Package Prototyping: When Mockery Is Acceptable

Since retailers cannot “digitize” packages on store shelves, industry watchers like to point out, the e-threat to package printers isn’t the same as converting printed pages into PDFs. Every print firm looking to increase sales in 2012 has his or her fingers on the pulses of two growing revenue streams: wide-format and packaging. Which is why using wide-format digital output devices to prototype, proof, and print packaging on demand may be the ideal specialty blend for profits this year.

Total output product value for packaging is in the range of $290 billion worldwide, according to I.T. Strategies. Affordable print technology and market need have combined to bring the promise of double digit growth to the digital packaging market. InfoTrends projected that digital packaging will experience a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of more than 15 percent between 2009 and 2014. While folding cartons and flexible packaging represent a relatively small base, revenues will show CAGRs of over 23 percent and nearly 20 percent, respectively.

Case in point: The Epson Stylus Pro WT7900 inkjet printer, which retails for just under $7,000, features the world’s first aqueous-based white printing technology. It is designed specifically for proofing flexographic and gravure print jobs that require the color white. The Stylus Pro WT7900 incorporates Epson’s latest achievements in high-resolution inkjet, including its UltraChrome HDR White Ink featuring an all new Organic Hollow Resin Particle Technology that forces light to randomly scatter, producing the illusion of seeing white. This innovative way to produce the color white yields an amazing white ink density, ability for custom white color toning, and provides professional short-term color stability for color proofing on a range of substrates. The WT7900 is capable of printing directly on inkjet coated clear and metallic films, in roll or cut sheet, up to 24 inches wide. And unlike traditional white ink chemistry, Epson UltraChrome HDR White Ink is a safer, water-based resin particle void of any known carcinogens.


Digital Niche for Packaging

Roland DGA VersaUV wide-format UV-LED inkjet printer/cutters are used for package prototyping, color proofing, and short-run labeling applications. For short-run label printing, both Roland DGA and Xanté offer high-quality digital solutions aimed at different market segments. For example, Roland’s VersaUV LEC Series printers are ideal for commercial printers looking to prototype high-end wine bottles. The printer is able to produce 100 personalized labels, each with a different name, serial number, or artwork. These printers are now available in 30-inch and 54-inch models and can print CMYK plus white on foils, BOPP, PE, PET film, and offset stock. Also, the short-run devices can add a clear coat for three-dimensional effects.

“The more elaborate the packaging or display stand, the more difficult it is to evaluate the effect on the basis of a white sample and a two-dimensional printout during planning and approval in the run-up to series production,” says Andreas Hanbuch, managing director of 60-year-old Hanbuch Packaging in Germany. “Since we installed the Océ Arizona 250 GT printer, our customers have received models that can no longer be differentiated from mass production. That makes it easier for the customer to make a decision, and it has already helped us to acquire some new orders,” he added. With the Océ flatbed digital device, there’s no more making samples from printed cardboard and simulating color effects using printouts and computer models.

“It is extremely important to the customer to test display stands, displays, and packaging beforehand,” Hanbuch continues. “For example, you want to and have to know the effect that an information box has in the shop, whether it is appropriate, clearly visible, and attracts attention.” This is why an increasing number of companies are having samples produced that are true to the original and can also be presented at sales and dealer meetings. At the same time, this also increases the acceptance of the planned communication measures with sales partners.

Additionally, an increasing number of small runs are being produced that are not for testing and inspection purposes but are manufactured for actual use. “In many cases we have to manufacture special print runs with small quantities within the scope of a bigger job,” Hanbuch notes. “Usually they are language versions for countries in which the brand is only represented in a few locations.”

Offset printing is usually uneconomical in these cases, which is why Hanbuch purchased an Arizona 250 GT printer for requirements of this nature. “It was a combination of financial interest and curiosity,” he recalls. “We wanted to take a look at digital flatbed printing, so to speak, and see what happened. I am totally convinced that digital printers such as the Océ Arizona Series will displace offset printing as far as small print runs are concerned.”

In the packaging printing area, small runs are orders of up to 100 and no more than 150 square meters. With a two-meter-high display, this means about 50 displays; i.e. a meaningful magnitude that occurs frequently in exclusive markets or during the production of language versions for small countries, for example. However, a prerequisite for the success of digital printing is cost-effectiveness. This is where Hanbuch sees the clear advantages of the Océ Arizona 250 GT printer. “The system simply has the best price/performance ratio on the market,” he stated. Even more important is the top quality of the system.

“The printing is quite outstanding and achieves 95 percent of the quality of a proof system,” he says. “That is more than enough for the majority of uses.”


Cut It Out

At Stevenson Color in Cincinnati, OH, the output device chosen for prototypes depends on customer expectations. The 120,000-sqaure-foot operation, which also houses sheetfed equipment, added the new HP Scitex FB7600 industrial printer last November—its third large-format device. It also prints on a Turbojet 8600, an 80-inch EFI VUTEk QS2000 flatbed, Roland UVs, and a 44-inch Epson 9900 with spectrodensometer for ultra-high quality. “Inkjet proofing comes in all shapes and sizes,” says Steve Wardwell, manager of prepress and innovation and a 22-year Stevenson veteran. “Our retail POP comping ranges from shrink sleeves to pouches to stand-up bags and labels on bottles.” It comes down to knowing the customers, he adds. “What do we have to accomplish what they want?” It might be inkjet, a dot proofer, analog, or a mixture, Wardwell adds.

And printed output is only half the battle when it comes to package prototypes. Finishing can be the most time consuming component. But Stevenson has been saving substantial amounts of time since adding the EskoArtwork Kongsberg i-XL24 digital cutting table after the ISA 2010 show. (See sidebar.) “Training is key because it’s a very precise machine,” Wardwell says, “with a tremendous amount of options, [such as] drag knife, kiss cut, and cut through.” There’s very little hand-cutting with X-Acto knives any more, he notes. “With the Kongsberg table from EskoArtwork, our accuracy and productivity have vastly improved.”