module. Used for high production press runs.
  4. Roto-Gravure presses are large lithographic type web roll paper presses typically used for printing wall paper and gift wrap paper.

Industry Insight & Trends

Amid slow commercial printing revenue growth, many printers are diversifying and turning to peripheral services to grow their business. Leading areas for diversification include mailing, fulfillment, warehousing, and marketing. In recent trade reports, 34% of respondents described themselves as offering commercial printing only. The remaining describe themselves as combination communication companies including personalized messaging services, graphic design and integrated print, barcode generation, and electronic media services.

Value Considerations Of Each Segment

Of the six primary printing industry segments summarized above, some are evolving, while others are losing ground. These trends affect values of used equipment in those market segments. We summarize our thoughts on the various print process methods and associated equipment as follows:

Offset sheet fed printing presses have been the long time backbone of the printing industry. These machines offer flexibility, and can be utilized for relatively short run, up to large quantity press runs. They come in different sheet size capacities, with the 28” x 40” machines being the most universal. Some late model offset presses can print on thicker substrates such as plastic for gift and credit cards. They are available in up to 12 colors, however the 6 and 8 color units are generally the most marketable. Useful life of offset presses is generally considered to be 20 years, at which time there is nominal residual value in comparison to new cost. The market for single and 2 color offset presses, and single color “duplicator” types presses is generally soft, as progressive shops purchase and run this work on a digital press. We feel the market for late model, 6 and 8 color machines with attributes such as coating and drying appears stable at this time. It should be noted that if a printing plant with high value offset presses is liquidated at auction, these machines are often carved out of the auction, and marketed internationally on a negotiated sale basis.

Web printing presses which utilize roll paper stock were once a major part of the printing industry. Applications include book printing, newspapers, catalogs and newspaper advertising inserts. However, a large part of this segment has been taken over by digital media. Older newspaper type presses have virtually no value in the secondary market. There are few new web presses being purchased and placed in service, especially in the U.S. market. This allows for some the marketability of late model, high accessorized presses. Life expectancy of a web press is generally considered to be 20 years, with little residual value at the end of that time. Costs associated with the de-installation and removal of a large web press can often be more than the value of the machine itself. Sometimes the only way to dispose of a web press is through international brokerage by an experienced dealer/liquidator. Overall we are very guarded on web press values and future viability of the process.

Digital presses are becoming the norm in commercial printing, and industry growth is coming almost entirely from digital printing. The commercial printing industry is shifting to faster production of smaller order quantities with more color, the major benefit of digital printing over offset and other printing methods. While digital inkjet printers began at the small end of printers, technology is increasingly able to make digital printers with greater capacity. However, rapid technological advancements in this segment can make for risky collateral for banks and leasing companies. Digital machines may have a useful life of only five to eight years. Values fall greatest in the first year of service. It is possible that a new digital press may lose 50% of value in year one. Equipment that may appear very valuable at time of purchase in terms of business operations for the buyer, can quickly become obsolete. Additionally, these machines often contain operating software which may be difficult to transfer to a second owner which makes an incentive for buyers to purchase or lease new. This is an evolving print segment, however not very good lending collateral.

Flexographic printing appears to be a growing segment, driven by consumer spending. Much of the work run on flexo presses is associated with labels, packaging materials, plastic bags, wrappers, and similar products. Some printers are investing in larger capacity machines up to 65” wide to increase production, with more color modules the better. Research indicates that 10 color presses are strong at this time, with 8 color units still considered viable in the used market. Presses with 6 or fewer colors and/or narrow web widths are showing weakness.

Screen printing is a niche in the industry, which sometimes operates outside a typical printing business model. Screen printing is often associated with the imprinting of textiles such as t-shirts and other decorated apparel. Caps with business logo identification and sports team insignia are very commonly produced using a screen print method. However, screen printing is also used in other ways. Signage and point of purchase displays are often screen printed. Think political campaign yard signs! But more than that, screen printing is used on machine panel faces and flexible electronic components, and even medical products. The versatility of this old technology and diversified usage makes for a viable and active secondary market. We believe the value of late model equipment associated with this process is stable at this time.

Wide format presses have a niche in printing signage, banners, and point-of-purchase displays. These generally use inkjet technology and can print in multiple colors. A relatively new process like digital production printing, wide format is growing rapidly. Some units are used in niche sign and display shops, and others at work in a department within a larger printing/communications company. New machines are capable of printing on wood, foam board, cardboard, and glass. Controls are digital with direct computer to print technology easily learned by employees. We believe some of the same rapidly advancing technologies in wide format printing will impact values of used machines similar to those discussed in the digital printing discussion. Already, evolution of ink and drying methods have made some machines outdated. While we believe demand will be solid, we believe significant value will be lost in the first year after purchase, and depreciate quickly in comparison to original cost.

Peripheral & Secondary Equipment

Printing companies generally have several different kinds of secondary and support equipment as part of their operation. These include die cutting, folding, scoring and perforating, drilling and corner rounding, laminating and cutting. Other significant equipment can include collating and booklet making, book binding, and specialized press and converting systems and machines.

Because of the large size of the industry, these types of equipment are very salable and generally attract good attention in a business liquidation or auction. Some types are better than others, however. Basic cutters and folders are always solid. Bindery equipment such as stitcher trimmers can be a little problematic, and high value perfect book binders have a narrow buyer universe and often poor sales results.


Labor shortages, especially for traditional press operators, are driving digital solutions for ease of operations and productivity. As with so many industries, late model and current technology equipment will find a new home in the secondary market. Older, outdated equipment will continue to see decreasing values.

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