Large-Format Graphics: A Package Deal

Digital printing may not be the norm yet in packaging printing, but the trend is present and accelerating. One major part of the packaging space – label printing – has seen digital production grow by leaps, thanks to reliably efficient and productive narrow-web digital label printing.

As for the rest of the packaging market, wide-format inkjet is the name of the game. Many die-cut folding carton and corrugated boxes can't be done digitally without a larger size format. Wide-format graphics providers looking to expand into new markets might want to consider packaging as fertile ground.

It may still be an obvious but true fact that packaging retains opportunities because, unlike the rest of the print industry, it has no suitable electronic alternative. That growth is making packaging more popular among large-format graphics providers.

“Package printing is a huge and fast growing market, significantly larger than the overall sign and display market,” notes Harel Ifhar, strategic marketing manager for HP’s Scitex large-format division.

A Prototype for Success

For many graphics professionals looking to get into this market, prototyping is often the place to start, making proof copies, or even entire short-run production jobs on a roll or flatbed inkjet device.

When design firm Lava Partners, Irvine, CA, started doing prototypes of designs using Roland large-format solution the advantage was clear right away. “Owning a Roland Versa UV printer/cutter has definitely given us an edge over our competitors,” said Lava’s creative director, Dean Passaglia. “Thanks to the Versa UV’s ability to print on a variety of actual packaging materials, when we show a comp to a client it is virtually identical to what the actual package will be.”

The 54-inch Roland Versa UV printer produces all manner of wide-format graphics, but it has a few key features, such as the ability to incorporate metallic into prints, that make it especially useful for the packaging industry. Another Roland printer, the VersaCAMM SP-i series, addresses the all-important die-cutting need in packaging with an inline contour cutting system.

Graphics provides can also produce labels and packaging using the Roland Soljet Pro III Xc-540MT, which offers an extended gamut needed for many packaging jobs thanks to Metallic Silver ECO-SOL MAX ink. Compatible with vinyl, PET film, canvas, paper, transparent film and banner substrates, the new, metallic silver ink can be printed as a spot color or combined with the XC-540MT’s CMYK inks to produce a range of colored metallic effects including gold, silver, bronze and other pearlescent colors.

Another Roland product, the flatbed, 64-inch VersaUV LEJ-640, prints CMYK, white and clear coat on virtually any substrate up to a half-inch thick, a width that gives graphics professionals entrée into a range of package prototyping applications.

Learning from Label Success

Digital equipment makers EFI and HP learned to address the label and packaging opportunity long ago with their respective Jetrion and Indigo digital label presses. Both companies have also begun addressing the broader packaging market, with larger-format solutions.

EFI has a number of large-format flatbed and convertible print solutions that can help graphics professionals develop short-run packaging and packaging prototyping operations, including his high-speed, VUTEk HS100 Pro, the VUTEk GS3250LX, GS3250 printers, and Rastek flatbed printers. The company’s wide-format solutions have the additional benefit of integration with EFI web-to-print solutions and with EFI Radius, a comprehensive enterprise resource planning (ERP) solution developed specifically for the packaging industry.

Radius offers packaging companies the comprehensive capabilities of a world class ERP system, while fitting the unique business processes of packaging operations producing labels, flexible packaging, folding cartons and extruded materials. The solution’s comprehensive capabilities address the needs of packaging companies with complex operating environments such as multi-site, multi-currency, multi-language and multi-product production processes.

According to EFI, Radius users achieved nine percent or greater profit margins at twice the rate of other packaging companies.

For one of HP’s Scitex large-format packaging producers, Heritage Paper, the profit opportunity comes from faster production speeds and better quality.

The Livermore, CA-based firm knows the benefits of advanced digital packaging printing more than most. Heritage had used large-format flatbed printers for packaging for some time, but “we used to have to slow down printing to avoid heavy banding. And we had to laminate to get gloss, which was costly and meant the prints weren’t recyclable,” according to Heritage’s Michael Musgrave.

When the company installed an HP Scitex FB series flatbed last year, it was not only able to run at rated production speeds, it was able to achieve get high-quality packaging on a wider range of substrates, including corrugated board. The Scitex device also alleviated the need to send medium-run printing out for lithographic printing at a local trade shop.

Heritage’s clients are more likely to order digital now, as well. Small business customers, including several Northern California premium wineries, now purchase high-end packaging and displays in the smaller quantities they require, and larger customers looking to streamline their packaging supply chains are switching from flexo to digital printing on the HP Scitex device to move to more sustainable, just-in-time manufacturing.

The Future of Packaging

Large-format professionals who manage to turn packaging from a niche offering to a core part of their businesses should have many new technological developments to look forward to as digitally printed packaging becomes faster and more versatile. HP, for instance, is in the midst of commercializing new 30-inch-wide Indigo electrophotographic digital presses specifically for flexible packaging and folding carton production.

Indigo’s founder, Benny Landa, unveiled a series of digital presses from his new venture, Landa Nano. The new lineup of technologies, which includes packaging presses use a new, inkjet-based “nanography” imaging process, but are not expected to be commercially available until late 2013 or early 2014.

While digital presses like the HP Indigo are often touted for their ability to develop personalized print collateral, in packaging, the key with digital is not so much one-to-one personalization as it is functional, targeted brand customization that can drive sales in ways that are not economically feasible with the analog printing world. Digital gives brands the ability to break product lines into multiple SKUs of targeted brands or versions of product – with languages, product flavors or varieties, or tie-in promotions with a non-profit cause – to create better-selling products that speak to specific audiences.

For graphic arts professionals, the opportunity is not just about capturing a shift from analog to digital print, it is an opportunity to make packaging an even bigger part of the product marketing picture.

“A package has a dual purpose: to cover and protect the product and also to communicate a message to consumers from the brand owner, the manufacturer or the seller,” according to HP’s Ifhar. “In order to grow revenue, increase profitability and differentiate themselves from competitors, brand owners and print buyers are demanding more targeted applications with very short time to market.

“This quick turnaround and customization is where the benefits of digital printing come into play,” Ifhar added. “Digital print providers, who are already experts in using digital technology to create retail displays, are perfectly positioned to capture these new, high-value opportunities and differentiate their offering.”