In 2009, Printing Industries of America valued the package printing segment of the industry at $22.96 billion, second only to commercial printing. Package printing is a huge market, both domestically and globally; it touches virtually every aspect of consumers’ lives. Nearly everything consumed requires some form of a package that serves both practical purposes, like portability, and marketing purposes—to distinguish a product from its competitors.
Digital inkjet was not conceived with package printing in mind, but the flatbed and roll-fed technologies introduced—and improved upon—in recent years have proven particularly adept at solving a decades’ old dilemma.
“I’ve been involved in package prototyping for 40 years,” recalls Ron Edhlund, president, Proofing Technologies, Ltd. “The problem wasn’t getting a million units, but getting just one of them made.”
Then inkjet printers appeared on the scene. With the advent of white ink, their abilities became even more enticing. Now, the question becomes; besides true one-off prototypes, can digital inkjet also be adopted for short-run package production?
“What we’re seeing is a shift in quantity,” asserts Edhlund. “Marketers who once ordered ten of a prototype are ordering 100 or more. They may require 50 finished packages to conduct focus groups, provide their sales force with samples, or supply retailers with enough to create a physical planogram. The issue now is not one; the short run is also important.”
Another creative and manufacturing dilemma that digital inkjet resolves is personalized packaging.
“Digital means variable data, which means that every package can look different. At minimal costs you can economically make multiple test runs, each with different colors, or customized to meet a variety of languages or niches,” notes Kristof Dekeukelaere, :Dotrix sales manager, Agfa Graphics.
“Unlike commercial proofing on paper, package proofing exists in a complex world,” suggests Larry Kaufman, product manager, professional imaging, Epson. “There are many foils, films, and different substrates; as well as special types of colors that go into building boxes, wrappers for candy, bags for coffee, or labels on water bottles. The market demands a high-quality, cost-effective way to create package proofs on a clear or metallic base, to produce color-accurate packaging mock-ups or prototypes.”
Epson meets the need with its UltraChrome HDR White Ink and the Epson Stylus Pro WT7900 printer. Companies with a creative department can now bring flexographic and gravure color proofing in house. For folding carton and box prototyping in small format, the Epson Stylus Pro 4900 supports 17x24-inch Epson Carolina Cover—18-point, C1S printing stock. On a larger scale, the Epson Stylus Pro 9900 runs 44-inch Epson Carolina Cover 10-point C1S media.
Phase One: Prototyping
“We’re always trying to evolve and use the latest and greatest in printers and processes,” reports Bill Ramirez, president, Phase 1 Prototypes, based in Dallas, TX. Phase 1 specializes in package prototyping and short-run production for brands such as Ghirardelli Chocolate and Welch’s. It utilizes a JetComp system, which is comprised of Mimaki USA, Inc. printers with eco-solvent ES3 inks and JetComp packaging media from Proofing Technologies.
“We have three Mimaki JV33s and they run non-stop,” reports Ramirez. “They enable us to bring in jobs we once outsourced, and we want to keep it that way.” He plans to add additional Mimaki printers in the next few months.
Like other package print service providers (PSPs), Phase 1 has seen the demand for quantities grow. “There is the design, test marketing, and then the planogram phase; where a store wants to see what a product looks like on the shelf. They may need 200 to 500 samples, plus marketing samples for sales representatives. What we’re finding is, as our processes have evolved and we’re able to handle and manage longer runs, people request 500 to 1,000 bags, instead of ten to 20,” affirms Ramirez.
Enabling PSPs and creative firms to produce package print is of great importance to Roland DGA Corporation. “For package prototyping and short-run label production, Roland offers a complete line of wide format inkjet printer/cutters, including the new UV-LED and metallic eco-solvent models,” reports Hiroshi Ono, group product manager, Roland.
To support businesses creating prototypes, he recommends Roland’s VersaUV models, available in 30- and 54-inch configurations. These devices print, contour cut, crease, score, and emboss graphics for on demand production of packaging prototypes and labels. Besides traditional CMYK, VersaUV provides white ink and clear coat for custom matte and gloss textures, effects, and patterns. Printable media options range from self-adhesive PVD, metallic papers, synthetic and natural leathers, coated and art paper, mesh materials, and metalized polyesters, to cast-coated and metalized paper, foils, film, and synthetic paper.
“Producing realistic prototypes is expensive for designers and print service suppliers, requiring them to either use specialized proofing equipment or stop the press to run samples of projects. With proofing equipment, the running costs can be high—$20 per square foot or more—and the range of media is typically limited to coated substrates, which may not reflect the same look and feel of a production run,” advises Ono. “The only other alternative for proofing on specialized materials is to proof on press. Every time a commercial press is stopped, thousands of dollars in production revenue is lost.”
Roland’s VersaCAMM VS and SOLJET PRO III XC-540MT models are also well-suited to packaging and label applications. Both feature white and metallic silver ECO-SOL MAX inks. Metallic ECO-SOL MAX combines CMYK, light cyan, and light magenta to create bronze, gold, copper, and pearlescent colors.
Flatbed Print, 3D Output
“Océ North America re-evaluated our wide format portfolio and determined it represented a viable solution to not only address the creation of prototypes but short-run/custom applications. This digital approach now provides brand owners with new marketing opportunities, plus additional revenue streams for packaging providers,” explains Randy Paar, marketing manager, display graphics, Océ.
The manufacturer strategically pairs two solutions for package production—the Océ Arizona series of UV flatbed printers and the Océ ProCut digital cutter. Both the Océ Arizona 550 GT and XT and 350 GT and XTprinters offer white ink as an option. Océ ProCut Prepress software separates printing data from die-line data. Color is maintained within the RIP’s ICC workflow, which also supports Pantone-certified look-up tables, to provide the closest CMYK equivalent.
“The ability to cost effectively produce short runs enables brand owners or retailers to customize packaging to a regional event or demographic, or test market a new design. When we look at the scope of consumer packaging on a national basis, the ability to test market can translate to millions of dollars in determining the perfect design,” continues Paar.
David Cich, VP of sales and marketing, CET Color, notes that it’s the X-Press FK512 flatbed UV printer’s vacuum table that makes it well suited for package printing and proofing. It outputs directly to the same substrates and stocks that the packaging industry is standardized on. This is accomplished by utilizing white ink, as well as UV technology, which places the ink on top of the substrate. This is instead of the inks drying through absorption, which affects the quality of the finished product,” he explains.