Disruptive technology: Digital print finds its niche

Personalized messaging on primary packaging and e-commerce corrugated boxes are two major areas where brands are using digital printing to engage consumers.

By Jim Chrzan, VP Content/Brand Strategy, PMMI Media Group


From dog treat pouches that feature a picture of your pooch to a personalized bottle of vodka celebrating your 21-year old daughter’s birthday, customizable messaging on packaging is driving bold brand owners to embrace digital printing. All package types--flexible, rigid, metal, cartons, and labels--are being employed in the digital revolution.

Similarly, the challenge of e-commerce corrugated boxes meeting the lofty goal of replacing the store shelf and still delivering the branding experience is another prime driver for adoption of digital printing.

Many convertors, large and small, have bought into digital, but there is a long learning curve (from 8 to 18 months) and the market is just beginning to see some spectacular results that challenge norms and ignite the brand owner’s imagination. Many of these success stories were embedded in presentations at Smithers Pira’s Digital Print for Packaging 2018, in Schaumburg, IL June 4-5.

“The global packaging market was $851 billion dollars in 2017,” says Sean Smith from Smithers Pira, ”and is expected to reach a trillion dollars by 2023.”

Some of the more traditional print markets are not forecasting such robust growth. No wonder a large number of digital print technology suppliers are targeting the packaging marketplace. Smith said there were no less than 78 ink jet vendors for the label market at last year’s Label Expo in Brussels, Belgium. After achieving success in ceramic tiles and dishware, direct mail, and more traditional markets, digital suppliers are now trying to get packaging stakeholders to embrace the disruptive technology and rewrite the marketing textbooks to meet changing consumer needs.

The technology is now there to deliver high-speed, consistent results at economical prices. And developments are still progressing rapidly, allowing marketeers to achieve result they could not have dreamed of even a year ago.

These include an expanded gamut of inks, CMYK + Orange and Violet, for instance, that can deliver “close to” the most difficult brand Pantone spot colors. As one speaker said, digital does not match a color, it simulates a match. But once approved, digital ink jet will deliver with 100% consistency as long as the substrate is correctly profiled. A change in substrates dictates a new “formula."

Big flexo press manufacturers are now offering hybrid machines that include a digital component for variable data and personalization. The best of both worlds, the flexo press delivers deep, rich ink coverage at lower ink cost, and economizes on the more expensive digital ink coverage for personalization.

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