I wanted to resist the urge to say ‘think outside the box,’ but that is exactly what you’ll need to do in order to capture a growing and lucrative segment of the digital printing industry that is ripe for harvest. And in this case, the ‘box’ isn’t a concept, it’s literal: the packaging. The convergence of markets and technologies due to digitalization in the graphics industry provides new spin-off opportunities, and short-run packaging work—be it prototyping or custom—is one of those opportunities.
Packaging is a large, established industry that, compared to other industries is relatively stable despite the economy. Almost all items are sold with some form of packaging. To keep a competitive edge in the marketplace, packaging designs change more often than the products they contain. This means continual demand for prototypes, short-run and custom printing and cutting.
Packaging designers benefit greatly from quality prototypes but very often lack the space or budget to purchase printers and cutters themselves. They do, however, have the budget for purchasing this service from a local graphics shop.
Current Prototyping Processes Could Benefit From a Full Digital Solution
The prototype is important at many levels—from determining the most appealing design with focus groups and brand managers, to finding the most cost effective, sustainable design and ultimately landing the production work for the packaging manufacturer. It makes sense for the packaging designer to present the highest quality prototypes to the client.
Consider the current prototyping process: many packaging designers and manufacturers are still first determining their structural design and then either cutting paperboard with a razor or at best with a digital sample cutter. Once the final structural design is agreed upon, the graphics can be produced. Graphics are then printed on some other device—be it a proofer, small offset press, inkjet or color laser printer—and then literally applied in a separate operation before or after cutting. This means the prototype may not look quite like the final product—the whiteness of the paper and the color gamut of the printer can be very different. And what if the proposed base is supposed to be colored or textured?
Compounding the problem is that usually more than just one prototype is required to satisfy all those focus groups, brand managers, etc., that need to see the latest iteration of the design. All that has to happen before considering any short run production for a possible test market! The risk of damage (leading to extra print runs), additional steps, labor and long turnaround times are much like those experienced in the world of large-format graphics production.
Digital Flatbed and Automated Cutting Change the Game
This is where your expertise in large-format digital printing—and the right mix of printing and cutting hardware and software—can pay off in servicing this market. Advances in digital printing technologies have streamlined the process for creating digitally produced large-format graphics and now packaging prototypes.
Flatbed printers have been one of the fastest growing segments of large-format printing technology due to their ability to print directly to rigid substrates, eliminating the need to mount roll-based prints onto boards.
Automated cutting systems with sophisticated workflow software to manage cutting and nesting complete the print-and-cut process.
What will you need to go after this market?
(1) A high-quality flatbed printer that uses a stationary table, where the print gantry moves over the media rather than moving the media under the print gantry. A stationary table ensures precise registration and eliminates potential distortion problems in the cutting stage. A strong advantage is selecting a printer that offers two additional features: (a) the ability to print onto roll media and (b) support for white ink.