By Lisa Guerriero
Print providers turn to digital technology as a cost-effective method to produce packaging prototypes, samples, and short runs. The emphasis on personalization drives packaging in the digital direction. As the market grows, more equipment is available to serve digital print providers.
As a segment, packaging is a broad category. It includes folding carton, shrink sleeves, flexible packaging, and labels. For wide format print providers, this means an opportunity to introduce or expand packaging services.
“What we have seen is an explosion in the packaging variants—different versions for different regions or product variants, which is causing more prototypes and more short production runs to be generated,” says Matt McCausland, product manager, Professional Imaging, Epson America, Inc.
Because the output is varied, it is important to select equipment that complements the application. Depending on the type of product needed, roll-based and flatbed options are both available for package printing. Roll-based devices are well suited to flexible packaging, while flatbed equipment targets rigid media like corrugated cardboard.
This article focuses on features afforded by roll-based, wide format printers—defined as more than 24 inches—for the creation of packaging applications. Stay tuned as the next issue of DPS follows up with a focus on flatbed solutions for packaging.
Wide format, roll-based devices are ideal for digital print service providers (PSPs) entering the packaging segment as well as converters and offset shops looking to offer digitally printed prototypes and short run packaging.
Many roll-based printers offer metallic and white inks, a wide color gamut, and specialty finishing. These features help meet customer requirements for specific types of packaging applications. The price point of roll-based equipment makes it accessible to many print providers, with devices starting at about $18,000.
The benefits are similar for each type of printing environment—packaging is thriving and it’s cost effective to digitally produce under 2,500 pieces, or smaller sample and prototype runs.
“The market for low-cost, short-run and prototyping packaging work is massive. Many packaging converters still proof on press, incurring high proofing costs for the end user and wasted press time. Leveraging digital equipment is the ideal way to go,” explains Michael Barry, product marketing manager, digital solutions, Fujifilm North America Corporation, Graphic Systems Division.
PSPs may have found digital packaging impractical in the past, but recent technological advancements changed that, observes David Hawkes, group product manager, printers, Roland DGA Corporation.
“Updates and modifications are made quickly, making it easy to accommodate requested changes from customers and significantly reduce time to market,” says Hawkes.
Roll-based devices produce a variety of features suited for packaging applications. They enable quick turnaround for folding carton, shrink sleeves and wraps, flexible packaging including pouches, envelopes, and labels. These output types also often require special substrates that these printers are designed to handle.
Retailers and marketers utilize all of these applications to target consumers, make products stand out from the crowd, and ensure a lasting impact for the brand. Digital devices enable quick results, and the ability to produce at a smaller scale that is economically favorable to traditional methods.
“New product launches are significant investments and often face uncertain futures in terms of consumer acceptance and market share. The ability to do rapid prototyping and test marketing and reduce overall time to market is often critical to success,” explains Roy Oomen, Hewlett-Packard (HP) Indigo category product manager.
Shorter runs are also a burgeoning segment for digital, driven by the demand for personalized runs, variable data, versioning, and barcodes.
“Durst foresees consumer packaged goods and retailers—private label or ‘own brands’—to continue their focus on producing differentiated and memorable packaging, promotional point of sale (POS) displays, and in-store messaging,” says Brent Moncrief, VP, sales & marketing, Durst Image Technology US.
White and metallic inks are popular, producing marketable effects required for many packaging applications. The combination of efficiency and specialization make digital equipment appealing to print providers as well as their customers.
“By utilizing the specialty white and silver inks along with extended gamut orange and green inks, wide format printers can be used to quickly mock up packaging prototypes for design review and sign offs,” notes Ken VanHorn, director, marketing and business development, Mimaki USA.
Specialty ink is also important for label making, as are finishing capabilities. “Service providers need to invest in a printer with a white ink option, since many label applications are on clear material that require a white background,” notes Larry D’Amico, VP, digital imaging, Agfa Graphics.
Vendors anticipate digital printing to continue to cultivate the market for packaging and prototypes. “The demand for shorter lead times and lower costs all bode well for digitally printed packaging,” observes Guy Cipresso, VP sales & business development, Novus Imaging. He cites a report from analyst firm InfoTrends, which forecasts the package printing market will from grow $3.2 billion to $7.6 billion from 2013 to 2018.
Numerous wide format, roll-based printer options are available for the creation of prototypes and short-run packaging.
Agfa offers the Anapurna M3200i, a roll-based UV inkjet printer. It is available with optional white ink and is well suited to short run packaging applications.
“The UV ink provides a lot of latitude to image a variety of media for flexible media applications,” notes D’Amico. Agfa’s printers for packaging—roll-based as well as hybrids—are priced at $100,000 to $750,000, depending on the speed and volume.
Durst has two options for roll-based production, the Rho 312R and 512R. Both offer 12 picoliter drop size, 900 dpi resolution, and up to seven color configurations. The 3.2-meter is a better fit for packaging applications than the five-meter, says Moncrief, because it’s designed for short runs.
“Because of the size and speed of Durst’s roll-based output devices, they are better positioned for short production runs than one-off prototyping. An ideal example would be for sales samples, focus group samples, or small test market evaluation,” he suggests. In addition, an integrated border cutting and textile printing option are available with the Rho 312R.
Epson SureColor S70675, starting at $17,995, is suited to short runs of prototypes, especially with PrecisionCore TFP printheads and UltraChrome GSX solvent inks. The S70675 prints a variety of applications, such as shrink sleeves, folding cartons, and corrugated. McCausland recommends solvent-compatible media from ChromaSpec Systems, an Epson partner.
The S70675 offers optional white and metallic silver inks, and includes Onyx GamaPrint Pro Rip, which allows for printing these colors immediately after acquiring the device. “The ability to print with white and metallic silver inks is crucial for those print providers wishing to provide a substantial short-run packaging prototype solution,” he says. Epson recommends custom profiles for each media and application, but provides multiple color profiles for metallic silver and white. ChromaSpec Systems provides a closed-loop color management solution.
HP offers the 30-inch format HP Indigo 20000 Digital Press, which provides a mid or wide web. The company also provides the HP Indigo WS6800, which offers a 13-inch, narrow web format. Converting can be operated inline or near line with both devices.
The HP Indigo 20000 features a white ink option, an expanded color gamut or spot colors, and handles a variety of films and paper. It supports reverse- and surface-printed applications, and produces output like folding cartons and labels. Run sizes vary from a few units to 20,000 linear feet or more. “Some projects include millions of individual units where each unit is personalized, serialized, carrying a unique loyalty token or code, or marked with a catch phrase that varies across the runs,” adds Oomen.
Mimaki’s offerings for prototypes and short runs include the JV400LX Series latex printer, available in 54- and 64-inch widths. With available orange and green inks, the company says it can produce 93 percent of the Pantone color chart. The white ink enables printing on metallic substrates, such as chip bags or transparent media. The JV400LX “uses eco-friendly inks that help brand managers and design agencies vitalize their packaging and label concepts. It offers the ability to print directly onto a range of economical, non-coated media such as paper and textiles,” explains VanHorn.
Novus Imaging’s Synergia hybrid UV printer is available as roll-based only, board printing only, or hybrid. The 3.2-meter wide device features up to ten ink channels to accommodate white, varnish, and spot colors.
Suitable applications include flexible packaging, plastic packaging, folding cartons, corrugated boxes, metal, and point of purchase retail displays. “Run lengths begin with one offs and can progress to 50, 100, 1,000-plus before going to volume production,” says Cipresso.
Roland offers a hybrid UV-LED printer, the VersaUV LEJ-640, which combines the advantages of hybrid and flatbed printing.
The Softer Side of Packaging
Flexible packing applications are an important segment served by wide format, roll-based devices.
Features like white and metallic ink enable digital printing for prototypes and short runs. These specialty inks print on transparent and metallic packaging, and also provide a wide color gamut.
These features and capabilities enable roll-based devices to provide a practical entry into offering packaging prototypes and short runs. From folding cartons to shrink sleeves, flexible packaging, and labels, the devices enable a foray into digital packaging.
We continue our coverage of wide format packaging in September, with a look at flatbed printers and cutters. dps
Jul2015, DPS Magazine