Digital Technology Offers New Options for Packaging Services

Over the past decade, digital printing technology has continued to grow, fueled by technical advancements in equipment that has allowed end users to offer more service options that were previously possible only in the traditional offset print markets. The introduction of the UV flatbed printer was a key piece of the equipment puzzle; these units are helping make many of these print jobs a reality. These versatile printers have certainly opened up a host of new niche opportunities with their capabilities to print on wide variety of substrates from rigid to flexible to cardboard.

Today, the distinction between commercial and wide-format printers is becoming blurred as more shops add new applications to their service mix. With these new services many wide-format shops are seeking more profitable niche markets and packaging is one niche area that is ripe for the taking.

According to I.T. Strategies, growth rates in the packaging sector average about three percent annually with a total output product value in the range of $290 billion worldwide. This could mean huge growth opportunities for print providers looking to expand into package prototyping or providing high quality, quick turnaround, low volume on-demand package production.

Yeadon, PA-based VT Group is one of those full-service wide-format print shops that have found success in the packaging and prototyping markets. The company delved into packaging a few years back at the requests of some of its customers, said company president Bob Mormile. He added that its one of the company's fastest growing segments.

The VT Graphics arm is the company's full-service print provider. The company first opened for business as a manufacturer of corrugated printing plates for the packaging industry. "The Digital Impact division was established in 2004 as a complete digital printing facility to complement our manufacturing operations at VT Graphics. We already had an established an excellent reputation for creative packaging solutions through design and flexographic plate manufacturing for the display and corrugated markets. The Digital Impact division was a nice complement to our plate-making business. This division was created to provide a short run opportunity for corrugated packaging to expand our customer base," said Mormile.

The company's design staff utilizes a top of a line flatbed printer to provide clients anything from concept packaging development to precision full scale prototypes.

"Digital Impact allows us to use the skills that we have developed in the conventional packaging markets to create cost-effective digital solutions for high quality, short-run packaging printing. This is why we purchased the HP Scitex FB6700. The HP Scitex FB6700 flatbed industrial digital inkjet press has brought the advantages of digital processes to package printing. With the FB6700, we can print directly to sheets up to 63x126-inches and up to 0.79-inches thick, and enables high-quality cost-effective short runs for POP applications and short-run production, including test marketing, product launches, promotional campaigns, creative packaging, and 3D displays," Mormile said. He added that another key feature of the FB6700 is unit's six-color drop-on-demand piezoelectric inkjet printing process, and water-based pigmented inks that are fast-drying, abrasion-resistant and waterproof.

The other key piece of equipment that they added to compete in this marketplace was their EskoArtwork Kongsberg Digital Converting Machine (DCM) Series digital diecutters. "These diecutters allowed us to turn the challenge of short-run and special request converting into a catalyst for new business growth and increased revenues. They work well alongside FB6700," he reported.

"In addition to packaging we also produce a lot of POP and retail signage. With our set up we can manufacture digitally anywhere from one to 1,500 pieces of a counter unit or floor display without any tooling costs. The DCM tables bring reliability to the equation. It also allows us to profitably run two production shifts."

Mormile noted that they are doing a lot of retail work with POS cardboard displays. "We produce both the primary and display packaging, many of it on the display side packaging of packaging such as the cardboard shelf displays that a product such as candy bars are displayed in. Hershey is one of our big accounts. In addition, we are also print a lot of ‘one-off prototypes' so food manufactures and retailers can place them in a sample store floor and show to them marketing agents where they can see how the product will look in a retail environment," he pointed out.

All in all, he sees more opportunities in this market springing up. "What was once a traditional offset market is now rapidly shifting to digital printing. Digital printing is much more economical. It's the perfect solution that offers our clients more options in short run printing opportunities for packaging and one-off products," he concluded.

Durst Rho 600 Opens New Options at Solar Imaging

Gina Spring, sales business development rep at Gahanna, OH-based Solar Imaging is also seeing this area at her company booming. The print provider got into the packaging and prototyping market a few years ago, and the business really took off after they installed a Durst Rho 600 flatbed printer in 2006, she point out.

"We had a number of different clients ask us to mock up some packaging samples and print them out before they took them to their package printer. They wanted to see how the box design would look before going to press. A box manufacturer has to do a minimum run of at least 200 boxes on their big presses and that could cost anywhere between $4,000 and $5,000. We can do one box on our Rho and it will cost about few hundred dollars! It's an ideal economical option for our clients."

Spring pointed out that the Rho 600's white ink option has really helped us make inroads into packaging and prototyping markets. "For example, we can print shoeboxes with the white ink option. We print right to the brown core cardboards and it comes something similar to what the end product will look like; just not as shiny or glossy as the final end product. To see the product in this final form saves the clients a lot of time and money in case they need to make any last minute changes."

Spring said that while it's not really economical for Solar to do large press runs, they can do short runs of 200 or less on their Rho 600. "We've produced a number of shoeboxes for design agencies. They have design capabilities to create the packaging but don't have the printing capabilities that we offer. We also have produced some mocked up one off prototypes for them as well," she said.

"We can create cardboard cartons and we also mock up hang tags that go on clothing. We can mock up all kinds of packaging and everything in between. We recently did a job where we also produced glass plates for a client. As long as it is less than 1.5 inches thick we can get it to print on the Rho. We are constantly getting calls from clients asking if we can create a certain job; we test it out on the Rho and we try and make it work for them. Right now packaging and prototyping is about 15 percent of our business and its continuing to grow," she concluded.

Roland Printer Changing the Landscape Up North

Toronto, Canada-based M3Brand is one of Canada's players in the packaging and prototyping design market. "My studio is in the heart of downtown Toronto and our clients feature a host of super high-end designers, artists," commented owner Michael M. Murphy. This full service agency has in house a number of digital and offset presses that include units from Heidelberg, Epson and Xerox. But a recent new product installation from Roland is helping changes the face of Murphy's company. In December, M3Brand had the distinction of being the first printer in North America to install the Roland VersaUV LEC 300 UV printer/cutter.

"This Roland VersaUV LEC 300 printer has changed my life and has changed the dynamic of my business," said Murphy. "Right now I have the only one installed in North America and it is already booked straight through beginning of the New Year with business," he added when WFI spoke to him in December.

Murphy was so excited when he saw the printer in action in a video on Roland's website that he purchased the printer sight unseen. "Purchasing the printer without actually seeing it work live was bold move on my part but so far it's been a great addition. I helped them demo the products at the recent Photo World show in Toronto. The printer created quite a buzz and drew huge crowds to the Roland booth. I like the fact that my company was the first company in North America to own it. We are looking to purchasing a few more down the road."

He continued, "The VersaUV LEC-300 is a groundbreaking digital printing device support that support an endless range of highly customized applications. One file offers endless output possibilities to my clients," says Murphy. "In addition to short run production of high-end specialty graphics, the LEC-300 is a uniquely capable prepress tool for label proofs, packaging comps and one-off prototypes."

Murphy reported that he has been running the LEC-300 around the clock for his clients which include several large toy companies and beverage manufacturers as well. "We are printing prototype packaging for them. The toy companies do their prototyping here and they send them overseas to print the final packages," said Murphy.

He exclaimed that creative directors that come in to see it working are blown away by printer's quality. "It's the marriage of design and technology. The two pieces working together in tandem...that's where Roland really hit the mark with this machine," said Murphy.

"The VersaUV LEC-300 prints on paper including metallic surfaces for labels, decals, POP displays and posters. You can print up to seven layers of spot gloss on this machine. It's so exciting what this product can do. Right now it's a one of a kind and I'm sure you will see more products like this in the not too distant future. This product is a game changer, it will forever change the landscape of the packaging and printing industries," he concluded.