By Lisa Guerriero
Prototypes help bring packaging to life. They’re a practical way to test a job and show clients a realistic representation of a graphic.
For many packaging clients, boxes and pouches aren’t just containers. They are also a valuable marketing tool. For this reason, a visual, 3D representation of the product is an important step in the creative process for marketers and packaging manufacturers.
Prototypes are inherently short-run jobs, which makes digital printing an ideal choice. The latest wide format printing technologies offer a cost-effective way to keep prototyping in house and shorten lead times.
To create prototypes, print providers, marketing agencies, and packaging converters have a few options. Many UV flatbed printers enable printing on diverse substrates and are suited for prototype creation. Additionally, printer/cutters are available, and often provide high-resolution output and feature white, metallic, and/or clear ink capabilities.
While cutting can be performed separately, and even manually, integrated cutters save time, since the operator does not need to stop and reposition the graphic. Many devices offer printing functions as well as contour cutting, perforation, and creasing, which are ideal for packaging and prototypes.
No matter how they are produced, packaging prototypes play an integral role in the package production lifecycle.
Peek Packaging’s business centers around packaging solutions. Based in Carlsbad, CA, the privately-held company serves clients nationwide. Founded in 2004, it has 14 employees. Prototype creation is important to its business.
It uses Roland DGA’s VersaUV LEC-series 54-inch UV printer/cutter for this task. The company acquired the device three years ago, as its first foray into digital printing.
The firm considered several devices. It ended up selecting the Roland because it was a UV printer offering white ink as a capability, which gave the company an edge over the competition. At the time, Peek Packaging was one of the only firms able to produce one-offs with spot color, observes Ed Heller, sales manager, Peek Packaging.
The VersaUV resulted in significant cost savings because Peek Packaging stopped outsourcing short-run printing work. It also gave the staff control over lead times and quality. In addition, mockups were previously printed on Mylar, which was a slower process than direct printing. “We were getting this done before, but with longer lead times,” explains Heller.
The firm also appreciates the options the VersaUV offers. Its media handling capabilities enable the company to create specialized output. “Using different substrates allows us to duplicate different finishes,” notes Heller. For example, using a foil board makes the inks appear metallic, without the use of metallic inks.
Now that the staff can complete prototyping in house, they’re doing more of it, notes Heller. The company optimized its website, SEO, and social media to further market the service.
Peek Packaging specializes in designing and manufacturing mid-level to high-end retail packing. Its clients include major corporations and startups.
The company offers graphic services to customers that need it, which Heller estimates is about half of its clientele. He adds that some clients need advice even if they have an in-house design team since designs don’t always translate properly to packaging.
Printed, physical prototypes and 3D renderings help the company demonstrate to the client when there’s a problem translating the graphics to 3D, observes Heller. It’s critical in retail packaging, where the product needs to make an impact instantly. “It’s purely marketing,” he observes.
Most of its jobs involve folding carton. Corrugated, foam, displays, and flexible substrates are also used.
Some of the firm’s prototypes are for jobs it produces. In other cases, it provides one-off or short-run packaging for a client’s marketing purposes. Heller estimates that about 20 percent of the business is solely prototyping.
For cutting short-run jobs and prototypes, the company uses three Graphtec America devices, in varying lengths, from Graphtec’s FC4500 series.
One client Peek Packaging serves is an electronics company that makes interface hardware for recording.
The firm initially won the business several years ago by showing the customer how it was losing money in pack-out. The client was spending about $1 per unit, for orders of about 10,000 units. Peek Packaging created a box that was quicker and easier to fold, allowing the client to reduce co-packing costs.
The process starts with the client sending one of its products—for example, a tabletop microphone. For this, Peek Packaging designs a foam set to surround the product as well as the structural packaging. An electronic outline of the packaging is then provided to the client, who places the graphics onto the shape and sends the file back to Peek Packaging.
Esko’s ArtiosCAD software is used to electronically fold the client’s flat file, transforming it into a 3D rendering. The rendering is sent to the client, who can view the graphic on an authentic model, moving it around with the cursor to view the sides and angle. “It’s a tool we offer that ensures everything is to their liking,” explains Heller.
The client’s vendor must approve the packaging prior to production. Peek Packaging creates printed prototypes on the Roland VersaUV so that this third party can view and sign off on the packaging. It’s an important step in the process, and “the Roland is key,” notes Heller.
The Roland VersaUV also reduced turnaround time, which improves the client’s lead time. It now takes the team about two weeks to complete a reorder—typically 10,000 units—from design to completion. That’s compared to four weeks when they didn’t have a digital device for prototyping. Heller points out that on demand orders are also accommodated.
Progress with Prototyping
Peek Packaging transformed the way it does business with its printer/cutter.
The company creates proofs faster— speeding the entire job fulfillment process, and creates samples and short-run packaging work. By keeping these jobs in house, it retains control of quality and lead times, and reduces operating expenses. dps