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Packaging the Brand

Dynamic Prototypes and Short-Run Production

By Gretchen A. Peck

We often speak of paradigm shifts in the business of print. If any trend exemplifies that, it’s the way in which digital printing has forever altered the way packaging is conceptualized and created—flexible packaging, rigid packaging, and everything in between.

 

“Initially, when prototyping became part of the package design process, the prototype itself was typically a one off that was difficult and time consuming to produce,” recalls Eric Zimmerman, product manager, Roland DGA Corporation. Recent technology advancements change this.

 

“Today manufacturers quickly and easily reproduce designs digitally with tremendous accuracy and in higher quantities. It’s not uncommon for multiple—or even hundreds—of prototypes to be produced for a single product, giving everyone involved in the brand messaging a chance to weigh in, from executive management teams to marketing and sales professionals and product retailers,” continues Zimmerman.

 

Consumable Considerations

When it comes to digitally printing packaging—whether it’s a few prototypes for brand owners to mull over, or short-run lengths of high-quality product seen on retail shelves—consumables are an omnipresent consideration for print service suppliers, especially the ability to print to an array of substrates.

 

The Epson Stylus Pro WT7900 is an affordable solution for high-end proofing, as well as package prototyping, according to Mark Radogna, group product manager, Professional Imaging Division, Epson. It prints to a range of substrates, adds a true metallic silver to the ink set, and sells for less than $10,000.

 

For package prototyping, as well as an “everyday sign printer,” Radogna recommends the Epson SureColor S70670. He cites the new printer’s dimensions—64 inches wide, its ten-color ink set that comprises optional white and metallic silver inks, and its 1,440x1,440 dpi resolution as specifications of particular importance.

 

Like many of his colleagues in the industry, Radogna is tepid about advising large format digital print suppliers to get into package prototyping or package production. There are some rather daunting obstacles on the path. “This particular audience is much more critical on color accuracy than a typical sign customer walking in the door,” he adds.

 

“Besides color, most sign equipment today is used to print larger prints—things that you stand away from; you don’t look at them from up close. In the package prototype space, for example, someone is picking up that lipstick box and looking at it pretty closely. Sometimes the older generation solvent printers can’t produce output clear enough,” shares Radogna.

 

Hewlett-Packard (HP) positions several of its print engines as packaging friendly. Ken VanHorn, Americas Scitex category manager, HP, explains that for package prototyping applications, print service suppliers may be keen on the HP Scitex FB500 Printer—a 64-inch device capable of handling varying media up to 2.5 inches thick—or the HP Scitex FB700 Printer, a 98.4-inch solution also capable of managing media up to 2.5 inches thick.

 

For short-run production printing, the HP Scitex FB7600 Press may be a better match, suggests VanHorn.

 

What makes this particular digital press attractive to package printers? “The ability to handle a variety of substrates with a single ink set,” notes Van Horn. “Plastic material is possible, but more importantly for the packaging market, paper and corrugated material. Each is used without switching between different types of ink sets.”

 

Earlier this year, HP debuted its HP FB225 Scitex White Ink Kit, which may be used with the HP Scitex FB7600 Press to produce a range of applications, including short-run corrugated packaging to name a few.

 

VanHorn also points out the HP Scitex FB7600 Press’ vacuum technology—featuring zones that may be independently controlled depending on the size of the media—and new automation and auto-load functionality are particularly useful to print service suppliers producing short-run packaging.

 

Just this year, HP unveiled the Hostert Automatic Loader—a partner solution developed expressly for the HP Scitex FB7600 and FB7500 models. It allows high-volume print shops producing long repeating runs to reduce production costs, improve turnaround time, and create an automatic working environment with stack-to-stack operation.

 

Another recent advancement in digitally printed packaging involves workflow. VanHorn mentions partner Esko, a developer that introduced some exciting creative and production tools for packaging design and prepress.

 

Zimmerman cites the new Roland SOLJET Pro 4—a 64-inch printer/cutter—as particularly adept at packaging prototypes, in addition to other types of graphics. The printer boasts a range of features that make operation efficient and cost effective. These features include and automated ink circulation system that reduces ink usage and maintenance requirements for white and metallic inks. A powerful, three stage heater and optional dryer unit improve production. A built-in take up system handles media rolls up to 88 pounds for long unintended production runs.

 

“Some of the most popular features include integrated contour cutting to produce packaging comps in virtually any shape, as well as specialty inks, including white, metallic silver, and new light black, which allow a range of finishes and effects,” explains Zimmerman.

 

Roland’s new white ink offers improved opacity and white point. It is effective in printing on clear media commonly used in the packaging segment. The Roland SOLJET Pro 4 also introduces a new light black ink for a neutral gray that ensures smooth gradations and high-fidelity photographic images.

 

Model Sizes

Larry D’Amico, VP of digital imaging, Agfa Graphics, says that the company’s flatbed systems are ideal for packaging applications, especially corrugated work. “True flatbed systems really lend themselves to packaging applications because of their inherent nature,” he suggests.

 

Recent improvements in print quality also help sell packaging print buyers on digital.

 

“The equipment is in the ten picoliter droplet size—plus or minus—and that allows us to get into folding carton work, rather than, say, the previous generations of inkjets that were 30 picoliter droplets. They were okay for corrugated, but they didn’t really lend themselves to folding carton. When you’re dealing with codes, barcodes, and text, it just didn’t cut it. Now, you can cover the spectrum, thanks to the quality of the equipment,” explains D’Amico.

 

Agfa positions its :Anapurna, :Jeti; and :M-Press printers as packaging appropriate. The manufacturer unveiled the latest in its :M-Press series—the :M-Press Leopard, co-developed with Theime—at drupa 2012.

 

“The :M-Press printer is the very top of our line,” remarks D’Amico. “Originally, we targeted a lot of screenprinting applications, but we’re finding a lot of opportunities in the packaging market, especially in short-run packaging, because of the speed and the quality that the :M-Press images.”

 

“All Océ Arizona printer models are appropriate for the creation of packaging prototypes,” according to Randy Paar, display graphics marketing manager, Océ North America.

 

Paar goes on to explain the various products in the portfolio. “The most significant difference between them is print size—the Océ Arizona XT models have the large eight- by ten-foot image area—and speed. The Océ Arizona 550 series is the fastest. So it really comes down to how large a sheet size the packaging company works with, and what print volumes and/or turnaround times are required.”

 

Many types of businesses in the packaging supply chain are investing in print engines such as Océ Arizona printers.

 

“Advertising agencies typically do not purchase this level of equipment, but instead outsource. However, some packaging specialists manage large accounts with agencies representing major consumer brands that would be able to justify such a capital investment. We have one customer like this, with four Océ Arizona printers running only prototype and short-run packaging,” explains Paar.

 

Durst Image Technology US LLC positions two of its high productivity print engines for packaging applications—though like other solutions, packaging is but one application, according to Cory Sheldon, marketing development manager, Durst.

 

“The Durst Rho P10 250 is used by many customers for packaging prototyping and short-run applications. The Rho 1000 corrugate is also used for this, but more for the longer runs, due to its size, productivity, and speed,” notes Sheldon.

 

Equipment Investors

Manufacturers sell these print engines to many types of businesses, from packaging print and converting specialists, to commercial printers, screenprinters, creative firms, and prepress agencies.

 

“Most of Roland’s package prototyping printers are sold to existing packaging specialists, including brand owners and their in-house designers; contract packaging companies; packaging design companies; and commercial printers,” confides Zimmerman.

 

Mutoh America Inc. is poised to introduce a new print engine at the Specialty Graphic Imaging Association’s expo in October, but at press time details and specifications about the new device were not available. However, Michelle Johnson, marketing coordinator, Mutoh, notes that the new device is adept at package prototyping and short-run production, like the manufacturer’s ValueJet 1608HS 64-inch hybrid printer.

 

“The world of printing is limitless; the niche markets can go on and on,” according to Johnson. “The market is changing and more print shops are looking for ways to expand their portfolio. When you can sell a printer that produces packaging prototypes, vehicle wraps, banners, and point of purchase (POP) displays, it makes it easier to implement this type of application into a general sign shop.”

 

Representatives from HP affirm that its HP Scitex engines are largely being placed into existing packaging specialists’ operations, as opposed to print service providers (PSPs) working in the sign and graphics space.

 

“It is really the converters that are looking at that mid-range technology—to be able to bring that in and do some short-run prototyping,” confides VanHorn. Creative agencies may be prototyping in house, but they’re more inclined to buy from the HP Designjet line and create one offs by pasting up the graphics.

 

VanHorn’s colleague, Don Knox, U.S. director of sales, Scitex, HP, notes that some traditional sign shops and large format graphic specialists are entering the packaging space in limited ways. However, he cautions, there is a fulfillment aspect to short-run packaging that differs somewhat from, a typical sign shop’s business model.

 

Digital inkjet’s influence on package prototyping and production printing is yet to be measured. D’Amico says that it’s a burgeoning market still in its infancy. “I have not seen a lot of sign companies make the leap to packaging,” he adds.

 

“I think it’s a great opportunity for them, but there’s some complexity in this market that makes it a little difficult. When it comes to cutting requirements and the engineering, it helps to have some familiarity with these processes, so it can be a challenging transition,” continues D’Amico.

 

EFI offers several large format solutions that are adept at package and prototype printing, including the EFI Wide Format T1000 UV flatbed printer, EFI Wide Format H652, and in the superwide realm, EFI VUTEk QS and GS series printers. “From $100,000 to $800,000, there’s a lot to offer there,” notes Jamie Dolpies, product manager, EFI.

 

In her experience, Dolpies says that the EFI users getting into package printing often find their way to the new application by accepting overflow work from packaging specialists that are either not able to produce short runs because they lack the digital equipment, or they’re simply not able to handle the volume.

 

Much of this work, she explains, is not derived from large national or international brands. More often, digital PSPs are producing promotional packaging for smaller regional organizations. And then there’s the packaging of the large format print they may already be producing.

 

“For example, a PSP might create a POP display, and now they’re able to print the packaging that transports that display—fully packed with product—to the retailer,” suggests Dolpies.

 

Opportunity or Out of Reach

“Over the past two years there has been considerable buzz within the display graphics market about new opportunities in the packaging industry,” recalls Paar. “This attraction is not limited to equipment manufacturers, such as Océ, but also existing display graphics print providers that see packaging as an opportunity to supplement traditional work.”

 

“This is a mature market dominated by well-established companies, so there are some challenges for newcomers,” forewarns Zimmerman. “As with any new market, you are competing with people that know the industry and applications. The reality is that this market uses similar technology, ink, and materials used in many of the long-standing applications for wide format printing.” Familiarity is apparent in some aspects.

 

For large format graphic specialists seeking to break into packaging prototypes, Zimmerman suggests a thorough understanding of the packaging development workflow, and a sales strategy tailored to this new market.

 

“But the rewards are worth all the hard work,” implores Zimmerman. “This is a lucrative market that can be very profitable for shops with the right equipment and a strong commitment. While breaking in is tough, the investment pays off over time.”

 

VanHorn agrees, and reminds digital print service suppliers of the enormity of the packaging market, which eclipses the total sign and display market.

 

VanHorn’s colleague Oriol Gasch, Americas Scitex category manager, HP, says that there are some important parallels between the print worlds of packaging and sign and graphics.

 

“What does the brand owner want?,” ponders Gasch. “They want consistency among all the signage, and now all the packaging. They also look for a single point of contact. So, instead of having to source print to multiple print providers, they look for that one shop that can do everything.”

 

Dynamic and Lucrative

Manufacturers continue to invest time and energy into creating wide format digital print devices that cater to the package and prototype space. Feature sets such as white ink, media versatility, and integrated cutters make the opportunity possible.

 

PSPs hoping to break into digitally printing packaging and prototypes have a variety of solutions to choose from. While every journey into a new segment varies, as long as a print provider goes about it intelligently, offering dynamic services is profitable to the business.

 

Oct2012, Digital Output

 

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