Digital print technology does not need a separate plate for each print run — unlike offset and flexo printing. Instead, all colors are printed in a single pass. Not having to constantly replace plates is a big cost and time saver. Printing on-demand has become one of the biggest trends in packaging. However, digital also plays nicely with offset printing and sometimes is necessary for the job at hand.
The global digital printing packaging market is estimated to reach $28 billion by 2024, growing at a CAGR of approximately 11% during 2018-2024, cites a recent Research and Markets report. Inkjet technology dominated more than half of the total market share in 2018, growing at a CAGR of around 16% during the forecast period. Inkjet systems have a certain single-pass system with separate rows of different print heads for each color.
Corrugated packaging is the fastest growing packaging type in the global market, at a CAGR of approximately 12% during the forecast period. Throughout this article are examples of labels and corrugated containers with digital printing that make them stand out with bright colors and snappy graphics. Look at any produce section or end cap display in your local store and you’re sure to find various boxes adorned with digitally enhanced printing.
So how can brand owners, converters, printing equipment suppliers and packaging designers capitalize on digital print for the packaging sector? By staying up to date on the latest print technology and using packaging materials that accentuate the process with a creative and eye-popping outcome. Also, knowing when to use a combination of digital and offset or flexographic.
The Role of Digital Printing
I caught up with Glen Adams, category manager, folding carton for Graphics Solutions Business North America, HP Inc. (hp.com) to get some input on what digital printing has to offer.
Packaging Strategies: How has digital printing moved the packaging market forward in terms of design?
Glen Adams: Having the ability to print one and even multiple designs upfront to prototype is helping drive some innovation. Variable data like Mosaic and Collage are starting to be seen by brands, and we have even seen the brands send RFPs based on these types of unique designs.
What does digital printing offer that other printing methods do not?
Adams: Companies traditionally take the SKUs that come with large bids as loss leaders, but now they can not only make money on the larger SKUs and be more competitive but make money on the shorter SKUs digitally.
Traditional printing method in folding carton is offset printing; digital printing offers the unique ability to print on the substrate with the coating and give a customer an actual piece and not a proof. Also, instead of having to put all your eggs into one basket by choosing a design, the flexibility that digital offers in printing many SKUs and seeing which works and fine-tune as you go is truly game changing.
Are there any new technologies that increase the look or texture of the printed package?
Adams: A couple different areas that you see have effect digital packaging (folding carton). With the addition of laser die-cutting, you can do some very intricate die-cutting with no need for sending out to have a die made. And also with the additional of systems like Scodix you can spot gloss, spot foil and add tactile feel to your carton, with each one being different. Adding embellishments is the key to the folding carton market and their success. Embellishments are all value add!
How about the pros/cons of using digital presses?
Adams: For people new to digital in folding carton packaging, there are hurdles you need to understand, embrace and overcome: Think outside the box. The time to print a job is sometimes compared digitally to what the offset press prints. In all not a fair comparison, as there are many other steps that must be included.
To put things on an even playing field, you need to include total time from start to finish including all steps. This helps customers create a crossover where digital makes sense vs. traditional. With that said, clearly you see where the offset crossover is for digital. There are always exceptions that help drive things to the digital side — such as the ability to run a portion of the job initially to satisfy the immediate need, and then schedule the rest on offset when scheduling allows.
Many customers believe that digital and offset truly work hand in hand. Growing your digital business usually means growth in offset as well. I believe that digital printing can help you run your offset at a higher utilization taking off those jobs that really didn’t fit in the first place.
What do you see in the foreseeable future for digital printing?
Adams: As we are planting the seeds with digital presses today, over the last 5 years in the folding carton space and introducing the concepts to brands about the unique possibilities, I believe you will see excellent growth in packaging leveraging digital presses.
There are so many features and abilities that many of us have become so accustomed to using over the last 20-plus years. In digital printing, different markets are now ready to be leveraged in the packaging space. Things like web-to-print and automation through JDF and even using tools like HP’s PrintOS are just game changing. There is no better time than today to dip your toe in the water. And the water is warm!
Labels Set the Pace
Digital label and shrink sleeve production is experiencing faster growth from $12.1B in 2019 to $16.5B in 2024, with print volume rising at 9.6% CAGR, reveals a Smithers Pira report.
In a recent article about label trends, Federico D’Annunzio, product owner, Hybrid & Label Printing, BOBST (bobst.com) shared his take on digitally printed labels. “The label sector has been an early adopter of digital printing. Digitally printed labels have boomed in recent years, driven by market demands for shorter runs, more customized packaging, greater sustainability and the need to help products stand out even more.”
The rest of the packaging market is following. He says Bobst has seen a tipping point in the industry with more new narrow web digital press installations than flexo presses. Beyond labels, analysts expect a strong growth in digital for corrugated, folding carton and flexible applications.
D’Annunzio adds that the capabilities of digital printers and presses are increasing, but such breakthrough innovations can take more time than expected to become mainstream. “Digital represents an entirely new way of processing jobs, from the file to the end product; and step-by-step, it will enable companies to reach new frontiers in quality, productivity and overall workflow.”
In addition, sophisticated software is enabling more of the design, approval and marketing process to be completed using the digital product. This will change the working dynamic between converters/printers and brand owners, as they will share a more digitized cooperation throughout the workflow.
Being able to produce results with maximum flexibility and to an optimum economical value will give digital printing a huge foothold in all sectors.
For labels, D’Annunzio believes we will likely see a better fit in the industry between conventional flexo, Extended Color Gamut (ECG) and digital printing technologies, all used optimally to meet the increasing demand for labels.
A New Community
The BoxMaker (boxmaker.com) is one of the founding members of a new digital print networking group established by HP, called Digital Pack. The networking group for corrugated packaging and display was formed to help develop stronger collaboration between HP converters and global and regional brands. The association consists of corrugated converters in North America and Western Europe that own and operate high-volume HP PageWide corrugated presses. The network plans to expand to other regions in the future.
The goal is to enable brands to succeed through digitally printed graphics packaging and displays, empowering them with speed, efficiency and agility for successful marketing and supply chain outcomes. The association meets regularly in North American and European locations to pursue and develop new ways to add value to brands’ corrugated procurement experiences.
The BoxMaker plans to continue investing in the latest digital print technologies that amplify its clients’ people, processes, and brand. The company currently operates the Pacific Northwest’s highest-capacity Digital Production Center, featuring three corrugated presses, one narrow-web digital press for labels and folding cartons, as well as digital finishing with fully automated CAD cutting tables.
Digital Print Is Not One-Size-Fits-All
How great is the potential for digital print in packaging? It all depends on who you ask.
To some people, digital print has an almost mythical status. They believe it will eventually deliver whatever brands, retailers and consumers really want, when they want it, where they want it. They also think digital will do this more easily than traditional print, with limited environmental impact and at the “right” cost. In other words, digitally printed graphic packaging has the potential to be nothing short of a magic wand.
For other people, especially those who have already adopted digital, the view is more pragmatic. They realize that digital really does hold great promise, but they are also realistic about what it can deliver, especially in the short term.
Ultimately, digital print can — and must — address a larger portion of the overall packaging market, but it will never be a one-size-fits-all. Just as there are multiple analog print methods to suit a range of needs, there will be a bifurcation of digital. Some existing digital solutions will continue to address needs at the highest end quality and price points. Newer solutions providing “good enough” print quality and other added value across the supply chain, while achieving a better cost structure, will allow for significant volume digital printing. This paradigm is especially well-suited to high-volume, cost-sensitive segments such as fast-moving consumer goods.
At Georgia-Pacific (gp.com), we envision digital print playing a key role in meeting our customers’ diverse packaging needs. We have already invested heavily in efforts to disrupt our own supply chain in the display and corrugated space. Why? To meet our customers’ needs — overall process simplification, short-run printing (as well as longer run), faster turnaround times and compelling graphics.
Meeting such a wide range of needs has required deployment of both digital sheet and roll presses. We use our digital sheet press in support of the display market, while we address the broader corrugated packaging space (including displays) using digital preprint via a T1100 roll press. Digital preprint delivers the value of traditional preprint: high quality graphics, high volume capabilities and better economics with the flexibility, creative versioning, short-run/lower minimum order quantity and fast turn-around time of digital in one compelling package.
Georgia-Pacific believes that we must bring the right print solution — analog or digital — to the customer to address their specific needs. Determining the right fit for the customer’s need continues to be a bit of a journey for us all.
Robert Seay is director of digital business ventures for Georgia-Pacific, which includes Hummingbird digital packaging solutions. Hummingbird fulfills a full range of customer needs, from specialty versions to everyday large runs and beyond. The company provides 110-inch wide web capability, which delivers high-quality digitally printed corrugated packaging. For more information visit gphummingbird.com.