The organisation’s latest Printing Outlook showed while just over half of companies surveyed in July reported no change in demand, 28% experienced an improvement in volume of domestic orders outweighing the 19% that experienced a deterioration, and exceeding last quarters’ predictions.

According to the quarterly survey, it was the first time that the actual performance of printers was ahead of forecast for more than two years and coincided with signs the general UK economy improved further during the period.

BPIF chief executive Kathy Woodward told PrintWeek: “Printers are coming out of the rabbit-in-the-headlight phase and taking strategic decisions on their future positioning and how they need to expand what they do. They are addressing this in a mature way.”

The survey found that overall quarterly improvement had prompted more optimism for demand in the third quarter. Again, most did not expect any change to order levels but those anticipating a pick-up in the market accounted for nearly a third of respondents.

Confidence in the state of trade in the industry has also improved from last quarter’s downbeat expectations, the report found. With over a quarter, or 27%, believing the general state of the market had improved in the three-month period.

However, while this was the highest reading for nine quarters it was “tempered” by the fact that a similar amount of firms, 24%, reported deterioration, the report cautioned.

The overall small positive result suggested a gradual return in confidence rather than complete belief trade was firmly on the up, said Woodward, insisting the fourth quarter would be “the real barometer”.

The online trading trends survey was carried out during the first two weeks of July and received responses from 91 companies employing 6,771 people.

Competitors pricing below cost remained the issue most frequently chosen by companies as one of their top three business concerns, with four fifths flagging this up in July.

Under utilisation of capital equipment was the second ranked concern, chosen by just over a third of respondents, with late payment by customers third, almost a quarter.

Most printers saw no change in staffing levels but some cut jobs due to a weak start to 2013. Over a quarter paid more for energy in the second quarter in contrast to little changes in costs for paper, board and ink.

Investment intentions meanwhile focused on product and process innovation, training and machinery. More than 90% aimed to spend more or the same on products, processes and training over the coming year.

Woodward said: “The primary investment focus for almost three-quarters of respondents shows there is continued investment in kit, training and product and process improvement in our industry.

“Energy costs will be an on-going issue, as we are not on a level playing field with Europe on policy issues. We have to be leaner, smarter, more competitive and constantly demonstrate value,” she added.

“However, though we need to remain lean, we should have an on going strategy for growth.”