By Cassandra Balentine
Corrugate is a great medium for display and packaging applications. The substrate offers protection, sturdiness, and sustainability. In addition to advantages, the media does present unique challenges requiring specific equipment feature sets as well as skill in operation. The porous surface of corrugate has a tendency to warp and typically requires advanced media hold down for printing.
Despite its challenges, corrugated media is well suited for a range of display and packaging applications, including point of purchase (POP) standees, product bins, packaging, and signage. Many print service providers (PSPs) utilize wide format hybrid and flatbed printers that handle corrugated substrates, attracting big brands. Here, we profile three companies that offer display and packaging design, engineering, proofing/prototyping, and manufacturing.
Above: CDP employs an EFI Nozomi C18000 digital press for printing to corrugate media.
From Design to Fulfillment
Complete Design & Packaging (CDP) offers design, manufacturing, fulfillment, and warehousing services for custom POP and retail packaging serving a range of customers. The company opened its doors on April 1, 2002 in Concord, NC.
“We started in just one quadrant of the building. We are still there, but now own the entire building and rent a space nearby for warehousing and co-packing,” shares Howard Bertram, president, CDP.
It primarily serves the continental U.S.—largely the East Coast region—but also ships to Canada and Mexico. Its service offerings are supported by a staff of 110 full-time employees. “Many of our competitors do a fantastic job, but our culture and the positive experience our customers have with us set us apart. We are a diversified group of people, but we are able to trust one another to get the job done correctly and efficiently,” offers Bertram.
The company understands the importance of creativity and uses Esko ArtiosCAD, Esko Automation Engine, and Adobe Illustrator for packaging and display design and workflow. When it comes to manufacturing, the provider handles everything from one-off samples to long flexographic press runs. Beyond manufacturing, fulfillment is another essential component of the business, where it provides assembly and kitting services for select projects.
To handle its packaging and display manufacturing needs, CDP employs an extensive equipment line up. “At our manufacturing facility we utilize a total of 13 machines all over the spectrum. We have an EFI Nozomi C18000 and EFI VUTEk h5 used for digital print on corrugated, several corrugated printers and folder gluers, and two digital CAD cutting tables including an Esko Kongsberg C64. Specifically for digital, we use the EFI Fiery system coupled with Esko workflow products,” shares Bertram.
With these capabilities, the plant is able to handle up to 16 million square feet of capacity per month, per shift.
CDP invested in EFI’s digital printing technology due to EFI’s attention to detail, service support, and the output quality. Bertram says the shop felt the EFI Nozomi C18000 and EFI VUTEk h5 were the best choice for its application needs and were both specifically purchased for corrugated, which accounts for about 90 percent of its wide format digital print work.
The EFI Nozomi features high-quality, high-speed digital LED printing up to 75 linear meters per minute on substrates up to 1.8 meters wide. The press provides single-pass, LED, digital drop on demand, piezoelectric inkjet technology; industrial, fixed array printheads; four-level grayscale with resolution up to 360×720 dpi; CMYK, CMYK+W, CMYKOV, CMYKOV+W configurations available; and speeds of up to 7,224 square meters per hour. The machine also offers one- and two-lane printing; two-lane printing supported when coupled with the top feeder to double the sheet throughput; multi-image board printing supported in two-lane printing; and inline primer that allows dot gain and ink absorption control over a range of corrugated top sheets.
The EFI VUTEk h5 is a high-volume, 3.2-meter hybrid roll/flatbed LED inkjet printer. The device offers print resolution of 1,200 dpi, productivity of up to 109 boards per hour, UltraDrop Technology seven picoliter grayscale printheads, and automated media handling options.
While the EFI presses are corrugated workhorses, Bertram says each and every one of its machines is used for corrugated display and POP work. “Components of displays can be printed either digitally or flexographic and can be finished on a rotary flatbed or CAD table. It all depends on the level of graphics, the square footage, and the time frame of the project. Our machines are incredibly efficient and were designed specifically for this type of work,” he shares.
With ten years of experience printing to corrugate materials, CDP has mastered many of the common issues. The PSP finds the biggest challenge is printing fine text and having properly prepped files. “We’ve addressed this learning curve since day one of diving into digital,” shares Bertram. “Giving the printer quality files ensures that the final product is printed to the best of our ability.”
Overall, digital printing has elevated the entire company in all areas. “Although having digital isn’t necessary to be successful in this industry, we anticipate that our speed and quality continue to evolve and we will deliver the best custom products for our customers.” he shares.
For typical corrugate work, files are received and preflighted. If the file passes inspection, the company presents a one-out print card for approval. Once approved by the customer, it is laid out on the correct CAD for the order. While this occurs, the company’s prepress and structure team collaborates on routing and combines a print file and a cut file for production. “We then print out a 100 percent size proof on an HP Inc. Latex 115 printer. We compare the proof with the production sample and sign off to officially send it to production. The proof goes to the floor and follows the job until it makes it out the door,” explains Bertram.
Printing to corrugate is all in a day’s work for CDP, and digital print plays an important and growing role in the business’ continued success.
Established in 1981, the BoxMaker primarily serves the Pacific Northwest region—ID, OR, and WA. Headquartered just outside of Seattle, WA the packaging manufacturer employs a staff of 175 people out of seven locations.
The BoxMaker strives to offer its clients a comprehensive range of packaging solutions to effectively address business needs. “We are a custom manufacturer of corrugated packaging, operating a traditional flexographic-print box plant as well as a high-capacity center for digitally printed and finished corrugated boxes and displays. Additionally, we digitally print product labels in house. We convert custom foam and specialty tape products, and we also distribute a variety of packaging supplies beyond our manufacturing capabilities,” shares Richard Brown, president, The BoxMaker.
Wide format digital printing on corrugated accounts for about 17 percent of the company’s total business.
The packaging provider operates two digital wide format presses, the HP Scitex 15500 Corrugated Press and HP Scitex 17000 Corrugated Press; one narrow-format digital press for labels and folding carton printing, the HP Indigo WS6800 Digital Press; as well as a fleet of digital CAD tables for die-less finishing. “At the end of 2018 we added the HP PageWide C500 Press to our digital press line up—designed to produce top-quality digitally printed packaging that meets the demands of today’s consumers at scale. We use these machines to convert a variety of corrugated materials and substrates, including traditional fluted corrugated—most commonly E and B flutes—in coated, uncoated, and kraft—as well as specialty substrates such as Falconboard and foamcore,” shares Brown.
The BoxMaker leverages a variety of software solutions and operates an in-house team of developers to build and maintain its end-to-end digital print production workflow. These solutions include Esko WebCenter and Amtech Software.
In addition to product packaging, POP and display work is primarily done on digital presses and finishing equipment. “These machines lend themselves to producing order runs in a variety of volumes from very low to high without significant investment in tooling and setup costs,” says Brown. “This allows our clients to go to market with the confidence of knowing they can easily manipulate and update their graphics or structures for future orders without incurring additional costs.”
High-volume orders are converted in the company’s box plant on its Eterna Maxcut flatbed die cutter, which includes an inline stripping section that fully removes all waste from the finished product.
Digital printing is important to The BoxMaker. The company began investing in digital print for corrugated packaging in 2011 when it purchased its first-generation digital press—the HP Scitex FB700 Industrial Printer. “We saw the value in this technology to deliver rapidly printed prototypes and low-volume orders to clients. As digital print capabilities advance, we continue to grow our investment and upgrade our machinery to offer faster production, higher quality print, and expand our ability to address high-volume orders,” shares Brown.
The BoxMaker evaluates machinery investments based on the value it can deliver to its clients and production lines. The addition of the HP PageWide C500 press addressed many of the past perceived challenges associated with digital print, offering lithographic-quality output and accelerated production speed. Brown points out that each new generation of press presents new opportunities to perfect its product offering and it always strives to deliver digital solutions that are not only acceptable but exciting to a marketplace that is accustomed to conventional print.
Due to its digital printing and finishing capabilities, the PSP operates an online, ecommerce custom packaging brand—fantastapack.com. This ecommerce site is a web to print custom packaging platform that serves brands of all sizes, including custom boxes, product labels, and retail displays. “With Fantastapack, we’re able to extend our reach and serve customers throughout Canada and the U.S,” shares Brown.
Digital printing is a growing and integral part of The BoxMaker’s business. “As digital print technologies continue to develop and surpass the capabilities of traditional analog presses we see a future where our packaging production is fully digital,” predicts Brown.
But First, a Proof
In addition to printing to corrugate for packaging and displays, proofing and sampling is an important part of the process. These prepress processes are a service not every PSP provides.
Founded in 1986, Catalpha Advertising & Design, Inc. is a full-service branding and marketing provider based in Towson, MD. Karen Kerski started the company after working at an adverting agency. She was joined shortly after in 1988 by Don Keller, and business started to grow.
Today, the company offers product branding and brand refresh services, packaging design and packaging product management services, custom website design, ecommerce development, website management and maintenance, search engine optimization, as well as print and collateral work including POP and trade show displays, brochures, direct mail, sales kits, and marketing/product launch kits.
“What makes us different is that we do the engineering structure ourselves, create the die line into fruition. We like to be nimble and agile, which is important when dealing with the larger brands that often require a faster turnaround time,” say Keller and Kerski. By cutting out the need for a CAD engineer, die lines and proofs can be handled in house and then sent out to a printer for production. The structure, design, and messaging are all important aspects of successful branding. “To make this function, we put ourselves in the place of our clients. What would trigger the customer to do something? Design is powerful, the word keeps them going. We have to design to an audience and try to coach our clients.”
Catalpha outsources package production and retail graphic work. However, it operates a wide format printer in house for prototyping. The design firm prints to heavy weight stock and laminates to board when necessary.
While Keller and Kerski handle a majority of the printer relationships, the fact that they are printer agnostic is a advantage for the customer. “We won’t push them towards a specific print method,” they stress. The capabilities of a digital printer may be the best scenario for a short-run order, but for bigger orders more traditional methods may be more cost effective.
Keller believes that the ongoing availability and acceptance of digital print technologies has impacted the business for the better. “Everyone is looking for something unique. The quality of digital is now fantastic, it has gotten a lot better from the early days and the price is reasonable.”
He adds that digital helped improve the economy for brands, even in the down years. “It allowed startups and smaller companies to move their business forward. Even the packaging side of the business, they want to come out with unique products but couldn’t always spend a lot for testing. They are able to make a professional package in smaller quantities to accommodate this need. The bigger companies are also on board with this as well.”
Display and Packaging
Digital printing capabilities bring many benefits to packaging and display industries. PSPs that have mastered the nuances of corrugate printing are at an advantage, but to be successful it is important to understand the entire design and engineering process when producing packaging and POP display work.
May2020, Digital Output