Digital printing represents a key growth area for the print industry and offers new opportunities for packaging converters and brands. It is an attractive alternative to conventional printing, and is being used more often on all types of packaging and materials.
Smithers Pira says digital printing is one of the most rapidly growing print categories, and the volume of packaging printed on digital equipment will more than double in the five-year period that ends in 2020. By 2022, the digital packaging market will grow by almost 13% CAGR to reach $22.4 billion.
Trend researchers at Research and Markets say there is a shift from using digital printing technologies on labels, to other types of packaging. Digital printing processes include thermal transfer, inkjet, as well as electrophotography and electrostatic processes.
By 2026, Research and Markets reports that the global market for digitally printed packaging is projected to reach $42.11 billion.
So Many Benefits
Beauty brands are choosing digital printing for a variety of reasons. “Lead times are much shorter, so digital printing allows brands to get products to market faster,” says Bill Nimmer, packaging advisor, Nosco.
Steven Macphail, vice president sales & marketing at Plastube North America, says, “Everything is done on a screen, without producing printing plates or waiting on approvals, so lead times on a typical printing project are reduced by several weeks.”
Maria Jones-Sechrest, at Marrs Printing & Packaging, says that digital printing offers amazing photo quality. “In some cases, it is better than a conventional press. You can’t do metallic inks, but skin tones look beautiful,” she says.
Marrs works with both small and large companies on digital printing projects. Jones-Sechrest says, “Digital printing makes it possible for start-up brands to launch products on a budget, due to low MOQ’s, but larger companies are also utilizing the technology.” She continues, “When launching new products within an existing brand, a company may need samples for retailers.
Digital printing allows them to produce samples, in the actual packaging, without spending thousands of dollars on a full-press run.”
At Stoelzle Glass, which has developed new ways to digitally print on glass, Etienne Gruyez, managing director of Stoelzle Masnières Parfumerie, says, “In our view, digital printing brings speed to market, flexibility and a new range of possibilities.”
Digital printing is a valuable tool for start-up brands and small companies. “The technology allows customers to do short runs faster and at a much lower cost—generally on runs of less than 1,000. We’ve seen competitive numbers on runs of less than 5,000,” says Greg Maze, sales and marketing manager, Digital & Wide Format, Neenah, Inc.
Maze mentions more reasons why digital printing is beneficial. “At the launch or launch development stage, a brand will be able to get market feedback quickly by splitting runs and testing multiple packaging concepts. This is a great opportunity for brands to connect with their shoppers and get real-time feedback as well as shopper preferences for packaging,” he explains.
David Tanyà, decoration expert, Quadpack, also notes that brands are using digital printing to test different design concepts by launching different versions of the same product. “Digital printing jobs are quick and straightforward to set up, so you can switch designs with ease,” says Tanyà. “Plus, the quality achieved nowadays is high enough for masstige and even prestige brands,” he says.
Since digital presses don’t require producing plates, short runs are not cost-prohibitive.
Changes to a design can be easily made, even down to the unit level, by entering variable data into a computer. This makes personalization and customization possible.
Stoelzle’s Gruyez says, “Personalization is a trend. We see more and more, across various industries, that no one wants to have the same things as their neighbors.”
Gregory Grimonprez, technical sales director, Stoelzle Glass USA, explains, “In digital printing, machines can be set quickly and easily. The switch between artwork is also very easy, and doesn’t require fully resetting the machine. For these reasons, a brand can decorate a package in a number of ways during one production run, to create customized packages.”
Quadpack’s Tanyà predicts that as the Millennial generation’s purchasing power grows, so will demand for personalization. He says, “Generation Z will follow hot on their heels.”
Neenah’s Maze agrees, saying, “Millennials value authenticity and are willing to pay for premium if they see a return on value.” Maze notes how Millennials’ interests are so diverse that creating a packaging experience that is targeted, individualized and personalized is key.
Cartons in custom colors for FACE Stockholm
The team at Nosco sees more requests for digital printing, and recently worked with FACE Stockholm. The color cosmetics brand enlisted the supplier to create colorful cartons for its makeup products.
“The brand was looking for a supplier to run a large number of SKUs at smaller quantities,” says Bill Nimmer, packaging advisor, Nosco, who says, “It was important that the product boxes convey the message that it is a color brand.”
FACE Stockholm has about 1200 SKUs, including 160 lipstick colors, and each product has an individual barcode. Nosco’s team says the company produced more than 31,000 cartons for the brand, with industry-leading lead times, printing and quality. The goal was to ensure that the packaging held the same quality, appeal and design to complement the products inside.
“Nosco has been brilliant at getting the exact vision that we have held for the past 35 years,” the team at FACE Stockholm commented.
Suppliers Invest in New Digital Technologies
Labels, which are often flexible plastics, were one of the first materials to utilize digital printing technologies in packaging. The FACE Stockholm project described above shows how useful the technique is for folding cartons. Now, we’re also seeing a greater number of other types of packaging being digitally printed—including tubes, lipstick cases, wood compacts and glass fragrance bottles.
Due to rising demands, suppliers are expanding their capabilities and investing in developing new digital printing technologies. Plastube just invested nearly five million dollars on a new press that will be available in May 2018, making the company the only tube extruder in North America to offer digitally printed, high-quality graphics and imagery.
Plastube’s Macphail says, “Everyone is in the ‘digital’ age now. A designer wants to see what is on their screen replicated on a package, with accuracy. Our new technology allows us to go from the screen to the press.”
After adding the new press, Plastube will be able to offer digitally printed decorations that have a resolution of 700 to 1200 dpi, which is a dramatic increase from its current resolution of 200 to 300 dpi. “Our new technology is ideal for photo-realistic imagery and highly graphic designs.
We will be able to offer a wide gamut of color combinations, and much more detail than ever before,” says Macphail.
Marrs Printing & Packaging, which is based in California, has the only HP 30000 packaging press on the West Coast, according to Jones-Sechrest. “Our press is ideal for a start-up brand, but even our largest customers use both digital printing and conventional printing—there is a time for each. Sometimes they are testing new products; one will take off, and one won’t. The packaging looks identical; they sit side-by-side on the shelf.”
The team at Marrs does everything from start to finish, including cartons, product inserts, and marketing materials for a product launch. “We also do digital UV coatings and digital foil stamping, which is unique to our facility and the West coast,” Jones-Sechrest adds.
Lumson offers a digital printing process that allows for a decoration to be reproduced, perfectly. “You won’t find the variation in color and thickness on each component that is typical of traditional decorating techniques, such as hot-stamping, off-set printing and silk-screening.
“The quality level of our Pop Up technique is very high,” says Federica Bonaldi, marketing director, Lumson. (More about Lumson’s Pop Up Technique is below.)
Stoelzle Glass now offers expanded customization and decoration capabilities, as a result of improvements in digital technologies over the past few years. “There have been huge improvements,” says Grimonprez. “We can now offer expanded decoration capabilities, such as 3D printing and texture effects.” (More about Stoelzle Glass’ decorating techniques are below).
Nosco’s Nimmer says the supplier was the first in the world to invest in and install a second HP Indigo 30000 digital carton press, in June 2016. In March 2017, Nosco added a full digital certification on its digital carton press. “This made us the first fully-certified GMI print facility in the U.S. for digital and conventional cartons,” says Nimmer.
The team at Quadpack is busy “playing with possibilities” at its Impressions decoration plant, where the company has invested in an industrial printing machine that can print on both flat and slightly irregular surfaces. “We plan to make further investments this year, including in a digital printing machine for cylindrical surfaces,” says Tanyà.
Tanyà says that digital technologies are evolving quickly. “Every year, new machines come out that print faster and with better quality. Currently, the focus is on developing injection heads that can print with greater precision and speed and thereby approach the finish of screen-printing in terms of small lettering,” he explains.
Epson often works with smaller companies to provide in-house digital printing solutions.
Smaller brands often choose Epson’s SurePress, the company says. “It is ideal for a small company to have the capability to produce custom labels economically—and quickly. Our digital system can be easily incorporated into any existing printing system,” explains Mike Pruitt, SurePress product manager, Epson. He adds, “Color accuracy is extremely important to any brand, especially in the beauty industry. Our ink colors coordinate with standards, and they are spot-on.”
Neenah, a leader in custom global packaging, offers a selection of digital-ready premium packaging materials in the most popular digital print sizes. “We were one of the first papermakers to enter the digital printing market and our products are known by printers worldwide for their certified superior digital print performance and sustainability,” says Maze.
Neenah’s Universal Digital finish is compatible with all of the digital presses that are popular with packaging printers. “For instance, HP Indigo, Xerox iGen and Kodak NexPress Brands can confidently specify Neenah for digital printing applications,” says Maze. We also help make short-run printing projects more efficient by providing free, downloadable, short-run digital die lines,” he says.
Special effects are some of the most exciting developments in digital printing capabilities, according to Maze. “For example, HP Indigo’s white ink capability affords countless creative opportunities. We see the white backdrop used as a foundation for color images on colored paper, or to add a contrasting white on a black background,” says Maze. “Digital spot gloss and matte printing techniques add sophisticated elements to colored, textured papers” he adds.
Lumson’s Pop-Up Technique
Lumson developed a digital printing process called the Pop Up Technique, which it demonstrates on its lipstick range (shown below). “We named it for the pop-up effect that this kind of decoration gives on the surface of the pack,” says Bonaldi.
Each lip color in a collection can be decorated with a unique design. The digital printing method is a 4-color process that allows for printing complex designs with multiple colors. such as photographic images. Three of the lipstick cases shown in the photo were decorated using this technique.
“Through Pop Up, plus a 4-color process, we can obtain an unlimited scale of colors—with the exception of shiny gold and silver,” says Bonaldi. The team at Lumson can also create an embossed effect by applying a thick, clear glossy or matte finish. “The effect is very nice, from both an aesthetic point of view and to the touch,” says Bonaldi.
Decorating Glass, Digitally
Stoelzle Glass has the ability to decorate glass digitally. The technique can make a glass bottle resemble marble, or wood, by printing these textural effects. “3D printing allows us to get some real thickness in the decoration,” says Grimonprez, of Stoelzle Glass USA.
The process is ideal for a fragrance bottle with flat surfaces. “Minimum runs are 5,000 pieces, out of which each item can be unique,” says Grimonprez. “Plus, there are no restrictions in terms of the number of colors in the artwork—this is the beauty of digital printing,” he adds.
The team at Stoelzle has worked to perfect its process. “Once a design is done, an additional protective spray, over the ink, is not needed,” says Grimonprez. “Our inks are 100% compatible with fragrances,” he adds.
Stoelzle Glass prints designs at high-resolution in CMYK. The company also offers 3D digital printing. “We can give a bottle a textural effect,” says Grimonprez. “By multiplying the passes, we can raise the thickness of the decoration. This is what we call 3D ink-jet,” he says.
One brand in the U.S. recently partnered with the supplier on an upcoming launch, to give a bottle a hand-painted look. Grimonprez says several more fragrance projects are currently in development.
Printing on Wood
Quadpack’s Manufacturing Division includes the Technotraf wood factory and a decoration plant called Quadpack Impressions, where the company experiments with digital printing on uneven surfaces—and that is no easy task. “We have been printing on uneven wooden surfaces with spectacular results,” says Quadpack’s Tanyà.
The supplier invested in an industrial digital printing machine that perfectly handles printing on both flat and slightly irregular surfaces. “We plan to make further investments this year, including in a digital printing machine for cylindrical surfaces,” says Tanyà
Quadpack says it is able to achieve beautiful and challenging decorations as a result of teamwork. “Our experience with wood really sets us apart from the competition. Combine our expertise in digital printing with Technotraf’s wood finishing know-how and the ideas of Quadpack’s design team, and what you end up with is truly spectacular,” says Tanyà. “That’s when we effectively become a design factory,” he adds.
Digital Deco with Foil
Kurz, long known for its foil decoration for primary and secondary packaging, says it has recently invested in developing new materials, processes and techniques that are in line with trends. “Our reputation as innovators has followed us into the digital realm. Our digital capabilities expand the possibilities of design and marketing, and can even help with anti-counterfeiting measures,” says April Lytle, marketing coordinator, Kurz Transfer Products, L.P.
Kurz offers two digital solutions: Digital Metal, which is for labels and sheet-fed digital foiling decoration; and Digital Heat Transfer, for primary packaging.
“Digital Metal is a foil we’ve produced that works with our DM LINER machines,” says Lytle. It is for secondary packaging, such as cartons. Kurz has partnered with Brandtjen & Kluge, Inc. to help service and distribute DM LINER machines.
Lytle explains, “The foil, and its application process, offers variable data and images, smaller print runs, less set-up time and cost—just like the traditional benefits of digital printing.”
Lytle explains that Digital Metal is functional for both sheet-fed and web-fed environments, as the machines offer a few different configurations to meet the needs of different print environments. Such configurations include stand-alone machines adhering foil to either toner or UV ink, or units that work in a narrow web set-up. “The foil is applied first and can then be overprinted for an effect similar to cold foil upon completion,” says Lytle.
The supplier’s Digital Heat Transfer process is the same in application as a traditional heat transfer decoration, according to Lytle, but with the added benefits that digital printing offers, including variable data, clean image definition and high-resolution images.
The decoration method offers excellent abrasion and chemical resistance, according to Lytle, while opening the doors to expanded design capabilities for primary surfaces. The product is manufactured in the supplier’s Charlotte, NC location. “This makes the turn-around expedited compared to overseas decoration options,” says Lytle.
More Innovation to Come
Suppliers agree with the latest market forecasts, and say the demand for digital printing is sure to grow. “If you remember your first inkjet printer and how much it has evolved in terms of speed, quality, etc... We will soon see the same thing happen with digital printing,” says Stoelzle Glass USA’s Grimonprez. “New digital technologies are continually in development, to keep up with our customers’ creativity,” he adds.
Nosco’s Nimmer says that as digital printing technologies continue to evolve, its team will continue to develop new techniques and processes. “We’re currently working with premium white inks, which have been helpful in achieving a truer white with fewer hits of color,” he explains.
At Neenah, Maze says, “As brand owners and designers experiment more with digital printing for packaging, they’ll continue to push the boundaries of what’s possible.”
Quadpack’s Tanyà says beauty brands might soon have more possibilities in digital printing methods, as suppliers work on delivering solutions to the current challenges of using the technology. “Methods that provide greater ink adherence are important to develop. We must also be able to improve the cost and the look of digitally printing on cylindrical surfaces,” Tanyà explains.
“Once we, as an industry, cross these hurdles, the possibilities will be endless.”
Kurz’s Lytle says that customization and the need for smaller production sizes will continue to grow considerably to meet the market and consumer trends.
“Personalized packaging solutions combined with an enhanced consumer experience through interactivity will be required for brands to set themselves apart,” Lytle says.
Maze adds: “We’re going to charge into the digital age much faster from this point on—to captivate new generations.”