By Melissa Donovan
Marketing is changing. Big brands want their packaging to look and feel like a boutique product. To achieve this, specialized, customized, and localized runs are required. Traditional printing technologies like flexography, lithography, and screenprinting are not a cost-effective option for short runs. In addition, we operate in a society were buyers want results in minutes.
Design agencies, advertising houses, converters, and other specialty printing businesses work with brands to develop and bring to market these types of campaigns. Adding prototyping services in house is one way to respond to customization and quick turnaround requirements. Since traditional printing and finishing technologies are a big commitment, digital presents itself as an ideal option.
Most digital solutions—printing and finishing—are user friendly. The devices themselves and the software that runs them can easily be integrated into an existing organization and very quickly be up-and-running while offering a return on investment.
Here, we offer viewpoints from a corrugated converter and a specialty printing business—both of which implemented digital printing and finishing solutions into their workflows for package prototype creation.
Above: TRG based out of Montgomeryville, PA works with a Roland VersaUV LEJ-640FT flatbed to produce package prototypes.
TRG Mid-Atlantic began in 1961. Based in Montgomeryville, PA, the company originally worked out of one location but today operates out of 14 with a staff of roughly 160 employees. In total, it has close to 250,000 square feet of space. This allows TRG to cater to Canada, Mexico, Puerto Rico, and the U.S.
Services include structural engineering and graphic design, conceptual renderings, printing and finishing, and fulfillment.
The corrugated converting plant offers direct printing and specialty gluing capabilities, with a focus on high-end graphic printing. This includes brown boxes, display cases, point of purchase (POP) displays, and retail-ready packaging for both small startups and national brand names.
TRG turned to digital printing because it wanted the ability to provide limited samples to customers prior to committing to a full press run. With the purchase of a new printer, it hoped to bring this particular service in house to complement its flexographic technology.
“We became interested in digital printing since it doesn’t require the intense set up of lithographic labelling or flexographic printing. There is also less issues of registration compared to flexographic printing,” explains Joe Morgan, graphic designer, TRG.
It decided on a Roland DGA Corporation VersaUV LEJ-640FT flatbed. The 64-inch UV printer outputs to rigid materials up to six inches thick and weighing up to 220 pounds. In addition, the printer utilizes CMYK, white, and clear ink to offer special effects like texture and simulated embossing. Maximum print speeds of 133 square feet per hour combined with 1,440×1,440 dpi press proofs make it well suited for package proofing.
At TRG the Roland flatbed device is mainly used for mock up purposes, specifically helping the customer better understand what a product will look like when it comes off the press in terms of art placement.
“Customers have come to expect readily available and advanced customization. This is visible in all facets of prototyping, from design functionality to substrate specificity to replicating matte varnishes or foil stamping if the design dictates it. Nothing should be left to interpretation to reduce confusion on expected outcomes,” advises Morgan.
When choosing a digital printing device, TRG required something that could handle substrates of varying thickness. The Roland VersaUV LEJ-640FT allows media to remain stationary, while the printhead jogs down the substrate during printing, according to Morgan. With these features, printing to substrates in the corrugated converter’s warehouse like double wall and e flute are very easy.
The Roland VersaUV LEJ-640FT is equipped with Roland VersaWorks, which Morgan says is user friendly and streamlines the entire process. He cites useful tools like the ability to directly edit colors and scaling of the original file within the program itself to accessing color mode options and resolution manipulating.
“Aside from the fancy tools it has to offer, the task of setting up a job to print, and then printing it is very simple and easy to figure out,” he admits.
A typical request for a prototype is around five to seven days, this includes open communication back and forth with the customer. If a concept is relatively straightforward and little changes need to be made, the turnaround time is closer to two days. “Turnarounds are usually limited only to personnel availability and machine efficiency—both of which are maximized based on the potential of the opportunity,” explains Morgan.
The addition of the flatbed printer achieved the original goal of bringing services in house. However, TRG does still outsource other jobs. Main factors that determine whether a job needs to be sent out include the quantity of the run and the physical size of the samples produced.
High-profile customers who use the corrugated converter’s digital services include Accardi Products, Godiva, and Redsun Farms. Morgan says digital printing customers come from all backgrounds and in his experience there isn’t one specific industry that fully supports the technology more than another.
He admits that TRG’s more seasoned customers typically do not require digital samples. “This is especially true for items that are re-run or were previously run in a similar style. Usually with new customers, we provide digital samples of what our capabilities are in terms of printing and structure innovation,” explains Morgan.
The Specialty Printer
In business since 1987, Gastonia, NC-based Subtle Impressions began as a small organization with two employees. As business boomed it grew into a staff of 25 operating out of a 50,000 square foot location. Today it defines itself as a specialty printing company that offers enhancements to printed sheets, other print finishing services, and printed labels.
Services offered include sheet-fed finishing, foil stamping, embossing, specialty coatings, die cutting, folding and gluing, pressure-sensitive labels—both flexographic and digital, digital short-run sheet-fed printing, and wide format printing.
It wasn’t until the early 1990’s that Jim Schaefer, owner, Subtle Impressions, was first introduced to digital printing. The technology peaked his interest because of the ability to print variable data tailored to specific markets. It took another 20 years for the technology to make its presence known at Subtle Impressions. The impetus for the purchase—facilitate running event tickets.
Today, the company runs an HP Inc. Latex 360 64-inch printer and Konica Minolta Business Solutions U.S.A., Inc. AccurioPress C6085 Digital Color Press for its digital work. Specifically in regards to the AccurioPress, Schaefer says it was chosen because the toner can be foil stamped and runs up to 400 gsm material single sided or duplex. Rated color output speeds are 85 pages per minute and it accepts paper sizes up to 13×19.2 inches.
“Digital printing allows us to do the short-run work that would have been too expensive to produce conventionally,” he explains.
Not only are conventional print methods too costly, so too are finishing methods—which involved the purchase of an actual die cutting die. Subtle Impressions addressed this concern by adding a Colex Finishing Sharpcut digital cutting system to its mix.
The Colex Sharpcut digital flatbed cutter is equipped with a triple interchangeable tool head, six zone vacuum system, and vision registration software and camera. It is able to finish a variety of materials involved in package sampling including paperboard, chipboard, micro-flute, corrugated, and honeycomb.
Package prototype requests come from folding carton companies, some commercial printers trying to get into packaging, and occasionally an end user. Combined, this equates to ten percent of Subtle Impressions’ overall business.
A typical package prototype takes a couple of weeks to develop from conception to print and fulfillment. Schaefer provides an example of a recent job that involved a POP display with an insert and sleeves for horse supplement tubes.
“The initial design took a couple of days. We would then send prototypes to our customer who would tweak the design and give us feedback. After a few rounds of this, we were able to create an acceptable package that fulfilled our customer’s needs. This took about three to four weeks to finish,” he shares.
The additions of the HP printer, Konica Minolta press, and Colex flatbed cutter have changed the way Subtle Impressions conducts business. “Adding the digital equipment opened us to opportunities with existing customers and expanded the types of industries we can service,” concludes Schaefer.
Besides converters and specialty printers, design agencies and advertising houses are two other types of businesses that benefit from having package prototyping services in house. Digital printing and finishing devices enable shorter runs, versioning, and personalization. These are major trends in any industry vertical that requires a box, case, or other construction.
May2019, DPS Magazine