By Cassandra Balentine
Part one of two
As digital print technologies target packaging applications, interested digital print providers consider the equipment and software investments needed to add the offering. Traditional converters must understand and address the differences when entering digital. Packaging software and visualization tools are essential for designing, prepping, and proofing digital packaging applications for brand owners.
As the opportunity for digital packaging advances, brand owners, package designers, and manufacturers must be aware of the differences between traditional and digital production to fully embrace the digital opportunity.
Opportunity for Digital
The possibilities of digital label and packaging production include shorter run lengths, the capacity for variable data products, and faster time to market.
“We will continue to see an expansion of digital print for packaging, just for the sheer fact that it makes things easier for brand owners to regionalize their product launches and promotions,” says Larry Moore, VP, partner programs, North America, Esko. He explains that it is simpler to work with just-in-time delivery processes rather than running massive quantities and keeping them in inventory for national distribution. “Brand owners can focus on more individualized distribution and regionalized promotions or branding. Consumers can purchase something special to their area. These limited quantities are much easier for digital instead of mass quantities,” he says.
Moore also says to be cautious with substrates. “They have to be suitable for digital presses. We also find that some presses are better for folded cartons while others—typically flatbed printers—are better for corrugated.”
Michael Bialko, technical product manager, Unified Workflow Solutions, Kodak, sees the primary opportunity for digital packaging printing over the next few years is in a print providers’ ability to provide brand owners with unique, customized packaging for new marketing campaigns, line extensions, and new capabilities to efficiently produce short-run production orders.
Abel Baez, software specialist, Digital Graphic Systems Inc., says printers are looking for diversification and alternative business options to bring back decent profit margins, and packaging is one of them. “The use of conventional printed material such as magazines, catalogs, and brochures is diminishing and is being replaced by digital media,” he says. “But regardless of the massive use of it, products still need a package. The increasing trend of online stores is also demanding better presentation and a fast response from the suppliers. The trend will be solid for at least the next five to ten years.”
The option of adding 3D visualization tools for digital printing also creates new opportunities. Svend Aage Kirk, CEO, TurnAvisual Aps, points out when it comes to Web to print solutions, these tools allow clients to see packaging with artwork in full 3D before placing an order, thus avoiding mistakes and complaints.
Considerations for Digital Packaging
In terms of designing for digital packaging, several factors, including color and substrate limitations, should be considered.
“Going digital means reducing time to market,” says Kirk. “The whole design process—including corrections and approval by several manufacturers can be done online, without people having to meet all the time,” he adds.
Baez agrees, adding that print providers and their packaging clients benefit from prototypes with faster production and lower production costs. “It is sometimes hard to visualize a complex and intricate design with so many bends and special cut outs. A solution for this challenge would be to offer the designer the ability to visualize the production in 3D, where he can spot any errors. It is imperative to create prototypes before moving forward with a big production, since any mistake in the design will cost a lot of money. The approach to designing is the same, but the flexibility to play around with a design prototype is not,” he says.
When it comes to digital packaging, Moore says designers should be cautious when choosing spot colors. They must be within the gamut of a digital press or available as a spot color for the digital press used. “Unlike, for example, a flexographic press, you do not have a limitless possibility of ink channels and spot colors. Some digital presses offer expanded gamut capabilities with the addition of colors like orange, green, and violet. The digital presses manufactured by the larger press manufacturers can extend the gamut, and hence, cover more spot colors. But, it is not infinite, so it is really critical that you have a workflow versatile enough to handle all of the possibilities,” he adds.
Bialko points out the primary difference between digital and analog printing processes is the types of inks used—spot versus process, and the distribution method used during printing—direct versus contact. “As an example, the lithographic printing process is a direct-contact method, where the image carrier makes direct contact with the sheet. The inkjet printing process is an indirect contact method where very small drops of ink are projected onto the surface of the sheet.”
Since each printing process has its own set of constraints to work around, such as the size of small text, image quality and fidelity, and the size of the available color gamut, designers must consider whether or not the digital process can accurately reproduce a brand or sub-brand color. Bialko suggests the designer consider if the press can reproduce fonts with fine serifs or other unique characteristics, and whether it can produce metallic or other special effects.
Similar to designing, prepress needs can differ from analog to digital.
Bialko suggests that prepress production for digital printing workflows are easier to manage compared with the traditional analog process in the sense that little to no trapping between separations is required. “Outside of color management and/or trying to reproduce specialty halftone screening, the prepress processes are common between the two printing methods,” he says.
Moore notes that while you don’t have to be concerned with trapping and other traditional prepress issues, the limitations of color that can be reproduced by digital must be carefully considered. “The layout is also important, how you step and repeat your packaging to optimize your sheet and ink use with digital presses,” he explains of prepress considerations for digital packaging.
Baez adds that creating proper registration from camera registration systems is critical for short runs that are creased and cut on digital cutting tables.
As more brand owners embrace the capabilities offered by digital print and finishing technologies, both traditional converters and digital print providers invest in new solutions to better serve clients and add revenue streams. Software considerations should not be left out of the equation.
Next week, we offer highlights of select packaging software and 3D visualization tools. dps
Mar2016, DPS Magazine