Digital packaging printing: Not just for labels anymore


Graph Expo 2010 LogoWith four digital pressmakers on hand and some lively audience interaction, the “Digital Printing for Packaging” session at Graph Expo 2010 earlier this week certainly emphasized one thing: Digital print is certainly not just for labels anymore.

Moderated by industry consultant Kevin Karstedt, the panel included Sean Skelly, director of marketing and service for EFI Jetrion (UV inkjet); Richard Bryant, business development manager for Xerox (dry toner); Raymond Dickinson, industrial product segment manager for HP Indigo (liquid toner); and Kristof Dekeukelaere, Dotrix sales manager-North America for Agfa Graphics (UV inkjet). These pressmaker reps talked up their respective systems’ capabilities for flexible-packaging and folding-carton printing. Here’s a quick rundown…

  • Agfa Dotrix® Modular: Built on a flexographic-press base, the 25.6-in.-wide unit runs up to 24-pt paperboard, PET film and foil substrates, printing with low-migration inks in up to six colors.
  • Xerox APS: With 20-pt paperboard sheet sizes up to 14.33 x 26 in., the iGEN4® unit features downstream Epic inline coating and Stora Enso Gallop™ equipment for diecutting.
  • HP Indigo WS6000: At 12.5 in. wide, the unit now also runs flexible and board substrates at speeds up to 100 fpm.
  • Jetrion 4830LED: The new LED UV-inkjet unit coolly cures thin, unsupported flexible-packaging and shrink-sleeve film substrates, in widths to 9 in. and speeds up to 120 fpm.

While labels have gained the lion’s share of digital package-printing business over the past five years, all the press reps agreed that flexibles and cartons are next. And when it comes to process, flexo is clearly in digital printing’s crosshairs now, with even gravure becoming a target in the next 10 years.

So, if you’re a digital packaging printer, how do you sell brand owners on the technology?

“Brands are all chasing the same thing with all their SKUs having more frequent turns each year with shorter runs; there’s lower total cost of packaging with digital printed full-color in a single pass,” says HP Indigo’s Dickinson. “Digital provides the ‘speed-to-market solution’ that brand owners are looking for; it speeds up distribution for short-term promotions,” adds EFI Jetrion’s Skelly. “They need to not only look at the initial cost, but at the whole supply chain,” says Xerox’s Bryant. “The per-unit cost maybe 10 cents higher, but if it helps them sell twice as much volume, then it’s the better idea. Point-of-sale impulse buys offset the higher costs,” says Agfa’s Dekeukelaere.

My Thoughts: On the evidence of last year’s PRINT® and the apparent abandonment of this year’s Graph Expo by major sheetfed-offset pressmakers, it looked like the commercial-printing industry had gone completely to the digital-print side. And by extension, that seemed to apply to package printing, too. Yes, it’s more than just presses and there was plenty of traffic on the first two days (a welcome sign for everyone), but there was that “digital” impression on things.

As the panel members above said, digital isn’t new anymore. It’s here to stay, and it’s the only printing method that’s growing—up 20% in 2009, by some estimates. With any technology, it’s an evolutionary process. It will get wider, faster, more colorful, more capable—and thus more competitive.

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