Online Exclusive

The Perfect Package

InfoTrends estimates that in 2010, converters worldwide spent $166 million on color digital presses used to print labels and packaging, a number that is project to grow at a 10.3 percent annual rate through 2015.

When it comes to digital package printing, graphic providers are no longer thinking solely in terms of short runs, but instead are seeing the technology as a means to meet or exceed customer requirements, whether it be for highly intricate designs or complicated variable data projects.

Alliance Graphics|Printing

Alliance Graphics|Printing in Houston, a customer-focused company that provides label solutions as well as commercial work, is a good example.

In 2006 it purchased an HP Indigo press for its commercial work; the success with that digital printer led to the November 2011 purchase of the EFI Jetrion 4830 for label printing. Alliance is the only commercial digital label printer in the state of Texas.

“We saw what happened with the Indigo, and how digital printing over the six year period was adopted within the commercial sector,” says Jeff Birmingham, majority owner of the $10 million shop. “We knew the same would be happening in the label market.”

Similar to what happened in the commercial arena, says Gary Astle, VP of sales and marketing, “we saw the print runs getting smaller and our customers were requiring more versioning.”

However, the “sweet spot” for using the Jetrion keeps moving on up, as the quality is surpassing what Alliance can achieve with its flexo presses. “Flexo can’t capture the intricate designs that the Jetrion can,” says Astle. “Initially the plan was to use it for runs up to 10,000; but now we’ll go up to 25,000. It just prints such a better-looking label. “

The Jetrion also allows Alliance to take on versioning that flexo can’t touch. A recent job for a home building retail giant required Alliance to rebrand 180 different product versions spread out over 2,041 stores. “They gave us a matrix, showing, for example, that store number 1 needed 80 versions; store number two needed 50,” explains Astle. “We turned that job around in 23 hours of print time; we packed it out in six days. If we had used a traditional flexo press, it would have taken at least a week just to make the plates. Flexo printers were coming back with six-to-eight weeks of turnaround time. “

Currently, label printing accounts for nearly a third of revenue, however, says Birmingham. “We anticipate that within 12 months, that number will grow an additional half million.”

Several months before Alliance installed the Jetrion, Birmingham purchased EFI’s Pace web-to-print software, streamlining the ordering process. That one piece made all the difference between profitability and not.

“The sales cycle is much shorter in digital arena; two years ago we were processing 1,000 monthly; now it’s 3,000,” notes Birmingham. “You have to quicken the pace of the order entry process, from how you receive to how you ship. You have to streamline; if there are too many touch points you are losing money.”

Nosco, Inc.

Nosco, a 106 year-old company, focuses on the pharmaceutical market, supplying labels, cartons and inserts for its 300 worldwide customer base. “Our brand promise,” says R. Craig Curran, Vice President—Sales, “is to deliver complete packaging programs with individual solutions—our solutions are customized for each customer’s individual needs.

The company, which has a full slate of flexographic, letterpress, and offset machinery, migrated into digital in 2004 with the purchase of an HP Indigo 4000, answering customers’ needs for short-run, quick turnaround labels and cartons. “We saw our customers going to shorter runs and needing quicker turn times, so we developed an on-demand solutions model, with a guaranteed turn time of 5-10 days,” explains Curran. “We also offer turnarounds of 3-2-1 days.”

The quicker 3-2-1 turnaround is typically used when there is push to move a new pharmaceutical product onto the market quickly, either because a customer is trying to beat out the competition or because there is a waiting warehouse of patients who are anxiously waiting for the product to hit the market.

Besides the benefits of shortened cycle times and more cost effective short runs, the Indigo presses are used extensively for serialization; many customers now print unique bar codes on every carton or label, in anticipation of US government legislation coming on board in 2015.

Realizing the ramifications of the pending legislation surrounding serialization, in 2006 Nosco began offering serialization capability, staking out a leadership position in the area. “The idea behind the legislation is to be able provide supply chain security, ensuring that all the drugs are authentic and not counterfeit; the legislation is being pushed by the FDA and the California Board of Pharmacy,” says Curran.

Nosco partnered with HP and Esko, developing a package that serializes labels or carton, giving them a unique identifier.

Serialization is only produced digitally, while Nosco’s other security printing, running taggant or color shifting inks, can be done conventionally after printing on the Indigo presses. Nosco’s efforts to build its serialization capabilities have paid off; currently 30% of its Indigo business is security or serialization.

The Sonoco Institute

At The Sonoco Institute of Package Design & Graphics at Clemson University in Clemson, S.C., more than 200 students are schooled in the basics and not so basics of packaging design.

The Institute is headquartered in the newly built Harris A. Smith building, equipped with advanced technology, including a cutting-edge prototyping lab. Among the lab’s high tech equipment is a Roland VersaUV LEC-330 30-inch UV inkjet printer/cutter. “The VersaUV is our ‘go to’ machine for unique packaging prototyping,” says R. Andrew Hurley, an assistant professor of Packaging Science housed at the Sonoco Institute. “Students use it to quickly and accurately execute their designs on virtually any roll-stock substrate.”

“Our students are interested in developing real packaging for real applications,” explains Hurley. He and his students value the VersaUV for its ability to print on a wide range of substrates, creating prototypes that are virtually identical to full production packaging. They have run projects on plastic bagging material, thermofoam, corrugated cardboard, and several types of paperboard.

“Students leverage the VersaUV’s capabilities to run multiple iterations and determine what works best for their project,” says Hurley.

Along with traditional packaging applications, students use the VersaUV to generate innovative and occasionally even patentable packaging products. In one class, students designed and printed board games. In another, students created USB drives with a paperboard package.  

A third group of students is now working with the University on a patent for their project: They created circuit boards through a silk screening process, then ran them through the VersaUV to add printed graphics.   The result? A kids’ meal container that lights up when you move the included toy across the package graphics.

Meritage Specialty Packaging Ltd.

Meritage Specialty Packaging Ltd. is a niche market manufacturer of packaging for the luxury goods sector. Founded by Jay and Dawne Tapp and based in Surrey, B.C., the company specializes in high value-added packaging, specifically labels, tags and wraps. Meritage's key markets include wine and spirits, cosmetics, health and beauty, entertainment media, fashion retail, security identification and other up-market collateral marketing materials.

"Our business is custom value-added packaging," explains Jay Tapp. Everything Meritage produces is custom manufactured; particularly for its winemaking customers no two labels are alike.

“We work with high-end clientele,” adds Dawne Tapp. “These brand owners are very often part of a family business and personally identify with the end result. They are passionate and particular about details, and prompt service is essential. Our digital platform enables innovation + decoration + functionality which equates to diversity in the marketplace." To that end, Meritage is constantly using the Xeikon technology and additional finishing processes to push the envelope. "Our Digitt decorating system features an infinite number of in-line combinations of finishing and functional techniques, including foil stamping, embossing, textures, coatings, security features and variable imaging," adds Dawne.

Prior to purchasing the Xeikon, Meritage was waiting for digital technology to catch up with its printing requirements. “With the Xeikon 3500, we utilize exceptional color management systems and registration accuracy, along with format flexibility, high productivity and 1200 dots per inch (220 line screen) resolution," says Jay Tapp. First-rate color graphics with intense decorating treatments in exact register are all hallmarks of Meritage's work.

Meritage focuses on complex label runs in the 10,000 to two million-unit ranges. "Our PureDigital platform is highly productive for long runs as well as short runs," adds Jay. Meritage prints exclusively using the Xeikon 3500 digital label presses.