As a whole, digital printing was considered a little acorn in the packaging industry as few as five years ago. The technology continues to gain much ground, and it is now viewed as the giant oak its early proponents knew it could be. In fact, in this month’s Consumer Insight study, Mintel concludes we’re about to turn a corner:

“Mintel believes 2016 will be the tipping point for digital package printing, as brands and package converters begin to move beyond using digital primarily for limited editions and personalization, and begin to capitalize on its economic and speed-to-market advantages for mainstream package decoration.”

BRANDPACKAGING sits down with Craig Curran, vice president of sales at Nosco, a full-service packaging solutions provider (, and Lou Iovoli, vice president of sales and marketing at Hammer Packaging, a package printing and labeling service company (, to discuss the category.

BRANDPACKAGING (BP): What brands should consider digital printing? Why?

CRAIG CURRAN (CC): Most every brand has a role in using digital printing these days. The technology has advanced to the point where there is a benefit to all. However, the most important brands would be the ones that have a significant number of short-to-medium run SKUs, those that need a reduced cycle time,  or ones that want to incorporate variable data or personalize the product in  some way.

LOU IOVOLI (LI): Digital printing is a quick, high-quality method for generating a live item for new product research, sales samples or initial launches. In addition, because digital is designed to generate a unit of one, every image can be unique. The ability to use this feature is opportunity to make the brand be interactive with the consumer, creating a bond between user and brand. 

BP: What are some new capabilities in technology or execution that have made an impression on you?

CC: New capabilities are coming out all the time. For instance, the white ink continues to improve in opacity. There are also fade-resistance digital inks now. And more and more, we are adding embellishments like cold foil, multiple varnishes and security features to go right alongside digital printing. Of course, the biggest trend in recent years is to personalize the packaging with variable information in order to more effectively connect with  the consumer.

LI: Digital printing is the easiest part of producing an image; brands need to look at what capability the converter has to convert the digital printing into a useable finished label. Hammer Packaging has uniquely configured finishing equipment to specifically produce shrink sleeves, roll-fed labels, PS labels, cut and stack labels, and IML labels. Our advantage is not only being an expert in printing but in finishing, too.

BP: What do companies later say they wished they knew when converting to digital printing from traditional formats?

CC: I think companies, once they convert, are amazed at two things. First, they are impressed with the consistent high quality of the printing. The labels are always in register; the print is crisp and clean, and the color is much more consistent than traditional printing. In fact, most customers experience far fewer rejects. Second, customers are really impressed with the speed of the process. Working the prep or art file goes quicker and easier, and typically, labels and cartons are delivered in half the time of conventional printing. Once a brand gets used to that, it really sees the impact in its business and wants to continue to drive more to digital.

I would add that companies are converting to digital from all markets — food, beverage, wine, pharma, natural health, personal care, industrial labels and more. And, what once was largely a small-to-medium brand solution is now being used by major global brands. Digital continues to grow at circa 20 percent and is being a standard for a high percentage of orders or commodities. 

BP: What kind of time frames are brands looking at with digital printing?

LI: We can print digital materials in 24 hours. The limiting factor is typically the status of files and the amount of finishing a brand requires for the purpose they intend to use the digitally printed piece.

BP: If brands are on the fence, what can help ease their minds before trying out digital?

LI: At Hammer Packaging, we can 3D scan a package and generate a 3D file for review before brands go to a digital press. This file format can easily be shared and help with decision making prior to the investment in digital printing.