Who's Getting Into Packaging? The opportunity may be bigger than you might think!
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Who's Getting Into Packaging? The opportunity may be bigger than you might think!

Have you considered getting into the package printing business? If so, you're not alone. Today, many digitally savvy, color- proficient printing businesses are seeking to profit from the growing demand for shorter runs of customized labels, folding cartons, corrugated boxes and flexible packaging.

By Eileen Frisch

Different types and sizes of digital package printing equipment are being developed for everyone from retailers, e-commerce startups and small print shops to multi-national packaging companies that print millions of packages for global consumer products manufacturers such as Procter & Gamble and L'Oreal.

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  • Industrial digital printing equipment is designed to fit into workstreams that already use offset, screen printing, flexographic or gravure presses to print millions of packages and labels. Over time, some of the volume currently produced on analog presses will shift over to the industrial digital presses from EFI, HP, Landa, Durst, Fujifilm, Screen, Xeikon, Xerox, Konica Minolta, Epson and Kodak.

    Compact and speedy, single-pass inkjet printing systems are being developed for smaller manufacturers who prefer to print packaging in house. These systems also can be used by print-service providers who want to offer package and label printing services to the same brand owners who already order signs, displays and marketing materials. Some of the companies making smaller systems for digital package printing include Xante, New Solution, Affinia Label, EFI and Epson.

    To help make sense of a l l the hype surrounding package-printing opportunities today, let's review the packaging industry and why it is growing in some exciting new directions. Then, we'll highlight some of the companies that have purchased different types of digital printing equipment for packaging operations.

    Packaging Basics
    Just like wide-format printing, package printing is an enormous, tremendously diverse field. Packaging can include everything from corrugated shipping boxes and folding cartons to flexible pouches, cans, bottles and labels.

    Getting into the packaging business involves more than simply buying a printer, software and materials. You need to learn more about how packages are designed, proofed and finished and how to choose the right materials for how the package or labels will be used.

    While packaging is valued as a critical element of marketing, that is not its sole function. Packaging is engineered to meet criteria such as: preserving the flavor and freshness of food, preventing spoilage and contamination of beauty and healthcare products, protecting fragile items during shipment, minimizing shipping costs, and conserving shelf space.

    Printing on the inside of a box can add to the experience of opening it. This box was part of Zappo's "I'm Not a Box" campaign that encouraged shoe buyers to find creative ways to reuse their boxes. Photo: Business Wire, Zappos.com

    The graphics, coding and text printed on labels and packages are designed to catch the attention of buyers, convey information in accordance with government regulations, track the location of the product and validate the authenticity of the product.

    Labels that convey product information, safety information or brand identity can easily be applied to all different types of packaging, including bottles, jars, bags and rigid boxes. But labels also must be designed to withstand how the product will be displayed, shipped and used.

    Package and label printing have long been the exclusive domain of high-volume converters equipped with flexographic, gravure, screen printing and offset presses, as well as specialized finishing equipment for die-cutting, folding, gluing and laminating. For high-volume, mass- market products, analog package and label printing will continue to be the most cost-effective processes.

    But today, there's a growing demand for shorter runs of all types of packaging. And not all this demand is coming from manufacturers of consumer packaged goods (i.e., the products on store shelves). Some demand is coming from companies who previously couldn't afford brand packaging, including e-commerce startups, small, local businesses and event planners. Digital printing is opening the packaging market to millions of new customers.

    Bud Light's NFL-team-themed packaging has helped raise awareness of the ability to customize mass-produced products for different regions of the US. To promote consumer engagement, each can features Snapchat Snapcodes. When consumers use Snapchat to take photos of the Snapcodes, they unlock a chance to win Super Bowl tickets along with an interactive Bud Bowl-style game and team-specific Snapchat filters. (Photo: PR Newswire, Bud Light)

    Packaging Trends
    The demand for packaging is growing partly because of population growth. But packaging is also affected by changes in lifestyles, values and retailing. For example, here are just a few trends to consider.

    Single-serve packages. Smaller, single-person households combined with our "on-the-go" lifestyles are reducing the demand for family-size packages and boosting demand for single-serve or travel- size packages.

    Micro-brands in specialty foods and health and beauty products. "The market for consumer products has been in a state of upheaval in recent years," wrote Amy Feldman in Forbes Magazine (February 28, 2017). "Upscale Millennials expect their packaged food and beauty products to be healthier and organic, without the toxins and chemicals that previous generations accepted for lack of choice. They're willing to pay more for those healthier products and they aren't loyal to big brands." She says this trend has opened a gap for entrepreneurs with fresh ideas for specialty foods and health and beauty products.

    Private equity firms such as Alliance Consumer Growth (ACG) specialize in helping small consumer products startups scale up and become attractive targets for acquisition by large companies such as Hershey, S.C. Johnson and Coca-Cola. Representatives from ACG visit stores to discover which micro-brands are gaining visibility through professional packaging and in-store displays.

    Subscription boxes. Subscription boxes are curated collections of products a company thinks you might like. They are shipped to you on a monthly or quarterly basis, relieving you of the chore of visiting a physical store or sifting through limitless choices online. Subscription boxes give e-commerce entrepreneurs a more predictable, steady stream of income and allow consumers to discover and sample young micro-brands.

    The blog MySubscriptionAddiction.com tracks more than 3,000 subscription box services for everything from beauty and food products to pet supplies, apparel and baby gear. Big name retailers such as Amazon, Macy's, Target and Walmart have a l so started subscription-box services.

    With subscription boxes, the shipping box may be the first tangible representation of the e-commerce brand. The quality of the packaging can have a big impact on customer loyalty.

    When a gardener and a landscape architect launched the True Wild Botanics line of plant-based skin-care products, they chose to use reusable and recyclable packaging. (Photo: PR Newswire, True Wild Botanics)

    Reusable packaging. Today, many consumers shun products with excessive packaging in favor of packages that can be reused or recycled.

    Frequent changes in label information. Some changes in label content are dictated by updates in government regulations. Other revisions reflect consumers' desire to buy "cleaner," less-processed food with more natural ingredients and fewer chemicals.

    Connected packaging. Brands are using augmented reality technologies to bring packages to life through related videos, images and documentation. The Digimarc-HP Link solution enables consumers to scan any area of a package with a smartphone to see additional information. Unlike QR codes, which can affect the look of the graphics, the codes are embedded in the print and invisible to the naked eye. Some codes are designed to promote sharing on social media.

    HP has taken a lead role in helping the public and mass-market consumer brands recognize that customized or regionalized packaging is feasible for runs that include millions of packages.

    As custom packaging becomes a popular tool for both online and offline marketing promotions, the demand for short-run packages will continue to grow.

    Users of Digital Packaging Equipment
    To meet the growing demand for all types of packaging, printing equipment manufacturers have been developing more automated hybrid and digital printing systems that will make it faster and easier to meet many different run lengths of corrugated shipping and display boxes, folding cartons, flexible packaging and labels.

    According to HP, about 1,700 HP digital printers are currently used for label and packaging printing around the world.

    Fujifilm is developing both digital presses and hybrid systems that combine the variable-data capabilities of digital printing with offset, flexo and screen printing presses. Esko, a leading developer of packaging design and automation software, has also been active in making flexographic printing systems for packages and labels more efficient.

    Digital package printing equipment is used by label and packaging converters, print-on-demand e-commerce firms, sign and display graphic producers, digital printing shops and commercial printing firms. And of course, a lot of label and package printing equipment is designed for use by the product manufacturers themselves.

    Label and packaging converters and contract packagers. These companies already use offset, flexo or screen printing equipment to serve major manufacturers of consumer packaged goods. Contract packaging companies not only design and manufacture all components of a package, they also fill the packages with product and ship them to the specified distributors. Contract packagers manage huge warehouses and manufacture ancillary items such as Styrofoam inserts or wood pallets.

    Digitally-printed shrink sleeves enable bottles to be used for short-term causerelated promotions. The makers of Smirnoff vodka used limited-edition "Love Wins" bottle packaging for No. 21 vodka to support the Human Rights Campaign for the LGBTQ community. No two bottles were identical. Each bottle featured different images of people photographed by San Francisco-based photographer Sarah Deragon. Couples were invited to submit their own photos for inclusion on bottles for the 2018 campaign. (Photo: PR Newswire, Diageo plc)

    Complete Design and Packaging (CDP) in Concord, North Carolina, was the first company in the United States to install the EFI(tm) Nozomi C1800 ultra-high-speed, single-pass LED corrugated packaging press. CDP offers high-end flexo and litho lamination corrugated printing for retail packaging applications. The packages CDP produces are on the shelves of The Home Depot, Sam's Club and other big-box stores throughout the Southeast.

    CDP had been using a multi-pass flatbed inkjet printer for package prototyping and short-run digital printing. But after discussing emerging trends with clients and prospects, CDF founder Howard Bertram and his business partner, Scott Sumner, sought ways to help customers create high- end, regionalized/localized and customized packaging. The EFI Nozomi press will enable CDP customers to create short and medium runs of high-impact designs for specific regions or demographics.

    Great Northern Corporation of Appleton, Wisconsin, develops and manufactures creative solutions for packaging, shipping, merchandising and distributing products for industrial, commercial and retail markets. They have operations in five states. To meet rising demand for lower volumes and more versioning of corrugated and packaging and folding cartons, Great Northern is expanding its digital printing capabilities. They installed an HP Scitex 15500 Corrugated Press at their plant in Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin, and an HP PageWide T400S Press in their laminated folding carton production facility in Oshkosh, Wisconsin.

    A company official notes that trends such as reduced volumes and more retailer- specific displays are fueled in part by retailer consolidation, fewer promotions and shorter run lengths. If a customer wants four different folding cartons in stores for the holidays, digital printing is the way to go. With the T400S Press, it doesn't matter if customers want four, 10 or 20 versions of a display. They can all be run consecutively and integrated into the work stream.

    Edelmann specializes in packaging solutions for healthcare, beauty care and consumer brands. With production plants in nine countries in Europe, Asia and North and Latin America, Edelmann produces 5.5 billion packages and leaflets each year. They are a beta customer of the Landa S10 Nanongraphic Printing Press. The Landa S10 will be used at Edelmann's production site in Heidenheim, Germany.

    Company chairman Dierk Schröder says the packaging business is not only about staying in tune with what the market currently wants, but also anticipating future needs.

    Edelmann's technical director Oliver Sattel commented, "Brands are actively looking to streamline their operations to remain lean and efficient, but not at the expense of product quality or price." He believes the Landa S10 not only delivers quality, but also eliminates the need to have money tied up in unnecessary print stock and storage. Creative teams also will like the flexibility digital package printing provides.

    Kaweah Container Inc., a corrugated container manufacturer in Visalia, California, uses an HP PageWide Web Press T400S to digitally pre-print and produce basic corrugate and high-value customized boxes for customers in the food, wine, industrial, agricultural and software industries.

    Founded in 1989, Kaweah Containers says the HP PageWide Web Press T400S provides customers with faster turnaround times and differentiates Kaweah Container from competitors.

    "The industry hasn't experienced a major shift from traditional printing methods in the past 20 years," said Erin Jennings, vice president of operations, Kaweah Container. "We believe digital is the future of the packaging industry and we are excited to be at the forefront of change."

    Dusobox Corporation in Orlando, Florida, designs and manufactures corrugated packaging solutions. They use an HP Scitex 15500 Corrugated Press to produce promotional items, retail packaging, shelf displays, stand-alone displays and to-go containers. The press enables Dusobox to deliver customized packaging with variable imaging and content at the quality and speed-to-market that its most demanding customers require.

    According to a company vice president, "The display and retail industries have been increasingly crowded and the stakes are higher than ever to create truly unique applications." The HP Scitex 15500 Corrugated Press allows Dusobox to produce multiple SKUs and seasonal displays more efficiently.

    Coast Label Company in Southern California is an ISO 9001-certified label converter that specializes in durable products, compliance-intensive specifications and custom solutions. In business since 1970, Coast Label uses a combination of flexo, screen printing and digital printing presses. For example, the company uses a 13-inch Durst Tau 330E digital UV inkjet label press to meet the growing customer demand for full-color labels and multiple versions of even the simplest industrial labels.

    "We see it as game-changing to be able to offer shorter runs with lots of versioning at a competitive price," said Coast Label president and CEO Craig Moreland. He said the company had already been working with variable information such as consecutive numbers and barcodes, but "The Durst Tau further enhances our capabilities in these areas."

    EKKO, a Ukraine-based label-making company, bought a Durst Tau 330 UV inkjet label press to complement its flexographic and screenprinting presses. The company used the Durst Tau to help a new producer of stewed vegetables and fruit products test short runs of new products. If a product didn't perform well in the market, the company wasn't stuck with the high setup costs of producing high volumes of labels.

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    Graphic Image Label in Chula Vista, California, makes short runs of self-adhesive labels for producers of wine, craft beer, gourmet foods, electronics and industrial applications. In business since 1992, they use a combination of screen printing, offset and digital printing technologies. Their digital press is an Epson(r) SureColor(r) L-4033AW inkjet label press.

    The company CEO likes the fact that they don't need a specialized operator to run it: "We often run the press unattended during the night." He said the setup is very fast and requires a minimal amount of substrate, reducing time and waste.

    Digital printing companies. Print service providers that are exclusively digital are selling custom packaging, labels or prototypes online to startup micro brands and buyers of point-of- purchase displays.

    Dishdash Middle Eastern Cuisine is using the benchtop Epson ColorWorks C7500GE on-demand color label printer to produce high-quality color labels at its Oasis Baklava bakery. The printer can output labels at speeds of up to 59 feet per minute. According to Epson's Mike Pruitt, the ColorWorks C7500GE can be a great option for print-service providers who want to enter the label-printing business. (Photos courtesy of Epson America)

    Blue Label Digital Printing in Lancaster, Ohio, is an all-digital shop that specializes in short to medium runs of high-quality labels for beer, wine, specialty foods, spirits, healthy and beauty products and juice. Some labels are for products to be sold in farmer's markets; other labels are for products sold in retail stores. The company uses HP Indigo presses and a Cerm MIS program integrated with Esko's Automation Engine to efficiently process prepress and step-and-repeat imposition for up to 200 pieces of art each day. Some clients have more than 100 SKUs and some jobs can involve more than 60 different labels.

    The Warren Group (TWG) in Santa Fe Springs, California, is an all-digital provider of prototypes and short runs of packaging and corrugated and permanent displays. They recently installed a 3.2 meter EFI VUTEk LX3 Pro LED hybrid roll/flatbed LED UV inkjet printer to complement other digital printing equipment they have acquired during their 20+ years in business.

    TWG President Jim Warren Watts Jr. started out working at the family- owned Frontier Container (originally Watts Container), which made industrial corrugated packaging and brown-box paper. But, he found his passion designing more sophisticated, high-end POP displays. He started TWG to provide graphic and structural design and 3D engineering services to large manufacturers and brokers of packaging and in-store displays. Equipped with the EFI VUTEk LX3 Pro and other flatbed printers, TWG can fulfill small runs from one to several hundred or full-production POP runs up to about 1,500 pieces.

    Springfield Solutions in Hull, England, is a brand management, digital printing and media company. With their expertise in color management and digital printing, they help brand owners ensure the quality and consistency of printed and online visual assets used in all their packaging designs. They also help push the boundaries of what packaging can be - and do - for the brand.

    Their packaging mock-up department is an integral part of Springfield Solutions' brand management services, but the company prints more than just mock-ups. The recently-expanded digital printing division includes three Screen Truepress Jet L350UV inkjet label presses and two HP Indigo presses. The number of labels printed each year has risen from 100 million labels in 2014 to more than 175 million in 2106.

    The HP Indigo 2000 digital press can produce nearly any packaging application, including flexible packaging, labels and shrink sleeves on film or paper. (Photo: HP)

    ePac LLC in Madison, Wisconsin, is focused solely on short- to medium-runs of quick turnaround flexible packaging. The company was built from the ground up around wide-web digital printing, using HP Indigo 20000 presses that can handle media up to 29 inches wide. Some of the markets they have served so far include cheese, cannabis, pet foods, snacks, and naturals and organics. They recently opened a second facility in Boulder, Colorado.

    Retail display and sign companies. Companies that specialize in building in- store displays often print packaging and/ or labels too.

    ColorZone, located in California's wine country, got its start producing wide-format display and signage work. They purchased an EFI Jetrion(r) 4950XLe LED inkjet narrow-web label printer to capture short-run, multi-SKU and just- in-time opportunities.

    "I entered the large-format graphics market without having a background in the business and was able to build a successful offering," said ColorZone president Joshua Feller. He reasoned he could do the same with the wine label market.

    T&T Graphics, of Miamisburg, Ohio, uses flexographic, screen printing and digital printing to make product identification labels and point-of-purchase signage. They bought a Durst Tau 330E label press to handle about 25% of the jobs previously done on the flexographic press and 20% of the work formerly done on their screen printing press.

    "We're using [the Durst Tau 330E] for products like wine bottle labels, the health and beauty industry, and food and beverage, where presentation is, really important," said T&T Graphics, Gary Clark. Because of the durability of labels printed on the UV inkjet press, they also can use it for industrial-hardened labels for product warnings.

    Imagine! Print Solutions is a leading provider of large-scale point-of-sale displays and in-store signage. Their fleet of 65 printing and finishing devices includes offset, screen printing, f lexographic and digital printers. And they will be the first US beta site for the Landa S10 Nanographic Printing Press. The Landa S10 was designed to bring just-in-time mainstream efficiency to the production of folding cartons, POP/POS displays and corrugated boxes.

    Budweiser "America" cans and bottles were available from the week prior to Memorial Day to July 4, 2017. The limited-edition camouflage aluminum bottle refelcts the brand's long-standing appreciation for the men and women of the U.S. Armed Forces. Some of the proceeds from sales of the America-labeled products were donated to Folds of Honor. (Photo: PR Newswire, Anheuser-Busch)

    "Nanography is the first digital printing solution with the format sizes and speeds that will let us migrate our applications away from offset," said Imagine! Founder Bob Lothenbach. He believes the reduced setup costs and improved turnaround times will bring substantial growth to their business.

    Restaurants, Food Producers and Retailers. For certain types of retailers, it might make sense to use digital printing equipment to print custom labels and packaging right in the store. For example, personalizing a bag of candies or baked goods could become part of the customer experience when visiting a brick-and-mortar store.

    Dishdash Middle Eastern Cuisine is a family-owned restaurant with locations through the San Francisco Bay Area. After Dishdash acquired the Oasis Baklava bakery, they bought an Epson ColorWorks C7500GE benchtop on-demand color label printer. They want to save money on labels and be able to customize their labels in accordance with the state's rules and regulations.

    A coffee roaster/retailer in the US bought the Affinia L801 Color Label Printer to reduce some of the headaches of outsourcing their label printing. Because the company has a large variety of flavors and adds new products each month, it had become difficult to manage the purchasing and inventorying of all the different labels. To avoid set-up fees, shortages and delivery delays, they decided to bring label printing in house. They print 4,000 to 5,000 full- color labels per day as needed and save about 20% by not outsourcing labels.

    RIFFS Smokehouse sells ready to reheat packages of slow-smoked meats. Their food labels have to withstand both the cold of the freezer and heat of the microwave. They bought a Memjet-powered Afinia Label L801 Color Label Printer so they could control the type of media they used and decrease the cost per label. Because the L801 can complete print 500 labels in less than 5 minutes, it keeps up with spikes in the consumer demand.

    Screen Printing Firms. Industrial grade digital-printing systems for applying text and graphics directly to bottles, cans and three-dimensional containers are being developed. Most of these devices will be used either by the product manufacturers themselves or established contract decorators who are equipped to handle glass bottles or three-dimensional objects.

    For example, Decotech, a leader in using screen printing, pad printing and other processes for glass-bottle decorating, has developed a proprietary digital printing process designed to pass the most stringent industry tests.

    With the Serom Digital Patternware inkjet operation on the Durst Tau 330 inkjet label press, label designers can add three-dimensional textured effects. The textures are applied simultaneously with the main label printing on the Durst Tau. (Photo: Durst)

    Getting Started
    Like garment printing, package printing is an attractive niche for printing companies because it is unlikely to be replaced by digital communications. And like garments, every person buys multiple packages each year.

    According to a Markets and Markets report, digitally printed packaging is expected to grow from $11.42 billion in 2016 to $42.11 billion by 2026. Labels will comprise the largest segment of this growth because they can be used for sequential barcodes and numbering and variable test, titles and graphics.

    But digitally printed packaging is expected to remain a fraction of overall market for at least the next 10 years. The total global market for printed packaging was about $120.02 billion in 2016 and is expected to reach about $192.75 billion by 2026.

    At PRINT 17, Harvey Levenson, who wrote the white paper "The Lure of Digital Packaging: A Printing Industry Growth Area," said a lot of package printing that had been done in China will be coming back to the United States. Even if prices are lower in China, brand owners don't want to deal with issues such as long lead times, freight charges, color inconsistencies and the wasted inventory and plate charges due to changes in regulatory requirements.

    Levenson advised commercial printers to start with labels or folding cartons first, because the substrates are more paper-like and less complex than film.

    Stewart Bell, president of the package- and label-printing equipment company New Solution, listed five reasons buyers want digitally printed packaging:

    1. Shorter delivery times
    2. Great print quality
    3. Ability to print shorter run lengths
    4. Less packaging obsolescence
    5. More promotional packaging

    If you're new to printing on folding cartons or corrugated materials, Ball suggested learning more about the properties of the materials so you can recommend the right solution for how the box will be used. For example, how long does the package need to last? Will it be used just once or will it be reused? Will the corrugated box be carried from store to store or packed and shipped?

    Esko has developed software that makes it easier for print-service-providers and sign and display companies to get up to speed on packaging design. For example, their Artios CAD software includes template libraries and tools for designing 3D corrugated packaging, folding cartons and POP displays. Their "Packaging Innovation" blog features a wealth of posts illustrating how the packaging business is continuing to evolve.

    Esko also recently introduced a platform that enables brands to coordinate packaging management with digital management tools - through ideation and creation and digital marketing - until the final product is on the shelf. The solution is designed to reduce the disconnect between those who produce packaging and those who market the packaged goods.

    What Types of Packaging Would Your Existing Clients Use?
    Yes, established converters will continue to serve their existing clients, and some packaging will always be printed in-house. But consider what types of packaging your existing clientele might want.

    All types of businesses use shipping boxes, mailing boxes and labels in their daily operations. And creative packaging can become part of the overall experience at retail, entertainment or education events.

    Through online storefronts such as Packlane, SoOPAK, Paper Mart and Brand in Color, businesses and consumers can now order almost any type of box or carton you can imagine, including custom-printed boxes for photo gifts, T-shirts, awards, pizza, takeout food, wedding favors and trade show giveaways. Some online storefronts are start-up printing companies. Others are affiliated with printing companies that already have extensive knowledge of package design and printing.

    One potential benefit of offering packaging is that companies that outsource package printing tend to come back for more as their business grows. When you become a supplier of packaging to your customers, they may regard you more as a partner in manufacturing and distribution than simply a printing company. And if you continue to show them ways to make their packages more interactive and measurable, they will value you as a provider of creative marketing solutions.

    Right now, a lot of research is underway to make printed labels and packaging even more tactile and eye-catching than they already are. Durst, MGI and other companies now offer systems for adding embossed textures and foils to the surface of labels and packages.

    Ceradrop, an MGI company, is developing machines that can print electronics onto paper and other packaging materials. In the not-too-distant future, instead of using expensive RFID chips on packages, it might be possible to print "chipless" RFID tags onto packages and eliminate the need for in-store cashiers. With RFID capabilities on each package, you could go into a store, put the selected items in your cart and walk out of the store. Your smartphone would read the RFID signals from your packages and process the payments for you. Printed electronics on packaging could also make packages light up as you walk by.

    The possibilities are just beginning to be imagined. Stay tuned!

    Eileen Fritsch is a Cincinnati- based freelance writer. Contact her at eileen@eileenfritsch.com

    This article appeared in the SGIA Journal, September / October 2017 Issue and is reprinted with permission. Copyright 2018 Specialty Graphic Imaging Association (www.sgia.org). All Rights Reserved.

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