6 Big Printer Industry Trends In 2024: HP, Xerox, Epson And Others Weigh In

Experts at Lexmark, Sharp, Canon, Brother, Epson, HP and Xerox talk to CRN about six big trends in the printer industry in 2024, from the impact of hybrid work and a growing push for digitization to a lack of awareness around security issues and disruptions among vendors.

There have been predictions for decades that offices would eventually go paperless and dump the printers, copiers and fax machines they had long relied on to do business.

But while printer vendors experienced turbulence throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, they are now starting to see the industry return to some sense of stability, with businesses starting to figure out their hybrid work strategies and how much office space they need, according to representatives of several printer vendors who spoke to CRN for Printer Week 2024.

[Related: Managed Services Increasingly Important For Modern Office Printing]

“[Print volumes are] not back to where they were pre-COVID, but they've kind of stabilized, and so people are looking for cost efficiencies and are saying, ‘Do I really need as many A3 copiers as before, and maybe I mix in some A4s with that?’ We see that occurring,” said Elliot Williams, group product manager of business imaging at Epson America.

Dino Pagliarello, vice president of product management and production at Sharp, is another industry veteran who thinks any prediction about the death of printing is premature.

“People said faxes were going to go away in 1997, and people are still sending them. Now, of course, they’re internet faxes or IP faxes, but they're still going in some cases to a fax machine, which is amazing to me. So yeah, I don't think the paperless office is going to be quite here yet. I think we've got some time for that to happen,” he said.

What follows are six big trends in the printer industry this year, with quotes from experts at Lexmark, Sharp, Canon, Brother, Epson, HP Inc. and Xerox.

Hybrid Work Has Businesses Right-Sizing, Decentralizing Printer Fleets

While many businesses continue to evolve their hybrid work strategies with a growing number of them requiring employees to come to the office at least a few times a day, they are starting to get a better idea of how these dynamics impact their print needs, according to multiple vendors.

“Return-to-office plans continue this year. However, there is more confidence [that] work-from-home and hybrid work is here to stay and we have reached the ‘new normal.’ As such, there are clear expectations from office, remote and hybrid workers that they are equipped with and have access to similar tools and technology no matter the location,” said Terry Antinora, head of product and engineering at Xerox.

This is resulting in businesses reconfiguring their printer fleets and ensuring that they have the right solutions to take care of their physical and digital workflows, according to Sue Richards, division president and general manager of home printing at HP.

“This is where we see people wanting to really reconfigure, reconsolidate their offices, and they're looking for solutions, end-to-end, to really help customers have their digital workflows as well as their physical workflows,” she said.

Kevin Price, director of marketing at Canon, said hybrid work strategies have made businesses more aware of the costs associated with printing. As a result, they’re optimizing their spending by decentralizing some printers and moving from A3-based solutions to A4-based ones.

“Those printers could be potentially based on smaller groups of users in certain cases, for example, if a company doesn't have all its employees in the office in a given day,” he said. “But the focus is on acquiring more enterprise-level A4 devices for offices where maybe the usage may be a little bit less than it was in the past, and where organizations find they don't need quite something quite as extensive as they did in the past, but they still have the same requirements for enterprise management capabilities including security.”

Dino Pagliarello, vice president of product management and production at Sharp, said increasing scrutiny over costs means businesses are consuming less cartridges.

“I think people are more concerned about making sure that they're spending their money appropriately. So they're printing when they need to print, and they're not printing when they don't need [it]. So from a consumables perspective, we’re seeing that decline because of [new processes and efficiencies],” he said.

A Continued Push For Digitization

Multiple printer vendors said they see a continued push by businesses to digitize workflows, and this has important implications for the industry.

“The move to hybrid work continues to be a major driver of digital transformation and the movement of key systems into the cloud. This has impacted printing by shifting traditional paper-based processes into digital processes,” said Terry Antinora, head of product and engineering at Xerox.

This means it’s never been more important than now for businesses to adopt printing solutions that integrate “with cloud systems such as cloud-based print management and support cloud-based processes,” according to Antinora.

Shelly Radler, senior product marketing manager at Brother, said printing solutions with digitization capabilities support the variety of ways people handle documents these days.

“In a lot of cases, people want to save documents to the cloud, print documents from the cloud, scan documents to the cloud, or share documents using the cloud. So we've seen a lot of new workflows, and this is impacting kind of a lot of different industries,” she said. “You see some print volumes declining. But in some cases, you're just seeing them shifting from one person doing it in their organization to another person in a different stage within the process.”

Growing Acceptance Of Inkjet Printers For Offices

According to experts at Canon and Epson, there is growing acceptance of inkjet printers among businesses who previously eschewed the products in favor of laser printers due to concerns over cost, performance and other perceived issues.

Elliot Williams, group product manager, Business Imaging, Epson America, said when laser printer vendors suffered from supply chain issues during the COVID-19 pandemic, it made businesses more open to the idea of inkjet.

“Once they tried it, they realized it's not what they thought,” said Williams, who added that many customers mistakenly believed inkjet printers were too slow, too costly to operate and didn’t have as many features as laser printers.

Kevin Price, director of marketing, Canon, said this shift is starting to happen now because customers are starting to “better understand the value and the total cost of ownership proposition associated with ink.”

He added that newer ink tank solutions for printers are also helping change minds.

“Instead of using traditional ink cartridges, the printers use more of a bottle-type system with a much higher reserve of ink,” he said. “Today, consumers especially have a perception of, ‘I'm going to buy something that’s going to dry up quickly, or I'm going to have to replace ink every 15 minutes.’ So the tank technology is an industry solution to address that. And customers are seeing the value as it's been marketed much more heavily.”

Some But Not All Businesses Know Printer Security Is Important

While some businesses understand the importance of securing their printers to protect sensitive information and their broader IT environments, vendors said not all businesses get it.

“The awareness of printer and printer fleet security among business customers has improved over the last few years and is commonly part of the evaluation of print technology,” said Terry Antinora, head of product and engineering at Xerox.

For businesses who do invest in printer security, the “discussions now often extend from merely focusing on the printer itself, to the processes and solutions that surround the printer—everything from hardcopy workflows and print management solutions to proactive monitoring and response to security incidents,” he added.

Even then, according to Antinora, “the security threat landscape continues to grow and evolve, so there is always an opportunity to continue improving awareness.”

Sue Richards, division president and general manager of home printing at HP, said while she said businesses continue to have low awareness of printer security issues, it creates an opportunity for companies like hers to highlight existing security features.

“I think it's still an opportunity for us to be able to lean in as HP to help our customers go through and do a security check across our entire portfolio: Where are there gaps across their entire portfolio? How can we help and meet with those printer administrators and say, ‘You have all these features. You never turned them on,’” she said.

Shelly Radler, senior product marketing manager, Brother, said it’s important businesses to think of printers as having three layers of security issues.

“You’re protecting who has access or doesn't have access to the device. You're helping to protect the documents that are being printed, scanned, faxed, or copied. And you're protecting that device on the network,” she said.

Sustainability Remains A Critical Factor For Purchasing Decisions

Sustainability continues to be an important factor for businesses when it comes to what kind of print solutions they purchase for their offices, multiple vendors said.

“As consumers are now requiring sustainable products and services, sustainability has become a key focus for organizations, including in the technology they use. The expectation that print technology delivers capabilities to help organizations meet their sustainability goals is front and center,” said Terry Antinora, head of product and engineering at Xerox.

Sue Richards, division president and general manager of home printing at HP, said it’s important that sustainability is a consideration in the entire lifecycle of printers.

“When printers arrive on corporate sites, [we want to ensure] that they're shipped in a sustainable way, that there isn't a lot of Styrofoam that has to be dealt with or recycled, that they have an appropriate energy consumption and continued improvement across their energy consumption, and that they're completely manageable and serviceable,” she said.

Industry Disruptions Have Customers, Partners Looking For Stability

Experts at Epson and Lexmark said multiple competitors in the printer industry have dealt with a variety of challenges over the past few years, many of which have been related to disruptions brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“With all of the headwinds that this industry has faced over the last two to three years, I think you're seeing a number of vendors retrench. And they're focused internally on how to correct shortfalls, whether it be their operating cost structures, their profit margins, a lot of things that they're spending a bunch of time on,” said Chris White, senior director of global product strategy and portfolio management organization at Lexmark.

As a result, customers and partners have been looking for “trusted, stable” vendors “they think can deliver,” said Elliot Williams, group product manager of business imaging at Epson America, who added that there has also been a growing emphasis on service quality and delivery.

“I think the customers have been sensitized over the last few years to deficiencies from vendors,” he added.

To White, it comes down to which vendor can make printing simpler.

“At the end of the day, the vendor who delivers simplicity to customers, and I mean true simplicity that this industry quite frankly has never truly delivered, end-to-end simplicity into the print environment and a strong sustainability story, are going to be the ones that differentiate themselves as we work our way through the post-COVID world,” he said.