Achieve Success in Package Prototyping

Package prototyping can be one way of becoming more of a full service provider to your customers. Not only are you positioned to produce the print run of the packaging, but you also stand ready to take on the step before that. Getting involved in package prototyping can also pave the way to added profits, because the printers can be used for items from signs to banners.

But entering the package prototyping realm can also present hurdles. There is new and special equipment to purchase, learning curves to endure and, some say, the need to master a whole new way of thinking about printing. In this article, we talk to a trio of printing companies about the upsides and downsides of taking on the challenge of package prototyping.


Cober Evolving Solutions

Based in Kitchener, ON, Canada, Cober Evolving Solutions is among leading North American printing companies that have successfully transitioned into package prototyping. The 97-year-old, family-owned company moved to an 80,000-square-foot facility two years ago. By doing so it was able to add the wide-format equipment that allowed the company to begin producing prototypes.

Soon after moving to the new site, Cober added HP Scitex FB700 and LX25-500 printers, as well as an Esko Kongsberg XP24 to handle die-cutting, scoring, and routing. Four months ago, it added an HP Scitex LX850, 10-foot-wide roll device.

Printers tend to think in two dimensions, but when producing prototypes, they have to begin thinking three dimensionally, according to company president Peter Cober. “Our design department had to make some adjustments to go from ink on paper to three dimensional,” he says, adding that producing package prototypes “was kind of a natural progression for us. We might get the order, once it became an order, but now we’re getting the chance to get in upstream and do the prototyping.”

Cober’s client base is comprised almost exclusively of business-to-business entities, and major corporations among its clients expect the company to manage their brands, he says. Because those corporations trust the way the company handles brand management and the production of its packages, they also are confident in letting the company produce the package prototypes.

“We already had great relationships with our customers, because we’d been around so long,” Cober says. “So they trusted us to do this extra work.

“We were already doing their warehousing and distribution, so to have that added capability permits us to do the whole shebang from beginning to end.”

With an eye toward showcasing its new capabilities, including prototyping work, Cober Evolving Solutions held an open house shortly after it moved to its new facility. About 300 guests attended, many coming away surprised that the company had the equipment to handle prototyping, as well as banners, signage, and all other output now possible on the new equipment, Cober says.

He believes there is “definitely” profit in package prototyping. “It’s another opportunity to do design right through fulfillment,” he says. “It’s just one more thing we bring to our customers to provide them with the full package.”

That said, however, prototyping is not without its challenges. For instance, Cober says, once you have created the prototype for an in-store display that holds packages, the challenges of shipping that design can sometimes create more work than actually developing the prototype.

In addition, he says, there’s the hurdle of “being in new territory,” having to think about how the product will be used, and what will attract consumers within a store to approach the display and learn about the product.

How does the process begin? Cober Evolving Solutions maintains an archive of its clients’ digital assets, Cober says. “They come to us with a problem, [saying], ‘Here’s what environment it will be used within,’ and we create various scenarios in response, and do a presentation. They select their choice, and then we’ll go about creating the prototypes.

“We can do it in a matter of days with equipment we have now. And we can do it economically with the Indigos right through our wide-format equipment.”


RockTenn Merchandising Displays

Based in Winston-Salem, NC, this company’s short-run facility has been in place for two years, and has been doing prototyping all that time, says Matt Neuhoff, general manager of the short-run manufacturing and assembly facility.

In addition to serving some external clients, the facility produces a number of prototypes for an internal customer; that being the RockTenn Folding Carton Division. “Our primary business is secondary or tertiary packaging display prototypes, where we’re taking already produced packages and creating display prototypes that hold those packages,” Neuhoff reports.

RockTenn relies heavily on Inca S40 single-pass, wide-format digital UV printing equipment, Neuhoff says. Other important pieces of equipment include a Fuji Acuity wide-format digital printer and Zund high-speed CAD cutters. “We produce temporary and permanent displays for Fortune 100 consumer product companies,” Neuhoff says.

“It’s part of doing business for us. We design the displays, and prototype them prior to production, so the clients can kick the tires, so to speak. Once they finalize their structural and graphical design preferences, the job will go to more conventional printing methods and more analog production.”

As for the pros and cons of prototyping, Neuhoff says, “It’s a great means to an end, if the end is getting a larger order from a customer. But I wouldn’t get involved in this business or recommend this business as a stand-alone business. I wouldn’t recommend people go out and make a living producing package prototypes without there being larger prices—that being the actual production run. It’s not anything we decided would become a revenue stream. It’s something we do to get the work from our customers.”

That said, the digital printing capabilities RockTenn Merchandising Displays was able to begin offering when it acquired the aforementioned digital printing equipment has been a boon to business. “For us, having digital printing capabilities allows us to sell to customers we wouldn’t otherwise have worked with because the run didn’t represent enough volume [to be profitable]. Getting that equipment has opened up new markets,” he adds.


PBM Graphics

This nearly 30-year-old Durham, NC printing company specializes in commercial printing, but got started in package prototyping when it acquired a Roland DGA printer about 18 months ago. “It provides more of a finished look for a well-developed prototype,” says color technician Hughes Grogan.

That Roland LEC 330, also known as a VersaUV, uses UV inks, he adds. “It does rolls and flat stock, and we use it mainly for flat stock. It’s primarily designed for roll media, but more than half our business is doing cards on foil substrates. We also have a flexo press that we use for packaging as well—primarily with rainbow foil, tinsel, cracked ice, and other unique substrates.”

When it began offering package prototyping, PBM Graphics made some key additions to staff, Grogan adds. “We brought in salespeople whose specialty is packaging, and knew how to sell package prototyping,” he says. “Packaging is one of those things that’s growing, as opposed to newspapers and phone books, and that’s the reason we brought in the equipment and personnel.”

Making the transition to package prototype provider includes mastering a learning curve, Grogan says. In addition, it can be time consuming (“The Roland printer is not exactly fast,” he says), with proofs taking up to two hours to make. As well, some proofs require multiple passes, which takes more time. Finally, prototypes often have to be CAD cut. “The Roland has a cutter as part of the equipment, but we do CAD cutting for greater precision,” he notes.

However, Grogan is happy PBM Graphics got the Roland. Often, clients will bring in different substrates to see if they can be used in a prototype. The Roland printer will print on all of them. “We can print packaging designs on a wide variety of materials, like clear acetate and cardboard materials…I keep a little sample case in the office to showcase what the machine can do.”