By Katrina Ceruolo
Print service providers (PSPs) offer packaging prototype services to clients looking to test new marketing ideas. The application serves as an affordable and timely way to view proposed media and graphics. The addition of prototyping creates opportunity for many PSPs, from in-house print or marketing departments to larger, specialized print shops.
With the continued interest in short-run packaging, prototype creation is in demand and manufacturers update their primary technology to serve the trend. Ideal options include wide format printers, print-to-cut solutions, and standalone large format cutters. Here, we look into tools and tips for those interested in adding package prototyping services.
Marketers consistently search for new ways to keep consumers interested. As the world transitions to electronic mediums for much of their communications, packaging is one element not replaceable with a digital counterpart. This, and the push to short-run, versioned marketing, makes packaging prototype capabilities increasingly important.
“Packaging buyers want to see actual samples before production. Product launch teams need pre-production packages for photo shoots, focus groups, and presentations. The ability to create highly realistic packaging samples gives a brand a distinct competitive advantage, allowing creative, marketing, and product management teams to accurately determine just how well specific design approaches will compete in crowded retail environments,” says Steven Tu, product manager, Roland DGA Corp.
John Kaufman, product marketing manager, digital presses, Fujifilm North America Corporation, graphic systems division, notes that brand owners realize the importance of packaging prototypes and its affect on future business.
“The stakes are high for retailers and brand owners, as research shows 80 percent of in-store purchasing decisions are made within three feet of the product. Brand owners and retailers constantly fine-tune their marketing and product messaging to keep products fresh and avoid stagnant consumer spending. Products targeting specific demographics and the growth of private labels are additional reasons why SKUs are created at such an explosive rate. SKU proliferation is not just an industry term—it is a reality,” emphasizes Kaufman. “This shift has created the need for reduced inventories, lower running costs, enhanced customization and the ability to complete shorter runs at faster speeds and turnaround times.”
Other factors, such as printers with wider widths, make adding prototype solutions and pre-media services appealing to PSPs. Interested companies should consider various factors before investing in prototype tools.
“There is an initial investment level to integrate the latest digital printing solutions, however, when you consider the alternative to producing customized prototypes or small production runs, the costs are substantially lower. For example, the Epson SureColor S70670 printer retails for $25,995 MSRP, but to complete a package prototype, a customer will likely need to acquire a contour cutting device, a laminator, and possibly upgraded RIP software to handle the higher level profiling required. The total investment costs for equipment are minor compared to the importance of finding an operator who can produce samples and prototypes accurately and to the specifications required by the manufacturer. That said, once the system is in place, the revenue opportunities are quite vast,” says Reed L. Hecht, product manager, Epson Professional Imaging.
Beatrice Drury, director of marketing and communications, Zünd America, Inc., also states that while it may seem that there is a large investment in the beginning, PSPs can invest over time.
“The merging of printing and packaging creates both increased opportunities and greater competition, with packaging companies expanding into digital printing and digital printers diversifying into packaging. Consequently, it is becoming increasingly important to put investment dollars in equipment that is adaptable and expandable,” she adds.
Along with the right machinery, appropriate software is essential.
“All cutters can cut substrates. However, few systems offer a complete design-to-cut workflow. The challenge is to work with software that makes the design and prototyping process easy to do. First a company must have the ability to generate the structural design of a package. Then, they must be able to easily merge the structure with the graphics. Finally, it is helpful to pair the digital printer with the digital cutting device. From a streamlined workflow perspective, it is nice to create the structure in a design package, and import it into Adobe Illustrator where graphics and cutting table registration marks are added. From there, the design can be effectively nested in a step and repeat pattern, with the same file delivered to both the RIP’s digital printer and the cutter. Without a structural design program, it becomes much more difficult to add the layout of the structure in Illustrator and optimize the nesting on a sheet,” shares Larry Moore, VP, partner programs, Esko North America.
Advanced proofing technologies also influence a potential software investment. “Another trend that companies should be aware of is that virtual proofing is becoming popular. Software is available, from Esko and others, that show an accurate 3D view of a package, even before one piece is printed. These virtual prototypes are particularly helpful for the first iterations, when a number of design options are under consideration. If some companies like physical copies, they can wait until the final design is pretty much approved,” notes Moore.
Reliable color management system is also important. “You may want to invest in a color management system. Industry leaders in this space such as CGS, EFI, and GMG offer solutions that allow users to easily manage color output across prototyping devices and presses. You should also look for a printer equipped with highly flexible inks that stretch around the corners and curves of the package prototype. In terms of challenges, you need to learn the new workflow for both your new print device and the color management software,” says Roland’s Tu.
Ken VanHorn, Scitex category manager, Americas, Hewlett-Packard (HP), discusses factors he believes are key to creating effective output runs. “Quality, speed, versatility, and cost-per-copy are four vectors in print that typically move in different directions. To achieve high quality, you typically give up speed and possibly substrate versatility. Similarly, to achieve a lower cost-per-sheet, you give up quality and possibly adhesion to plastics or other non-paper based substrates,” he says.
If a PSP commits to the time and money necessary to incorporate packaging prototype solutions to their offerings, the application should open new doors for any business.
Technology Round Up
Those looking to add packaging prototype services have many options. A variety of wide format devices, including roll-fed and flatbed solutions, are capable of handing a variety of short-run packaging. Determining the type of applications and the level of investment and automation desired will narrow down the options. Here, we highlight a devices suited for package prototype creation across the spectrum.
Wide format roll-fed printers are suited for flexible packaging and labeling needs. Hybrid options may offer optional flatbed or built-in cutting capabilities. Dedicated roll-fed printers are also suitable for prototypes, where cutting and assembly happens by hand or separately from the print.
Epson’s professional imaging lineup features two new wide format printers ideal for creating packaging prototypes, the production edition Epson SureColor S70670 and the Epson Stylus Pro WT7900. For matching trademark brand colors the Epson SureColor S70670 has a ten-color Ultrachrome GSX ink technology. Furnished with optional white and metallic silver inks, the printer outputs directly to a package prototype as well as performs short-run works on clear film, shrink-wrap film, or other packaging media.
Epson Stylus Pro WT7900 is designed for proofing gravure print and flexographic jobs that require the color white. The printer utilizes Epson UltraChrome HDR White Ink to produce a vivid white ink density, customize white color toning, and deliver professional temporary color stability for color proofing on a variety of substrates. It prints directly on both inkjet coated clear and metallic films in both roll or cut sheet up to 24 inches wide.
Hecht notes that the company’s solvent inks are beneficial for both design and cost. “The solvent provides cost-effective way to create live prototypes that look nearly identical to final products as a result of the high density white and breakthrough metallic silver inks that produce gradations, spot colors, and even clear and metallic colors,” he says.
Roland offers many choices for packaging prototype needs including the VersaUV LED printers and combination printer and cutters, SOLJET, VersaCAMM, and VersaStudio metallic eco-solvent printer and cutters.
Roland’s UV printers are built with low-heat LED lamps, which allow the machines to print on a variety of press stock, creating realistic prototype materials. All Roland packaging inkjets are equipped with the company’s specialty inks, VersaWorks RIP software, and automated maintenance features that minimize production time and costs.
Roland also offers the Roland VersaUV LEJ-640, which is a hybrid roll-fed/flatbed device.
Wide Format Flatbed Printing
Flatbed devices provide the benefit of printing to rigid substrates. For example, Fujifilm offers its Acuity LED and the Acuity HS series to the packaging prototype space. Suited for short-run and prototype applications due to media latitude, white ink capabilities, and the crisp quality of work the machines produce. While the machines differ in particular application, each produces high-quality work on a variety of substrates. The Acuity HS series creates output on rigid materials up to 1.98-inches thick, with the Acuity LED produces applications from one millimeter up to half an inch thick.
HP’s contribution to pre-media technology is the HP Scitex FB10000 Industrial Press, which is uniquely designed with cold mirror UV curing technology, zoned vacuum tables, and material handling systems that allow corrugated boards to be produced efficiently in high production modes.
The HP Scitex FB10000 Industrial Press is compatible with a various substrates, ranging from plastics to paper. To change media within a production run with ease, the press uses a single inkset to print on all materials.
Xanté’s Excelagraphix 4200 Inkjet Print System is a high-speed wide format printer that features Memjet Waterfall Printhead Technology to deliver more than three billion drops of ink per second, executing print speeds that are approximately eight times faster than traditional inkjet technology. The solution is ideal for printing indoor signage, including point of purchase displays, packaging, and corrugated materials on demand. It features an adjustable media path that permits users to print on a variety of media such as thick foam board and corrugated cardboard—up to 5/8 inches, and sheet sizes from 8.27×8.27 inches up to 42 inches by eight feet.
Individual pieces can be personalized throughout the printing process while also running variable data at full speed.
For cutting and finishing prototype materials, Esko provides the versatile Kongsberg i-XE10 table. This table processes both flexible and rigid substrates and is an effective multipurpose finishing solution for the short-run production of signs and displays, labels, visual communication items, and various digital print items.
The i-XE10 table is available in an automatic model with a roll-feeder and automated material handling.
Zünd cutting systems produce the S3 line, a smaller format sample maker ideal for clients with consistent changes and needs. The S3 features ultra-fast tool control, designed to provide speed and productivity making this multifunctional cutter an ideal tool for creating packaging mock-ups and prototypes. Available options for the S3 are the addition of tools required for drag-knife cutting, creasing and scoring, oscillating and reciprocating, and drawing and marking applications.
Zünd cutters are powered by Zünd Cut Center, the company’s digital workflow and production suite. For packaging applications, the software features flip and cut, which is an automated workflow that facilitates cutting from the back or non-printed side of the material with effortlessness and accuracy.
Print and Cut
As changes in advertising and media occur, updates to the machinery and software that have a hand in creating prototypes are necessary.
Features, such as the ability to print directly to unique substrates like aluminum and films allow for more options for printers to showcase their production capabilities up front in the prototype stage. dps
Jan2014, DPS Magazine