Advancements in wide format printing technology bring new opportunities to in-house design groups, package printers, and design agencies looking to cost-effectively design and create professional packaging prototypes. In the past, design and print professionals spent time and money producing replicas of proposed packaging by hand.
In the U.S. the paperboard packaging industry alone represents over $9 billion in volume, and over six million tons of paperboard material, according to the Paperboard Packaging Council’s Industry Overview. This equates to a large amount of opportunity for the creation and production of packaging prototypes or mock-ups.
Many prototypes are still constructed manually using outdated methods. "The demand for high-quality representation of the product design—both graphic and structural—exists but has not been properly addressed," says Randy Paar, display graphics product manager, Océ North America.
"For some time, digital wide format technology offered prototyping capabilities," says Udi Nachmany, partnerships and business development, Scitex division, Hewlett-Packard (HP). He sees great growth potential for HP in this space over the coming years. "Machines dedicated to the application, such as the HP Scitex FB6700 printer, broke new ground in image quality and cost-effectiveness," says Nachmany, adding that these solutions are beginning to capture production volume from conventional technologies.
Part of a movement towards digital wide format printing devices for packaging prototype creation is credited to the fact that designs change frequently, and companies often look to re-brand products. In addition to prototyping, short run packaging is a trend positioned for growth with digital print advancements.
"This sort of work was previously cost prohibitive to develop," says Paar. He explains that a digital workflow and associated benefits, such as very low to zero makeready and variable data allow for and custom packaging to be produced quickly at a reasonable cost.
"Brand owners and design agencies previously implementing digital technology into their workflow are certainly taking a second look at these new cost-saving technologies," says Hiroshi Ono, senior product manager, Roland DGA Corp. Adding that the cost of equipment is a big issue for small- and medium-sized companies, but the latest printers offer a price reduction, making them affordable to a broader audience.
"Design creativity is important as packaging is used to position products in new markets and niches," explains Lou Laurent, hardware business development, INX Digital International Co. He says the delivery of new packaging designs and prototypes are more intense since changes often reflect timed marketing and sales campaigns. "Firms that succeed in this expanding market will be closely watching their customers’ requirements, working with them on testing and implementing new concepts," he adds.
Ono sees an increased demand for differentiated packaging for a number of reasons. "First, eye-catching packaging generates sales. Also, large retail stores want differentiated packaging," he explains.
The migration to digital systems for packaging prototyping is well underway, but many current solutions require a complex workflow that consists of printing on a special substrate, laminating on the cardstock or film, and cutting the prototype manually or with a separate cutter. "This is a very labor-intensive process and still does not deliver production-level prototypes," says Ono.
Printing that Matters
The technology is out there. Recent enhancements that serve package prototyping include greater substrate compatibility, hybrid print and cut solutions, and advanced ink sets. Sophisticated workflows and efficient digital finishing solutions also help the equation. Low- to mid-volume flatbed printers offer the substrate flexibility required for packaging. In addition, when not creating packaging prototypes, a wide variety of other products—such as point of purchase displays—are possible, making them an ideal investment for creating additional revenue streams.
Hybrid options are also available. These flatbed printing devices offer a roll-to-roll option, increasing business opportunity. Print operations with a demand for lower volume especially benefit from a hybrid solution.
CET Color’s X-press flatbed printer offers a maximum resolution of 1,440x720 dpi. Using optional white ink, the printer produces vibrant color—even on transparent and colored media. The printer’s integrated vacuum table holds media stationary while printing, eliminating the need for jigs and extra setup time.
EFI Rastek delivers wide format printers at an affordable price point, targeting mid-sized print companies. The printers increase businesses’ revenue streams by opening new doors to high-margin specialty applications that are traditionally found on high-end output devices. Rastek printers compatible with a variety of inks and substrates.
Gerber Scientific Products Inc.’s (GSP) Solara ion series of true flatbed wide format inkjet printers produce vivid, flexible graphics with selectable resolution up to 720 dpi. Its advanced GerberCAT cationic UV inks and low temperature patent-pending Cold Fire Cure technology make the Solara ion compatible with a widerange of rigid and flexible materials, including those sensitive to heat.
HP offers output devices to fit a variety of needs and budgets. The HP Scitex FB6700 printer is ideal for packaging applications. It is designed with unique material handling capabilities, retail-friendly water-based inks, and a high image quality—including four point text at the fastest print mode. "With the HP Scitex FB6700 printer, firms take advantage of the benefits of digital printing technologies," says Nachmany. This includes the ability to skip the tooling, die-cutting, and plate-making that a traditional press would need to print directly to a substrate.
INX Digital International Co. provides the Milano MXP 250 and Milano MXP 205 hybrid UV printers, offering 98- and 80-inch widths, respectively. INX’s Laurent says the printers offer a fast, affordable way for package prototypes and smaller production runs. "They also support the rapidly expanding range of packaging materials used to meet customer needs and environmental considerations. In addition, the printers provide variable printing capabilities," he says.
Mimaki’s current industrial printer products meet packaging prototyping needs. The systems use low LED and high-energy UV curing systems. The UJV-160, JFX-1631 (LED), UJF-605CII, and JF-1631 High Energy Lamps are current products. The company plans to introduce the UJF-706 and a smaller footprint LED printer. Steve Urmano, marketing director, Mimaki USA, Inc., suggests a CF2 and CF3 flatbed cutter to complement the print capabilities.
Mutoh America, Inc. recently introduced its ValueJet1608HA hybrid printer. The 64-inch printer offers a new heavy-duty design and construction of the feed and take-up tables. The VJ1608 integrates hot air nozzle controllers into the printer, thus enabling control of the HAN from the RIP or control panel. Print modes include a 1,440x1,440 dpi resolution.
Océ’s Arizona flatbed printers, 300 GT, 350 GT, and 350 XT, are based on a proprietary platform that combines flatbed design as well as a separate, dedicated roll-to-roll capability. The Océ Arizona 350 XT printer is the largest model in the line, offering a maximum eight-by-ten foot image size, duel independent vacuum zones, and two zero-origin points for continuous four-by-eight board printing. The entire line supports the White Ink Option, enabling under-printing on non-white media or objects, overprinting on transparent media, or printing white ink as a spot color.
Roland offers two inkjet lines ideal for the production of packaging prototypes, the VersaUV series of 30-inch LED-UV inkjet printer/cutters and the SOLJET PRO III XC-540 and XC-540MT 54-inch eco-solvent printer/cutters. Both lines feature a white ink option, integrated print/cut capabilities, a maximum print resolution of 1,440 dpi, bundled VersaWorks RIP software, and Roland Intelligent Pass Control Technology for superior image quality.
A Package Deal
Image quality and fast print speeds are the first step to modernizing the package prototyping process. However, software and finishing solutions help drive the best results. Special attention to an efficient workflow is important for streamlining production to increase productivity and reduce cost, as digital capabilities allow for better automation.
CET offers its X-Press CNC Router in addition to its X-Press flatbed printing solution. Combined with ONYX Postershop Production software, the company’s CNC router performs precision contour cutting of printed graphics produced on the X-Press flatbed printers.
In addition to its UV flatbed printers, GSP offers a variety of print-to-cut solutions perfect for creating packaging applications. On display at Print 09, the company introduced its M Series, a family of flatbed cutting systems for digital finishing wide format graphics. The Gerber M Series flatbed systems complement the Gerber Solara UV inkjet printers, or any wide format printer on the market, to create a print-to-cut solution.
HP recognizes that printing is only one part of an end-to-end package prototyping workflow. "On the software side, the application demands strong design capabilities, as well as tools such as variable data and nesting/optimization modules," says Nachmany. On the finishing side, HP offers a GBC inline laminator to the HP Scitex FB6700 printer. Nachmany suggests that a highly versatile cutting device can make a big difference in potential.
Workflow is important for capitalizing on a solution’s capabilities. "It is important not to forget the workflow is just that, a process that optimizes the entire manufacturing system with much less operator intervention, usually better production efficiently, and lower waste," says INX’s Laurent. "Users should work within that workflow as much as possible to optimize overall production." He offers an example, A flatbed printer provides only part of the solution," explains Océ’s Paar. A digital cutting table is a valuable companion for a wide format printer. "In addition to hardware, we offer print-and-cut workflow software that streamlines the assignment of cutting and creating functions to the EPS or PDF design files, nests multiple files, and routes printing and cutting files to their respective devices."
Océ offers its Arizona series of UV flatbed printers and Océ ProCut digital cutting tables for the creation of package prototypes. "The Océ systems can improve the quality and turnaround time of producing paperboard and corrugate packaging prototypes," says Paar. In addition to the Arizona UV printers, Océ ProCut cutting solutions, Océ ProCut PrePress software, and the ONYX RIP system make a complete solution.
Color and Proofing
Prototyping could be conceived as a broad subject. When designers manually pull together a replica of a packaging idea, color precision may not be a top priority. Image quality and color accuracy expectancies rise with advancements in technology.
Epson America, Inc. recently announced two new products specifically aimed at in-house design groups, package printers, and design agencies looking to create packaging prototypes. The Epson Stylus Pro WT7900 is the first printer to use an aqueous-based white ink; and the Carolina and Tango C1S is a folding carton board media line. "Both of these products allow printers and designers to produce contract-quality color proofing and prototypes of various packaging products—including inkjet coated transparent and metallic films," says Mark Radogna, group marketing manager, professional imaging division, Epson.
For replicating color, Kodak offers the KODAK APPROVAL NX and XP Digital Color Imaging Systems. The solution combines hardware, software, and consumable materials for creating color proofs accurately and consistency, predicting process, spot, and metallic colors for litho offset, flexographic, or gravure printing. The system provides confidence in predicting color and appearance of a final printed piece, including finished, three-dimensional packages.
KODAK APPROVAL allows for the creation of thee-dimensional package mock-up proofs with appearance identical to the final product on the store shelf. The system provides true halftone quality color proofing, offering resolutions of 2,400 or 2,540 dpi. The production of color proofs is possible on a wide range of packaging substrate materials, including cardboard, plastics, metal, poly, or shrink wrap.
Roland suggests combining the VersaUV and SOLJET XC-540 printer with color proofing software such as CGS ORIS so its printers can double as proofing devices.
All Wrapped Up
Digital printing technology influences a variety of industries, packaging is no exception. While we’ll save the discussion for digital printing’s influence on the packaging production market for another time, there are clearly benefits to producing packaging prototypes on a wide format digital printing device. Add the right mix of software and finishing solutions, and the potential is endless.
"Tomorrow’s trends will be harvested by today’s ideas," says Laurent. "A company must be involved in the idea-state of package design and prototyping and not simply wait for the trend to appear. If the trend is underway the ‘big money’ is likely already been made by the visionary or the first-to-market provider," he adds.
For more on packaging prototypes, including information on software and finishing, log onto www.dpsmagaizne.com and search key phrase "package prototyping." dps