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The primary goal of the printing industry is to convey a customer's message to its target audience on some form of published material, whether it's a newspaper, magazine, book, brochure, directory, or product packaging. Businesses in the printing industry take the customer's message and, depending on the services available, design the end product, lay it out, and print it. Some printers offer a full range of design and layout services, while others only offer printing.

By the end of the 20th century, printers were beginning to struggle with traditional printing processes. The advent of the World Wide Web and digital publishing were impacting the business of printers that primarily printed periodicals and similar products. Direct mail companies were among the first to abandon traditional printing and begin sending their advertisements to e-mail addresses, due to the significantly reduced cost of doing so.

By the 2010s, most printing companies had switched to a digital printing format rather than the traditional method of creating plates. Digital printing allows printers to be much more flexible and saves time in the printing process.

The printing industry makes a significant contribution to the economy. In 2019, the U.S. printing industry generated $79 billion in revenue despite a slight decrease from previous years, and employed about 410,944 workers according to the market research group IBISWorld.

The industry can trace its origin back to China, where Ts'ai Lun invented paper in 105 A.D. and the first book was printed in 868 A.D. using blocks of wood and ink. Over the centuries, printing spread to Europe and by the late 1700s, a German named Alois Senefelder developed a new printing process called lithography.

By the 19th century, several innovations had occurred, including the rotary press, which used revolving cylinders to make an inked impression on paper, and the Linotype and the Monotype machines, which automated the process of setting type. Another revolution occurred in 1905 when American Ira Rubel inadvertently discovered offset printing. The digital printing age began in the late 1990s. In the 2000s, 3-D printing became more efficient and available. 3-D printing is a printing technique that creates a three-dimensional object by printing it in layers.

Although there are still several types of printing being done in the United States, the basic operations of printing companies haven't changed. Companies require skilled sales people to meet with clients and acquire printing contracts. Design and layout artists help to create or prepare the product for printing, and operators or technicians use equipment to print the product. Some companies also provide distribution services, although most do not. Most printing companies are located in the Midwest, Florida, Texas, and California, and most businesses are smaller, employing perhaps dozens of people or less. There are a few very large printing companies in the United States that ship products all over the world.