By Melissa Donovan
Packaging includes labels, shrink sleeves, corrugated, and folding cartons. Folding cartons are designed to hold different types of products from cosmetics to pharmaceuticals. Part of these paper-based containers’ appeal is their flexibility, cost effectiveness, and light weight.
Shorter runs and versioning of folding cartons are possible thanks to digital printing and finishing technologies. Specialty options—like spot UV coating, embossing, metallic, and foil—found on today’s hardware further enhance these packaging pieces. Luxury brands look to embellishments as a way for their products to stand out on a shelf. Die and laser cutting options add the value high-end buyers look for.
Above: The Scodix E106 is a B1 digital enhancement press for folding cartons.
Thanks to spot UV coating, embossing, metallic, foil, and die cutting, luxury brands are attracted to digitally printed and finished folding cartons. In an oversaturated market, these companies strive to differentiate themselves from the competition and uniquely printed packaging is one way to do so. Print providers offering any type of specialty service are positioned to benefit from this.
Marcus Tralau, CEO, KAMA GmbH, shares that packaging is increasingly becoming an important sales and marketing tool at point of sale. With digital printing’s capability for short runs, small target consumer groups can be addressed on an individual basis. Hot trends or motifs can be brought to market quickly and cost effectively. Embellishments enhance these benefits.
“Digital in itself now offers printing enhancements that are either totally new or already existed but in their analog form required super long runs. Digital lowers the barrier for entry. Also, digital now enables lower run lengths so luxury brand owners are not forced to order large quantities of cartons and they can change the designs much more easily as well as speeding up the entire supply chain for their packaging needs,” agrees Nigel Tracey, head of packaging, Scodix.
Donna Covannon, director, marketing, Xeikon North America and Sebastien Stabel, market segment manager carton packaging, Xeikon Digital Solutions, believe that embellishments like spot UV coating or varnishing present productivity gains. “These enable the print provider to offer their customers—the brands—an ability to stand out against the other offerings on the shelf by commanding a premium shelf position as well as adding value to the end product,” they continue.
Consumers—whether they are conscious of it or not—search for an emotional connection to products when choosing between different brands on a shelf, maybe even more so when comparing luxury brands. “It is a challenge to create the emotional attachment a luxury brand is looking to achieve. A product’s packaging needs to communicate the value of the product and create that attachment. Embellishments such as spot coating, foil stamping, and die cutting are a cost-effective way to create and communicate that value,” says Ed Pierce, product marketing manager, Fujifilm North America Corporation, Graphic Systems Division.
Luxury brands are attracted to special effects because they add excitement to packaging and entice the consumer to engage and connect with the print. “Special effects are eye catching and intriguing, which is exactly what any brand owner wants out of their product packaging. Luxury brands in particular want to be perceived as valuable and these effects allow that perception to start at the first impression, which is the packaging,” offers Danielle Wood, marketing specialist, Harris & Bruno International.
Embellishing the Options
Specialty effects or embellishments found in digital printing and finishing include a host of options from embossing to foil and even die and laser cutting. Collectively, these features offer brands one-of-a-kind designs for folding cartons, enabling effective communication of their branding message to the consumer.
Chris Van Pelt, president, THERM-O-TYPE Corporation, says options such as foil stamping, embossing, and die cutting platen presses offer a unique combination of attractive capabilities. “Digitally printed sheets can be embellished with flat foil stamping, blind or foil embossing, and die cut and scored quickly and efficiently.”
Special effects are a great tool for brands looking to connect with their audience. “Luxury brand owners are interested in the overall experience for the customer, which includes the packaging and the unboxing of the product. A velvety-smooth, high-end soft-touch coating and embossed logo can go a long way in communicating to the customer that the product they purchased is top quality,” adds Wood.
Foil is particularly popular. “Out of all the possible embellishments or effects, foil is essential for attracting attention. Based on my observations foil is the first thing people notice. People love shiny things and many of the luxury brands use it on their packaging,” states Anthony Gandara, product manager, Duplo USA.
“Hot foil embossing is still very popular in the luxury industry as it brings high gloss and can apply even the finest structures up to nano-embossing.” He adds that special security foils or single image holograms are also used for brand protection.
Gandara says spot UV coating is also popular. “Since spot UV is a digital process, it is easy to make changes and turnaround time is much quicker. But, it will never completely replace embossing or foiling,” he admits.
Special cutting effects also catch the interest of high-end brands. Laser cutting offers a very of ornate and unique shapes as well as unusual folding and perforations. “The shapes made can contribute to the brand identity just as much as any graphic,” adds Steve Leibin, president, Matik, Inc.
Expect the Higher Price
The terms embellishment and enhancement are associated with high quality, so it is logical that the added value comes with a higher price. Print providers are aware of the added cost when it comes to producing folding cartons with special effects.
“There is always a cost for adding embellishment services to printed materials, but the value brought by these services far outweighs the cost. High-end brands are willing to pay additional for these services as the packaging drives the emotional connection and helps firm the purchasing decision. Print providers are and will continue to charge a reasonable premium for a service that brings true added value,” explains Pierce.
Nick Bruno, president, Harris & Bruno, admits it is difficult to say just how much cost embellishments like specialty coatings add to the final product. “Specialty effects can carry higher margins, but the length of the run and type of coating all play a significant factor in the costing.”
Pricing enhanced packaging is challenging. “Quantity is a huge factor, which directly impacts the size and cost of the digital printing and finishing equipment and the tooling required. When producing smaller quantity orders, equipment and tooling costs as well as set up time become critical factors affecting manufacturing cost and profitability,” agrees Van Pelt.
Cost all depends on the complexity of the job. Gandara says he knows print providers that have charged two, three times or even more for a request that includes one or more types of embellishment.
“Finishing in particular offers excellent opportunities for good margins and good profits. Because this is where comparability and the tough price war ends. Special services and unique effects create leeway in the price calculation, which the customer or brand manufacturer accepts,” shares Tralau.
Tracey warns that for more manufacturing orientated carton makers, there may be a struggle initially switching from selling volume to selling value. “In the end, the ‘on cost’ for these digital enhancements is actually very small when considering the total costs to produce the carton, around an additional five percent versus non-enhanced cartons on average should be considered.”
Beating the Odds
Traditionally dominated by existing packaging converters, today there is an opportunity for emerging businesses to succeed in the luxury packaging market, especially in regards to short runs. This is primarily because of the growth of digital printing technologies and automated finishing solutions.
“The luxury packaging market is very mature with an established packaging supply chain, however that supply chain is slow to react and adopt new technologies. As such, there are clear opportunities for smaller, more nimble carton makers to establish themselves as innovative leaders in what is now a rapidly changing ––––marketplace,” recommends Tracey.
Print providers with the technology in place to cost-effectively provide short-run packaging with specialty effects are in the ideal position. “Those that focus on small runs can offer small, high-value runs thanks to new digital entrants that offer versioning, security, or personalization elements to the packaging,” explain Covannon and Stabel.
Leibin believes there is a distinct opportunity for short-run folding cartons. “Many print providers are still focused on long runs. Thus, the adoption to digital print is still a bit slower than other print segments because print providers focused on short runs are not as prevalent.”
In the luxury packaging sector it is all about delivering short, highly finished runs in top quality—and fast. The demand for faster lead and delivery times requires a flexible production that reacts quickly. Short machine setup times are crucial here. Tralau says this is an advantage for smaller printing and finishing companies—and for large packaging manufacturers it is an argument to set up a separate production line for short runs.
Gandara argues that the luxury packaging market is dominated by existing packaging converters. “The reason for this is the process and equipment used to produce packaging is very mechanical and requires highly skilled operators.” However, he sees an opportunity and interest on the digital side of the business. “The challenge is finding machines and solutions that can effectively be implemented into a digital print environment.”
Are You Ready?
There is value in offering embellishments or print finishing enhancements to folding cartons for luxury brands. And the opportunity is there as well—especially when it comes short-run jobs. The question becomes, can any print provider offer such services?
“All digital printing plants benefit from adding services like sheet-to-sheet gluing, foil stamping, blind and foil embossing, and die cutting. These capabilities dramatically expands the range of products that can be produced, enhances product value and provides a competitive advantage over plants who do not have similar capabilities,” suggests Van Pelt.
Small and large companies are both candidates for adding these capabilities. Tralau believes all businesses should consider further processing and refinement. There is untapped potential, specifically in die cutting. “It is precisely the finishing services that enable us to get out of the relentless price war.”
Of course, any print provider already involved in folding cartons or short-run packaging for high-end products should consider specialty effects, according to Pierce. The service upgrades the finished product, which allows the print provider to expand their customer audience and drive additional margin and profits.
“Commercial printers and converters who deal with high-value brands and products are a great fit. Cosmetics, health and beauty, and high-end spirits and wines and high-end food stuffs, like confections are all examples,” share Covannon and Stabel.
Adding these enhancement processes goes beyond facilitating growth. “It is also about customer retention as these unique enhancements will make their offering stand out from other carton makers and ensure repeat business as well as close customer proximity,” says Tracey.
“It’s quite simple. Any print provider who wants to get away from commodity products and profit from value-added features should look into these services,” concludes Leibin.
In business since 1987, K+W Finishing, Inc. is based out of Baltimore, MD. The company specializes in finishing services. The shop employs a staff of 35 employees out of a 30,000 square foot facility. Many of the print providers that K+W work with actually have finishing capabilities in house, but choose to send the jobs out to K+W because of the staff’s professional expertise.
The company constantly expands its services, for example it recently started offering turn edge products. Another add to its portfolio occurred in 2017—laser cutting. Back in 2005, William Miller, laser operations specialist, K+W, saw laser cutting for the first time at a trade show. The technology then wasn’t anything like it is today, but he knew it was the way of the future in terms of high-quality, intricate finishing.
As a decade passed, some of the staff at K+W were at a trade show in Chicago, IL and happened upon the PaperOne 5000 from SEI Laser, which is distributed in the U.S. by Matik, Inc. The device is capable of laser die cutting, microperforating, piercing, engraving, bleaching, and marking paper sheets, cardboard, and adhesive-coated paper. It is also compatible with PP, BOPP, and PET.
Conversations between the companies began shortly after the trade show and the laser cutter was ultimately installed in K+W’s facility in 2017. One of the primary reasons for the addition, the in-house die shop was increasingly faced with complicated job quotes.
The PaperOne 5000 boasts a host of features that make it ideal for the work K+W deals with regularly. For example, Miller cites a static mode for when delicate, high-end jobs need to be hand fed. This capability came in handy when a jewelry store requested intricately cut snowflakes on a brochure. Another attractive feature, the ability to change the laser zone so it runs faster or slower. The real takeaway, according to Miller, is the machine’s flexibility.
About ten percent of the jobs completed on the laser cutter are folding cartons. In regards to folding cartons, the PaperOne 5000 completes projects not possible with a steel die.
K+W recently completed a project involving packaging for 125,000 tubes of lip stick. Each package had approximately 50 tiny triangles on each piece. The waste from the triangles were easily stripped and didn’t clog up the machine. This would have been a problem on a die cutter, where it wouldn’t be strippable, according to Miller.
The PaperOne 5000 saves time for K+W. “It’s much cheaper and easier to produce high-end, short runs with today’s digital finishing equipment than ever before,” he concludes.
Front and Center
Digitally printed folding cartons are attractive to many brand owners. For those in the luxury space, packaging that includes embellishments such as spot UV coating, embossing, metallic, and foil; or specialty finishing enhancements, escalates their branding message—placing it front and center for the consumer. Print providers from all backgrounds looking to grow profit margins and retain new customers should consider offering specialty print and finishing options.
Mar2020, DPS Magazine