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Packaging Considerations

Tools and Education Wrap Up Packaging

By Cassandra Balentine

Packaging with wide format hardware provides a sales opportunity for print service providers (PSPs). While many have the tools in place, there is much to learn before it all collaborates in a profitable manner.


“Many PSPs possess the basic skills needed to move into the market and also the right type of equipment to get started,” suggests Hiroshi Ono, group product manager, Roland DGA Corporation. However, in addition to monetary investment considerations, PSPs new to packaging and prototypes should become educated in areas of color management and associated workflows.


It is important that PSPs look for natural product line extensions to maximize the chance for success. “Businesses that do a good deal of retail display signage and point of purchase (POP) work, for instance, can potentially leverage client connections to expand into packaging design and prototyping for a retailer’s private label products,” recommends Ken Hanulec, VP, marketing – inkjet solutions, EFI.


A good stepping stone from POP production into packaging is freestanding display units. Eli Israeli, strategic marketing,  Scitex Industrial Presses, Hewlett-Packard (HP), says this type of display graphic application is ideal for PSPs invested in a high-quality, large format press. “These jobs are generally short runs done on corrugated boards, ideal for digital printing,” he explains. “While the PSP gains experience in handling corrugated displays, the next step is to move into more specific applications.”


A small-scale move is recommended. Bill Hartman, VP, business development, digital finishing, Esko, notes that customers working on POP most likely have a need for packaging orders. PSPs should gather experience with these existing customers. “A print provider should approach a company only when it is comfortable,” he cautions.


Investment Analysis

Knowledge is of the utmost importance. Understanding the cost to begin producing packaging is the first lesson. To determine potential profitability, costs associated with packaging should be broken down, including printing and finishing equipment as well as software, workflow, and training.


Agfa Graphics’ :Anapurna M2540 FB and :Jeti 3020 Titan are true flatbed printers that image packaging materials such as corrugated media. The :Anapurna M2540 FB is obtainable for under $150,000 and the :Jeti 3020 Titan lists under $650,000.


In addition to hardware, Larry D’Amico, VP, digital imaging, Agfa, notes that components depend on the level of package design and structural engineering a PSP plans to implement. The company partners with Esko.


“If these functions are part of the business model, than software like Esko ArtiosCAD and i-cut Suite 12 may be required. If you are simply outputting files, you need a front end system that nests elements on a board,” he suggests.


Durst Image Technology US LLC offers UV inkjet printers designed for the corrugate marketplace. The Durst Rho 750 HS is an industrial-built solution developed for corrugated converters and POP display specialists. The press prints directly onto a variety of coated and non-coated substrates. A fully automated corrugated feeder stacker system helps reduce loading times.


The Durst Rho 1000 corrugated printing line is a complete system featuring automatic loading, printing, varnishing, and stacking of corrugated boards in one operation. At maximum production speeds, the Rho 1000 achieves a standard of quality the company says is equal to that of laminated offset printing. Additionally, the machine prints cut marks onto the corrugated board for finishing on a digital cutter. Each Durst Rho is equipped with a Caldera RIP.


EFI provides a number of hybrid flatbed/roll printers to assist graphics professionals in short-run packaging and prototyping operations. The EFI VUTEk HS100 Pro high-speed UV press is designed to offer the productivity of a screenprinter, the machine features speeds of up to 100 beds per hour. The press represents an alternative to analog equipment and offers native JDF connectivity from the EFI Fiery XF RIP to the press and EFI print management information systems (MIS).


In addition to its inkjet printers, EFI offers a portfolio of software and MIS and enterprise resource planning solutions. “No matter what type of packaging operation a company produces—digital or analog, narrow web or wide format—workflow and MIS are key factors to having an efficient and productive operation,” stresses Hanulec.


Epson offers its 64-inch solvent SureColor S70670 printer, which is well suited for the package proofing market because of its wide color gamut and white and metallic ink technology. “Because it’s a solvent-based printer, the SureColor S70670 prints on PVC and other packaging type materials for comps and proofs,” points out Reed Hecht, product manager, professional imaging, Epson.


The printer is available for $25,995 MSRP. The company also partners with ONYX Graphics, Inc. to include a customized, fully functional version of the ONYX standard layout RIP, which includes the full Pantone color library with the SureColor S70670. To take advantage of white and metallic silver printing technology, a $499 upgrade is required, unless the customer already has a compatible version of the ONYX RIP.


HP’s Scitex FB7600 is a large format press that prints to rigid and flexible sheets. Built with optimized mechanisms to handle corrugated boards, it prints up to 450 boxes per hour with an average box area of one square meter. HP FB225 Scitex Inks are designed to improve flexibility on corrugated media over preceding technologies. An optional white ink kit lets PSPs print directly to corrugated packaging media.


In addition to the hardware, PSPs require a RIP to effectively add packaging services. The HP Scitex FB7600 is bundled with Caldera GrandRIP+ or ONYX ProductionHouse. In terms of workflow, the HP Scitex FB7600 press works well in three-quarters automatic loading mode for simultaneous loading/unloading without the need for additional hardware.


HP partners with several companies to offer PSPs an end-to-end packaging workflow, including Esko for elaborate box design software with ArtiosCAD, digital cutting with the i-cut Suite, preflight and production control software, and the Kongsberg digital cutter table; ONYX RIP software; and Caldera RIP software.


Mutoh America, Inc.’s ValueJet 1608HS is a four-color, 64-inch, eco-solvent flatbed hybrid printer capable of printing rigid material and roll media. The printer is listed for under $50,000, including a take up system, feed and output tables, and RIP software.


In addition to hardware, David Conrad, marketing manager, Mutoh, says proper desktop design or CAD software capable of creating prototype packaging concepts and layouts is important. He explains that the ability to incorporate cut and fold marks and digitally replicate the actual finished product in three dimensions (3D) is important when creating prototypes.


Several software packages help coordinate all phases of the design process and include workflow components such as product sizing, pallet configuration, carton design, container, or truckload optimization.


“For a shop who owns packaging printing equipment, the investment needs to include the appropriate software and a cutting device, which can run up to and well over $100,000 depending on the solution they choose,” recommends Conrad.


The Océ Arizona series printers output directly onto paperboard and corrugate using a stationary flatbed table design. Océ VariaDot printhead technology produces small, six-picoliter ink drops that result in high image quality similar to what a packaging customer would expect from an offset press. The larger Océ Arizona XT models support oversized media up to eight by ten feet. “This is particularly advantageous from a productivity standpoint,” comments Randy Paar, senior marketing specialist, Canon Solutions America (CSA).


Paar notes a good RIP as a “must have” option. He suggests ONYX Thrive software, which supports a professional color management workflow. If packaging is designed from scratch by the PSP, a CAD-based package design program, such as AlphaCorr, LLC’s Rules or Esko ArtiosCAD, is also required.


He estimates the investment starts at less than $210, 000 including printer, cutter, software, delivery, installation, and training.


Roland offers UV LED devices suited for package prototype production. Each is equipped with specialty inks, VersaWorks RIP software, and automated maintenance features that minimize production time and costs, including advanced ink circulation systems that automatically prevent heavier ink particles in white and metallic inks from settling into the lines.


The VersaUV line features LEC series printer/cutters. They are available in 30- and 54-inch widths and support flexible media. These devices automate the die cutting, perf cutting, and creasing processes, all on one device through a seamless workflow.


The VersaUV line also includes the 64-inch LEJ-640 flatbed printer, which supports both flexible roll media and rigid substrates up to half an inch thick.


Price points are $59,995 for the 30-inch LEC-330; $68,995 for the 54-inch LEC-540; and $68,995 for the LEJ-640.


VersaWorks RIP software is included with all Roland printers and printer/cutters free of charge. Roland partners with color management providers. “These color solutions are very accurate, and integration with our print devices ties the prototyping process into the commercial printing workflow for consistent color matching across proofs and final printers,” adds Ono.


Flatbed cutter tables are recommended to support packaging. Popular automated cutter manufacturers include Anderson DPC, CSA, Colex Imaging, Inc., Esko, Gerber Scientific Products, Inc., Graphtec America, Inc., MCT Inc., Mimaki USA, Inc., MultiCam, Inc., Summa, Inc., Techno Inc., Teckwin International, and Zünd.


Software Considerations

To complete the packaging workflow, software considerations are essential. As previously noted, several popular flatbed printer manufacturers bundle software solutions to support application creation, including packaging. Often, complex workflows drive packaging and the correct software helps streamline the process.


The level of investment needed for software and workflow depends on how involved a shop plans to get with the brand owner. “Unless the shop is building mockups from an existing PDF file, it is unlikely it will work with a large brand owner. The design process is far too complicated,” says Hartman.


Assuming the shop is working with a smaller, local brand owner, the software depends upon the needs of the brand company. “If design assistance is required, a completely different set of software is needed than merely reproducing a few labels for someone,” he adds.


Workflow that allows PSPs to print and finish a PDF file accurately is necessary to start. Color management is also critical. “Brand colors must match, spot on,” says Hartman. Other software helps designers place graphics correctly on the package. For labels and small packaging, a good step-and-repeat program helps save materials and complete jobs faster.


Structural design is a consideration for packaging applications. “CAD design applications help designers and print shops build the shape of the package. It is possible that a PSP might already own one because it is required to build 3D displays,” says Hartman. CAD tools are used for structural design as well as product development, virtual prototyping, and manufacturing corrugated and folding carton packaging.


Esko packaging software typically falls under its Suite 12 umbrella of design and preproduction. Within this is a series of products including ArtiosCAD, ArtPro, Automation Engine, DeskPack, Studio, and WebCenter.


“The price range of packaging design plug-ins and applications are broad and range from $200 to $300, to an excess of $150,000 for a tailored packaging workflow,” adds Hartman.


The Overall Picture

Extending service offerings is often an attractive method for gaining new and generating more business from existing clients. However, it is difficult to gauge the exact investment without a full understanding of a shop’s existing tools.


“Large format inkjet is more of an emerging opportunity in the analog to digital transformation. As a new market, there may be room for large format printing specialists to get a foot in the door by offering something that dedicated packaging converters do not,” says Hanulec.


“If the proper hardware is already in place, you may need little additional investment to incorporate packaging into your business,” suggests D’Amico. The overall investment is really about understanding the business of packaging and being able to speak the language.


Hecht suggests that the time to expand into the packaging proofing or package application space is when the PSP has the clientele to support the cost of the additional effort and necessary equipment.


Conrad points to shops that already have a flatbed or hybrid printer or cutter not currently producing packaging prototypes already as a prime candidate to enter the marketplace. “The major investment is the printing and cutting devices, with that major hurdle crossed, the software and operator training follows quickly,” he adds.


Hartman recommends a company hire a packaging expert—someone that understands how the supply chain works and how packaging is built—before diving head first into the service. “Unfortunately, more often than not, packaging workflow is much more complex than wide format display printing. Brand companies look for complete service, often requiring complex packaging structural design along with the placement of graphics,” he cautions.


For example, barcodes need to be generated and specific requirements for copy placement are a concern. Expert color management is also a necessity. “There is nothing more embarrassing to a brand owner than logos of unmatched colors between different sets of packaging or the product itself,” says Hartman.


Hanulec notes that while it takes some time to get to know the packaging market, it is an attractive new opportunity for businesses experiencing slower growth in their traditional signage and display applications.


Proceed with Caution

Packaging presents a large opportunity within the wide format digital print space. However, beyond hardware and software, the learning curve is of utmost importance. Even with equipment in hand, it is critical that PSPs are fully confident in their packaging capabilities before accepting a job.


Apr2013, Digital Output

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