Print in 5 years – A Guesstimate

future ahead concept

Since the computer grew to popular use, we’ve been hearing about the death of print. We’re still waiting for that to happen, and while we’re waiting, new uses for print and whole new print technologies have sprung up – at the start of 2015, let’s take a guess at where we’ll be in 2020.

Print has been in technology news a lot in the last three years, from 3D to QR. While technologies like augmented reality (AR) and quick response codes (QR) have remained mostly gimmicks (sorry enthusiasts!), others have taken off. Why not AR and QR? Like any technology, it either doesn’t fill a need or fit into existing technologies seamlessly enough to make it easy to pick up. What filled those requirements? Printed electronics and 3D printing.

Printed electronics is now in use, doing everything from collecting solar to being disposable electronics on space shuttles. There’s even college programs dedicated to its development, like California Polytechnic’s Printed Electronics and Functional Imaging certificate and master’s programs. Oh, and tradeshows. Given the recent state of the maker scene, I expect printed electronics to be entering the work of high-tech interactive art in the next two years. I think it’s safe to say that printed electronics will be in daily use in 2020, if only in high-end products and technical applications.

The prospects opening to 3D printing is possibly more exciting. We’re printing consumer goods, housing, food, and soon, spare body parts:

That’s just amazing. Our course, what catches our eye is using 3d printing for letterpress:

I think that if we haven’t mastered printing organs by 2020, we’ll be very, very close – and 3d printing will be a part of many lives.

Creating new technology in print is amazing, but we’re also adapting current uses and seeing new trends emerge. The area with the largest growth in print is definitely packaging. Not only is everything that is ever shipped and purchased wrapped in it, but sometimes people purchase things just for the wrapping. A recently-turned 21 sister of mine admitted to buying wine based just on the art. I don’t think that’s wrong – a lot of wineries are counting on you doing just that. That’s why they use foils and embossing and engraving and many other techniques to catch your eye and delight your fingers. And while there are a lot of boards for a lot of things, packaging is one of the most popular pins on Pinterest. We’ve even got one – did you know that wine labels, hang tags, and box labels count as packaging? Packaging is going to grow even more by 2020, and we might be seeing some printed electronics incorporated as security measures – or even design elements!

A party invitation from Sugar Paper Los Angeles

A party invitation from Sugar Paper Los Angeles

While packaging is growing (and newspapers are hurting), the rest of print it changing. There’s definitely been a movement toward high-end print products, as boutique shops like Sugar Paper – and a favorite customer of ours -have shown. Fancy foil, letterpress, and engraving items are also Pinterest hits, and if they don’t know the exact name of a technique, a person can identify the feel of it. As more consumers are aware of the finer aspects of print, more of it will be purchased – by 2020, I can see purchasing personalized fine stationery to once again be a mark of adulthood.

Themochromatic inks create the blushing effect seen above.

What could change consumer goods, print goods, and packaging are changes in ink. Do you know about theromochromic inks? Photochromic? Hydrochromic? All of these already exist, but aren’t widely used. The most well known specialty ink is glow-in-the-dark. As Dreaming In CMYK covered, special inks are growing. Thermochromic inks change color with temperature – like Coors Light cans and many coffee mugs – but has the potential for incredible packages, like the picture above. The packaging concept is that the skin-colored packaging blushes when touched. Photochromic inks are popular in apparel – when ink is exposed to UV waves, the ink changes color, and reverts when the light is removed. Hydrochromic inks are activated by water – and even sweat. These inks have been around for a while, but the recent craze in wearable technology may bring renewed interest in -chromic inks.


People are innovating with things as simple as newspaper ink, too. An Sri Lankan newspaper mixed citronella with ink as a part of a campaign to educate the public about mosquito prevention. If newspapers work as mosquito repellent, then this might be implemented in more third and second-world countries.

And that’s where we think print will be in 2020. What about you? What will you be watching in the next 5 years?

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