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Archive for the ‘Box Printing’ Category

Custom Printing: Anatomy of a Product Packaging Box

Wednesday, September 6th, 2017

When going through some piles of paper in the house, I came upon an unfolded tea box my fiancee had disassembled. Flat and all misshapen, with tabs jutting out in all directions, it looked like a curiosity to me. After all, I had seen it months before as a three-dimensional solid and as a product, in some ways more real as a box than as a collection of tea bags (since I buy the groceries but don’t drink tea very often).

This got me to thinking about the nature of boxes and product packaging in general.

First of all, the very best news: Print packaging is a huge growth industry in the realm of commercial printing. Therefore, the more you and I know about it, the more marketable we will be. In addition, it is a growth industry for digital custom printing as well as for offset printing, due to the print market’s penchant for short runs and quick turn-arounds.

The Anatomy of the Box

Take apart a carton. It doesn’t have to be a tea carton, as long as it starts as a rectangular solid with top and bottom flaps. The first thing you see (once it is completely flat) is that it is printed (usually) only on one side. It also has a number of die cut flaps of various lengths going in various directions. If you look even more closely, you’ll see that the flaps are either very long (these comprise the top and bottom of the box) or shorter than the others but of equal length to one another (these are the flaps that fold over, on the top and bottom opening of the box, but underneath the much longer flaps just noted).

If you flip the flat box over, you’ll see all of the custom printing work (some of it positioned at right angles for the top and bottom of the box), plus flaps printed only with printer’s color bars (you’ll never see these once the box is closed). Other flaps have no printing (these are either interior flaps or the side glue flap). The side glue flap has a strip without printing. This is where the hot-melt glue goes to attach the side of the box once it has been wrapped around into a 3D rectangular solid.

As confusing as this sounds, you can easily wrap the flat box around, insert the flaps, tape or glue the side flap, and you’ll have the complete package again. This is called box conversion. A flat sheet is “converted” into a 3D container, a product in and of itself.

Needless to say, type, art, and fold placement are all very important in the production of the box. If the scores for the folds are in the wrong place, if the die cut edges of the flaps are mis-positioned, or if the text and solid bars of color printed on the box are not in the right place (including the bleeds), the converted box won’t look right. Instead of promoting the sale of the product, it will detract from it.

And that is really what it’s all about. The sale. The box is a container, granted. It’s much easier to protect a handful of tea bags in another bag within a box than all scattered in a pile of teabags. But if there were no packaging, the brand producer would have missed an opportunity to promote the qualities of the tea and the lifestyle it reflects. That’s really what the marketing copy and visuals are about: positioning the tea as a vital part of an active lifestyle, or a crunchy-granola alternative to coffee for the bluejean intellectual. The box with its printed adornment does all of this. Otherwise, it would be acceptable for all such boxes to just be labeled “tea” or “food.”

Printing Options

Packaging is often printed via flexography, which is a relief printing process in which raised portions of rubber commercial printing plates imprint the image on the chipboard (or other, usually lower-quality, grade of paper board) as it runs through the press.

Offset printing can also be used to decorate the box. So can digital printing, but we’ll get back to that. Since the paperboard is flat (and uncrushable, unlike fluted corrugated board), this kind of packaging can be produced in many different ways. I’d also assume that gravure is another option, perhaps for very long runs.

Short Runs

But what about short commercial printing press runs? Marketers like to do short runs these days. Some may be personalized. Others may just be versioned (let’s say for a particular holiday or event) to make the packaging stand out on the shelves. (Product packaging must vie with competitors’ product packaging to catch your attention and sell you the product with its text and graphics.)

Printing these boxes is not necessarily the hardest part of the job. Converting the job (die cutting and assembling the box) also involves a lot of work. Usually metal dies inset into wood flats need to be created to make the boxes (in all but some digital finishing operations). This costs a lot and takes a lot of subcontractors’ time, so it’s really only cost effective for long press runs. (When you spread the cost of die cutting and assembly over a very long press run, the unit cost for finishing drops precipitously.)

But if you’re trying to make a single prototype or a short run of boxes, what can you do? Well now you have options. There are digital machines made by Highcon and Scodix that can (in the case of Highcon) digitally crease, or score, the box flats and then cut them with a laser instead of a metal die cutting rule. And prior to these finishing operations, there is (in the case of Scodix) a way to digitally foil stamp or digitally emboss the paper board used for the box.

For a prototype, this is a dream come true. Think about it. You don’t need to make a metal stamping die for the foil or the embossing. And you don’t need a metal die to cut the box flats from the paper substrate. You can even make one box as a prototype, and if the marketing team has corrections even after that point, you can economically and quickly (days, not weeks) prepare a revised prototype. If that design is approved, you can roll out a short run quickly (again must faster than the traditional way).

Granted, the time comes when the press run is too long for digital (or, rather, there is a cut-off point where it becomes cheaper again to amortize the cost of embossing, foil stamping, and die cutting over a long run using more durable metal dies). Only your printer’s estimating department can figure out the exact cut-off point. Also, it depends on who has the Highcon and Scodix equipment and who has to subcontract the work out. This is new technology. Most printers (I’ll venture to say) do not have this equipment, but it’s worth it to inquire and do research, and perhaps even start a working relationship with a long-distance vendor who does have the equipment.

This is the future of packaging, and packaging (along with labels and large-format printing) will be a major player in the future of commercial printing.

What You Can Learn from This Case Study

  1. Read everything you can lay your hands on about new trends in custom printing. It will help your professional life immeasurably.
  2. Package printing is hot. It may be your future.
  3. Package printing is a 3D process. You are producing a physical object as well as laying ink on paper. It helps to understand the physics as well as the design aspect of the process.
  4. Digital printing and digital finishing will both figure prominently in this area of commercial printing. Digital finishing was a little slow at first, but now it’s catching up in exciting ways.
  5. A trip to a high-end department store to carefully study the boxes in the “beauty” departments, such as the cosmetics counters, will be an educational and productive use of your time. Vendors like Chanel have lots of money and pour it into this kind of product packaging. Close observation will give you design ideas, but it will also teach you about foils, embossing, box construction, etc.

Custom Printing: Shoe Boxes as Promotional Art

Wednesday, March 22nd, 2017

My fiancee and I stopped at a local upscale outlet store this week, a number of times, to collect designer shoe boxes for our autistic students. In art therapy we have been creating small shadow boxes (also known as dioramas), or miniature rooms decorated for Halloween. We’ve had our autistic members combine miniature skeletons (some wrapped as mummies), gauze, paint, Halloween stickers, and any other sculptural elements we could find.

All of that aside, my fiancee kept about four of the shoe boxes for herself—just because she liked them. And as a commercial printing broker and student of custom printing, I found her behavior intriguing. I surmised that:

  1. Product packaging sells product (and is a powerful and persuasive sales force).
  2. Product packaging sells itself. I think people buy in part because they like the feel of the packaging as well as its look, and as well as the look and feel of the product in the box (in this case, shoes).
  3. Based on comments my fiancee made, this is especially true for shoe boxes, since a lot of people store their shoes in the boxes after buying them and bringing them home. So unlike a blister pack that you cut or tear away from a product and then discard, shoe boxes can be an ongoing extension of the “brand.”

Sample Box #1

I just went into the art studio in our home and chose four sample boxes that had not yet been used by our students (the art project was so well received that we’ve offered it in four of our classes over the last few weeks).

Under a good light and with access to a printer’s loupe, I see that the first box has been printed on a thick, glossy cover stock prior to being folded and glued into a three-dimensional shoe box. The exterior walls of the box are covered with purple, red, and dark blue squares and other geometric forms. In contrast, the inside has been printed solid orange. It provides simplicity and stark contrast to the exterior.

If you look closely, you can see that the sides of the box are composed of double walls made from the flat, cover-stock press sheet. The box converter assembled the folded press sheets and hot melt glued sections to produce four vertical sides and a bottom. In the same way, the converter created a smaller box cover.

What We Can Learn from This Sample

I’ve said it in earlier blogs, but closely observing how product packaging goes together, how it is “converted” from a flat press sheet into a three-dimensional product (with its own value) is fascinating, and it casts light on a skilled and often overlooked aspect of “finishing,” the activities that occur after the ink has been laid down on the flat press sheet.

In terms of design, this product packaging shows that bright colors and active geometric imagery will appeal to a certain clientele when selling a certain product. The packaging is not sedate. Then again, it shouldn’t be sedate if the shoes in the box are flashy and upscale.

Sample Box #2

The first thing I notice about the second shoe box is that it is composed of thick gloss text paper laminated to fluted cardboard.

In contrast, the first box is composed of just two layers of thick cover stock with a dull coating (perhaps a dull UV coating). The walls of the second box are much thicker than those of the first box, but the two boxes weigh just about the same. This shows one benefit of corrugated board for product packaging: It is light but durable.

However, there is a marked vertical pattern of the fluted ribs visible on all sides of the box (even through the litho printing paper that has been laminated to the fluting). The ribbing is visible through the solid yellow exterior of the box and the yellow, green, and black interior ink.

Like the first box, you can see that the second box started as a flat sheet, was die cut, and then was folded up into a three-dimensional physical product, held together with glue or with folded tabs inserted into slots.

What We Can Learn from This Sample

Like the first box, the second has a simple design. All images are line art, but they didn’t have to be. Since the press sheets that had been converted into both boxes were either laminated to fluted board (in the case of the second box) or converted into a box without fluted board (as in the first box), offset lithography could have been used for either box.

Why? Because no fluted board would have been in direct contact with the heavy pressure of the offset press rollers.

In contrast, printing directly on fluted board must be done with flexography. This process avoids the heavy pressure of the offset press rollers. However, it also requires simpler custom printing designs.

In terms of design, this particular box shows that kinetic artwork combined with intense primary colors (the yellow of the box exterior) will capture the interest of presumably young, fashion-conscious clientele.

Sample Boxes #3 and #4

These are really two variants on the same theme: minimalist boxes produced on brown fluted board. They are simple, but they are actually quite elegant, and they present less of an “in-your-face” style and more of an “earth-friendly” vibe.

Both boxes (in slightly different ways) have been die cut from single printed sheets of fluted cardboard. Then, using folds, tabs, slots, and hot-melt glue, both have been converted into product packaging.

The first has been printed with both white ink and black ink. You can see with a loupe that the ink film is thin (i.e., not custom screen printing but flexography, the other option for adorning fluted cardboard without squashing the ribs of paper). But this doesn’t make the box look any less attractive, just more functional (i.e., “functional chic”). The short side panel of the box is actually a halftone (lightly inked) of a mountain climber (or camper) holding up a sign with the brand name in large letters. For climbing shoes, this is a much more appropriate approach than the heavy ink coverage and glossy look of the first box, produced on cover weight press stock. Overall, the box design underscores the functional nature of the shoes it contains.

Sample #4, the second box produced on unbleached corrugated board, works in exactly the same way. It has even less adornment than Sample #3: just the logo printed on the four vertical exterior walls of the box (in black and a light, transparent yellow over the uncoated, fluted cardboard), plus the impression in black ink—inside the box—of two shoe soles. It looks like the designer had dipped the shoes in black ink and then pressed them against the interior floor of the box.

What We Can Learn from These Two Samples

Humor sells. The interior of the box, which is most of the custom printing, looks like ink has been tracked in on the wearer’s shoes—or mud has been tracked into the house, if you will.

Simplicity also sells in this age of environmentally friendly, sustainable packaging. For practical shoes, this approach works.

Appropriate treatment (in terms of design, as well as the physical substrate used to build the box) makes the biggest difference. Selling shoes for an evening dance in unbleached corrugated board would miss the opportunity for the box to reflect the tone of its contents. Conversely, putting athletic shoes in a frilly box would dilute the brand, confuse the buyer, and miss the opportunity to align the product packaging with the product it contains.

Custom Printing: A Primer on Corrugated Boxes

Thursday, December 8th, 2016

A client of mine is printing a 6” x 9” perfect-bound textbook with a press run of 3,000. But this article isn’t about her print book. It’s about the cartons in which her books will ship.

It’s easy to forget that the finest custom printing job (whether books, brochures, or whatever) is useless until you get it into the hands of your clients—in pristine condition. Thus, the cardboard box that contains your job and protects it in transit is an especially important component of the entire job.

My Client’s Boxes

Most boxes are a standard size. Whatever that standard size may be (there are a lot of options), it is usually still larger than my client’s boxes need to be. She needs each carton to contain 20 of the 6” x 9” textbooks, and she would like to have descriptive information (the title of the print books, a tagline, an address, and the number of books the cartons contain) printed right on the box—not on a label.

Last year there wasn’t time for the box printing, so she had to make do with self-stick litho labels. They looked ok, but they were not as attractive as information imprinted directly on the cartons.

Why is this important? Because the first thing my client’s clients will see will be the cartons, not the print books. And as a consultant once told me when I was an art director, “Everything that a company sends out is an advertisement for the company.” Back then it was a novel concept. Now it is a concept I live by. And my client lives by it, too. So the guiding rule is that the boxes are advertisements for my client’s company, and they have to look good.

So far, so good. But when the deadline arrived, my client still needed a number of supervisor approvals, and so the art file for the box imprint started to get a little late. I was concerned. Here’s why:

Specialized Work

Cardboard boxes need to be printed and then converted. They can be screen printed. They can be printed via flexography (for simpler art), using rubber printing plates and water-based ink. Or they can have offset litho-printed liners glued to the fluted, interior ribs of the corrugated board. The last option is the most expensive (and it provides the highest quality of printing).

After the flat corrugated board has been printed, it has to be diecut, folded, and glued. At this point the carton printing run exists as flat carton blanks that are strapped together and shipped. Once delivered, the flat cartons can be opened and folded into final boxes by the user. (Imagine the boxes you buy and then assemble when you move to a new house.)

The problem is that very few companies do this kind of work. In most cases, printers need to subcontract box printing and conversion. It’s harder to control subcontracted work, and it often takes longer than expected. In many cases the carton subcontractor has a backlog of jobs from many other custom printing suppliers.

Tight Schedules

In my client’s case, what this means is that printing the entire 6” x 9” textbook run of 3,000 copies will take three weeks, but within this time frame the carton printing and converting will take a full week, or one third of the entire production schedule.

Firm Deadlines

My client needed approvals, so the box art went to the subcontractor a little late. In addition, my client wanted to see a proof. Granted, this is a reasonable request. I would always encourage a client to see a proof. However, a hard-copy proof would have taken extra days for the box converter to ship to my client and for her to return via FedEx. So we opted for a PDF virtual proof.

The proof came via email, but it had to be reviewed and approved. Due to the tight schedule, my client had about forty minutes to get all office-staff approvals she needed. Fortunately she was able to do this. And at the exact close of business that day, I gave the approval to the customer service rep at the printer who was subcontracting the box production. That was too close for comfort.

What would have happened if we hadn’t made the schedule? If the box proof had gone back to the corrugated box manufacturer the next morning, my client might have lost her press slot to another client who had met the quick proof turn-around deadline. My client’s schedule might have been lengthened by a day, two days, maybe more. There’s no way to know. Since many box printing clients skip the proof entirely, then requesting a proof and holding it is a risk.

The Future of Corrugated Boxes

Things are changing in the field. If you read the press about the recent drupa printing trade show in Germany, you’ll see that packaging is a growth industry, and digital printing and converting are improving in leaps and bounds. Even now some vendors are able to inkjet your art right on the box. (The pressure of the offset printing rollers would crush corrugated stock, which is why screen printing and flexography are usually the ways boxes are decorated.) After the inkjet printing step, digital converting can use lasers to crease and cut the cardboard blanks instead of relying on metal dies (rules that take days to manually construct for the die cutting).

What We Can Learn from this Case Study

  1. Box manufacturing takes a long time and requires highly specialized skill. It involves subcontractors that usually require tight proof deadlines. This is not a buyer’s market. So submit your box art early and turn the proofs around immediately.
  2. Read the trade journals and keep abreast of developments in digital printing of corrugated boxes and digital box conversion. It will make your life much easier.
  3. Find out early from your commercial printing vendor whether your corrugated box will require custom work. Even if the price is low, the schedule might be daunting.
  4. Consider labels as an alternative. Your printer can buy standard boxes, and print and apply the labels in his own plant, avoiding any custom work by subcontractors. This may not look as nice, but in a pinch it’s often a good alternative.

Custom Printing: Box Manufacturing

Monday, July 27th, 2015

A commercial printing client of mine just received her job, which consisted of twelve short, saddle-stitched print books in a box. The books are 6” x 9” in format with four-color covers, and the slip case box they fit in is a four-color press sheet laminated to corrugated board.

I asked my client how the job looked when the samples arrived, and she expressed pleasure with the books but regret for the slightly off-center art on the box. She had received one sample of the job. The printer had mailed out all other sets to the address database list my client had provided.

Ouch. Few things bother me more than an unhappy client. So I asked her to send me photos of the box showing the art off center. I then sent these on to the commercial printing vendor who had done the work.

(First of all, I asked my client for photos rather than the box itself so I could immediately communicate with the printer. Picking up the box would have taken time. Sending the box to the printer would have taken additional time. Requesting photos as email attachments was much more immediate.)

A Description of the Corrugated Slip Case

To give you some context, the slip case is a little over three inches wide to accommodate twelve short print books. In the back it is a full 9” high, but this slopes downward in the front to about 6” to afford easy access to the books.

On the sides of the box are the front and back of a print book with text and photos promoting the books in the box (individual chapters from the larger text book). I could see that the covers were not exactly centered and were slightly tilted on the background PMS color. On the front of the slip case box, my client had included the title of the series; a list of the separate, bound chapters it includes; and the company logo (all in reverse type). The vertical axis of this centered list had not been precisely centered on the box panel, and all type was slightly tilted as well.

I could see why my client was not happy.

The Dieline of the Slip Case

To figure out what had happened, I checked the combined dieline/PDF proof of the box. This PDF image showed all paper flaps that would be folded in and glued to fabricate a completed box. It was incredibly complex with all of its flaps and glue tabs. The proof showed the exact placement of the images (front and back covers of the main book) on either side of the box, plus the art for the taller back panel and shorter front panel. I could see where the art should have landed (after printing, laminating, diecutting, folding, and gluing).

The Printer’s Response to the Photos

I want to note here that this custom printing vendor has always been candid with me. He has also always produced stellar products under unbelievably tight deadlines.

Because I trust the printer, I listened closely to his response. This is what he said after doing some research:

  1. Although he could see the lack of precision in the photos of the sample box, the other samples he had checked at the print shop were not off center or tilted. Probably the other 250+ boxes were ok. This was not a guarantee, however.
  2. The (separate) box printer/converter had had problems with the press run and had pulled out (and given to the main printer, my trusted associate) a number of rejects. Some were not that bad. My printer would make these available to my client if she received complaints and needed to send a new box or two to a dissatisfied client (i.e., the end user).
  3. And this was the sobering information the printer offered:

  4. Tolerances for box manufacturing are not as tight as for offset custom printing. Whereas an offset printer might provide a piece with a 1/16” or 1/32” leeway from perfect positioning of a printed element, a box manufacturer might have a 1/8” or 1/4” leeway, which would still be considered acceptable. Why? Because all of the die cutting, folding, and gluing operations will actually magnify and exacerbate the slightest deviation from perfect positioning. The multiple operations needed for box conversion will make a problem worse and worse.
  5. In future box designs, the printer said it would be safer to not place a rectangle (the book cover) in a position that would be obvious if there were any deviation from perfect placement.

Even though I was not happy, I could see the printer’s point. In book printing, this might be like placing a 12pt rule all the way around the perimeter of a book cover. Anything but the most precise trimming of the cover would make the printed rule around the cover look uneven. Since commercial printing is a physical process, and all printing and post printing (or finishing) operations magnify errors, it is wise to design with the limits of both offset lithography and post-press finishing operations in mind.

Granted, some boxes–perhaps most boxes–were closer to perfect, particularly after the box printer had removed the problematic slip cases. It was unfortunate that my client’s sample was not perfect. But just as I could see errors in printed maps becoming worse and worse as the multitude of folds magnified any errors in placement, I could see my printer’s point. But if I had not developed such a long-standing relationship with him over the years, I (and my client) might not have had such faith in his response.

What You Can Learn from This Case Study

  1. For complex jobs, only work with a printer you trust completely. If anything goes wrong, he will be more likely to tell you honestly what is the printer’s fault and what is considered acceptable, or within tolerance, for particular commercial printing and finishing operations.
  2. Expect box printing to not be perfect, due to the number of individual steps in the process that will magnify flaws. Design your printed product accordingly to minimize the effect of any misalignment.

Book Printing: Producing a Boxed Set of Books

Friday, May 29th, 2015

A print brokering client of mine is preparing art for a boxed set of textbooks. The set comprises four original print books with three copies of each placed within a corrugated box sleeve. What makes this particularly interesting is that neither my client nor I produce boxes every day. So it’s a bit of a novelty and a challenge.

To ensure success, there are some things to consider, some specifications to confirm, and some physical characteristics of which to be mindful. In case you also produce boxed sets of print books, you may find this information useful.

First of All, the Books

The books are 6” x 9” translations of government education articles aimed at a high school audience. They will be 48 or 52 pages (two books of each length). The covers will be printed on 12pt. C1S (coated one side) stock, and the text pages of the books will be printed on 80# Finch white opaque text stock. Once printed, the books will be saddle stitched and inserted into the boxes, and the boxes will be shrink wrapped.

First of all, the text and cover pages will be rather thick, which will give a sense of substance to the short books. For longer books, I would have suggested a 70# text stock. Fortunately, the thickness of the paper will make the pages completely opaque, and there will be no show-through from one side of a printed book page to its reverse side.

Now, the Box

Understanding the composition of the books will help in understanding the necessary specifications for the box sleeve. Basically, each box will contain three copies of each of four books, or a total of twelve short, saddle-stitched print books.

Based on the thickness of the cover and text stock, as well as the number of books per boxed set, the book printer has advised my client to create art for a 2.5”-wide slip case. This will allow a little room for the books to be loose (and therefore easily removed from the box).

To make it easy for students and teachers to both remove and replace the books in the box, the front of the box will be only 5” high, and the back will be the full 9” height of the books. This will protect the books but also allow for their easy removal from the box, and the width will allow all twelve books to sit comfortably in the box sleeve.

That said, the book printer also plans to make a paper dummy of both the box and the books to make absolutely certain that everything will fit as planned.

Once the structure of the box has been confirmed, it will be necessary to determine its decoration. The book printer will print 4-color process ink plus one PMS on a 70# gloss litho text sheet, which will be laminated to the white/brown “e-flute” structure of the box (front, back, and sides). The e-flute construction is essentially corrugated board covered with a printed press sheet, so it will be light, durable, and flexible. The printer will also add an aqueous coating to the boxes to protect them, and once the printing and lamination are complete, the printer’s subcontractor (the box converter) will fabricate them into finished boxes. Into these boxes, the printer will then insert the twelve books before shrink wrapping each boxed set and then carton packing it for delivery.

Considerations

A box is more than a marketing statement. It is a physical product, in and of itself. It has a function that must be taken into consideration. It must contain and protect the books and allow for their easy removal and replacement—numerous times. Therefore, I was pleased to learn that the printer planned to make a dummy of the entire set before having the dies made to cut the boxes out of the laminated e-flute prior to their assembly. To not do this would risk error. Making cutting dies costs a lot of money and takes time. Needing to make a replacement set if something is wrong with the dimensions would compromise both the schedule and the budget.

Another thing to consider is the time needed for the box production and conversion. I’m not absolutely certain which portions of the box manufacturing the printer will need to subcontract (other than the die making, and the diecutting and assembly of the box forms), but this will take extra time. Subcontracting always does, and the printer relinquishes some measure of control over the production process due to the need for subcontracting. But in some cases it’s necessary. Very few commercial printing suppliers can do this kind of work in-house on a profitable basis.

What You Can Learn from This Case Study

  1. For complex jobs that might require specialized work, ask your printing supplier about the need for subcontracted labor. Ask how it will affect the price, schedule, and quality of the job.
  2. For a job as precise as a box for a set of print books, have your printer provide you with the exact dimensions (and a drawing) of the art you will need to prepare. (This is called a die-line.) Then, once you have submitted the art, ask for confirmation that it is accurate.
  3. Make sure your printer creates a paper dummy for a job like this. It’s a red flag if he doesn’t (for his sake and yours). Ask to see the dummy of the box and books to make sure it will meet your needs and expectations.
  4. Proof early and often. I’d suggest that you request physical proofs for a job like this rather than just a virtual, or PDF, proof.

Custom Box Printing: Effective Toothpaste Carton Design

Monday, July 22nd, 2013

My fiancee just brought home a toothpaste box, and I said, “Wow. I want that.” That’s effective marketing. It was a deep gut reaction based on an instant bond with the branding. It preceded any interaction with the product. In fact I haven’t tried the toothpaste yet, although I think I know how it will taste.

Effective marketing comes from effective design and effective custom printing. These are the building blocks, if you will. They combine to create that “Wow” moment.

The Toothpaste Box Design

First, let me describe the toothpaste box.

The Corrugated Paper Folding Carton

The technical term for this printed product is a “folding carton” because it is printed flat and then folded and glued into the carton for the toothpaste. This particular carton is composed of two elements: an unprinted corrugated box (about 2” x 2” x 7”) folded into a rectangular solid with the fluting of the cardboard exposed and facing outward, and with all of the fluting positioned diagonally to the dimensions of the box. Unlike most corrugated board, this carton has exposed fluting. Most corrugated board has the fluting sandwiched between two flat paper boards.

The Outer Sleeve

Wrapped around the corrugated board carton is a printed matte “sleeve.” It covers all four sides of the corrugated carton. However, it leaves about 3/4” on either side exposed, so you can see the diagonal fluting of the inner box. The “wrap” or “sleeve” is printed in earth tones.

Purpose of the Inner Fluted Box

In my opinion, the folding carton for the toothpaste gives an organic “feel” to the piece by means of a tactile fluted box (pliable and a little rough to the touch with its diagonal ribbing). What I find interesting is that the corrugated inner box achieves this organic feel not through any custom printing but through the simplicity of the fluted paper, its color, its texture, and its pattern of diagonal ribbing.

The Graphic Design on the Sleeve

The outer printed sleeve reinforces this organic theme in several ways:

  1. The forest green, beige, and rust brown colors offset-printed on the matte coated sheet provide a subdued and sophisticated, but at the same time simple and organic, feel. The Helvetica typeface for most copy and the corresponding sans serif face of the logo (with its extra tracking between letters) give a contemporary but, again, simple and orderly look to the piece.
  2. The content of the marketing copy reinforces the theme. Words and phrases such as “gluten free,” “fluoride free,” “organic,” “chlorine free,” and “authentic” position this particular toothpaste as a product a prudent, environmentally conscious consumer might buy.
  3. The materials used in the custom printing are “green.” The folding carton copy prominently notes that paper made with 80 percent recycled material went into making the carton and offset-printed wrapper. In addition, instead of using petroleum-based printing inks, the custom printing supplier used more environmentally friendly soy-based inks.

So in the simplest terms, the marketing team made sure the promotional copy, the typeface, the color scheme, the paper, and the custom printing technology all worked together to present this particular toothpaste as an organic, Earth-friendly option for cleaning and whitening teeth.

The Ideal Customer

A savvy marketer envisions an ideal customer and them finds ways to pique his or her interest. One of the key ways to do this is to list the attributes, likes, and dislikes of this “virtual” person. In this case, for instance, the ideal customer might be a 25- to 40-year-old with a desire to protect the environment, and a desire to use healthy grooming products while avoiding chemical additives. Who knows? Maybe he/she even likes kayaking or rock climbing on weekends. Or maybe he/she owns a Subaru with a bicycle rack on top.

With this ideal buyer in mind, a savvy marketer then goes about using ad copy, typefaces, design grids, paper choices, and paper textures (the fluting of the corrugated board, in this case) to create an emotional bond with the potential buyer. If the marketer can use the custom printing and design tools at his/her disposal to elicit from the buyer a sense of affiliation with the values of the brand, the marketer can make the sale.

So here’s to a breakfast of granola and yogurt, washed down with a latte, and then followed with flossing and brushing with this supremely organic toothpaste.

Commercial Printing: High-End Packaging Reflects Artistry and Luxury

Friday, June 22nd, 2012

I’d like to describe the packaging of a straightening iron my fiancee just bought. Perhaps “gush about it” is a better phrase, since this box really impressed me in its design and custom printing work.

This box exemplifies the value manufacturers place on product packaging to sell a luxury item. Depending on the length of the press run, my guess is that the box may have cost several dollars or more to produce each unit. Since it contained a $30.00 professional hair care tool (marked down from over $130.00), the money that went into the packaging was not an inconsiderable portion of the total cost.

The Physical Dimensions of the Box

The box is about 3” high, 12” long, and 6” deep. The hinged box top comes forward, and a flap extending beyond the front of the box snaps shut on the cardboard. Upon close examination, I saw two magnets under the printed paper.

The bottom, back, top, and front are all of one piece, extending slightly beyond an inner box. The cover looks like a case-side produced by a hardcover book printer. Built over thick binder’s board, the cover comprises an outer press sheet with turned edges extending into the inside of the box cover. In much the same way as an endsheet of a case-bound book covers the turned edge paper covering the print book, an additional press sheet covers the inside of the flat iron box cover, extending almost to the turned edges of the exterior paper.

Inside the box is a molded plastic tray for the ceramic flat iron, hair straightening tool. The visible side of the tray is coated in something like a soft-touch UV coating. It ‘s soft and fuzzy, like the skin of a peach.

Finally, there are three, tri-fold brochures in the box, printed on heavy, film-laminated text stock (one in English, one in Spanish, and one in French).

The Custom Printing (Inside the Box)

The interior press sheet, laminated to the cover paper where it folds over the turned edges and extends into the box is printed in a metallic ink in faux zebra stripes. The metallic silver ink stands out against the matte black background. Both inks are very thick.

Initially, I thought this was a sample of custom screen printing. However, using my loupe I saw halftone dots under the black ink. At this point (without knowing for sure), I assumed that the pressman had printed a screen of black and then a second hit of solid black to increase the density of the black ink. Furthermore, I thought he might have done the same with the silver (perhaps a double hit of the ink).

The interior of the innermost box seemed to be a slightly mottled, matte black. I thought it might be flexographic printing.

I also saw where the dull exterior press sheet (maybe 80# text) had been turned over the edge of the box, extending an inch or so into the interior before being glued flat against the binder boards that comprise the box.

The Custom Printing (Outside of the Box)

The outside of the box is matte black (perhaps a double hit of black plus a dull UV coating or varnish). Black metallic foil cut with a die and applied with heat and pressure comprises a text-only design of words related to beauty. The evenness and sheen of the black, hot-stamped words suggest that they are made of foil rather than ink. A similar effect could have been produced with gloss UV coating over a matte black ink, but the intensity of the contrast makes me think this is hot stamping foil.

White, silver, and yellow type and graphics adorn the exterior of the box. The silver is clearly hot stamping foil due to its reflective metallic sheen, but I’m not sure about the yellow. It’s so rich. Maybe it includes some fluorescent ink or some opaque white mixed into the PMS yellow (there are no halftone dots, so it’s not a color build). Or maybe it’s a double hit of yellow. The dull silver zebra stripes are more subdued than the silver type, so I would assume the stripes have been created with ink rather than hot stamping foil.

What Can We Learn from This?

Product packaging is going strong. Even in the midst of a sea change in magazine printing, book printing, and newspaper printing, the sale of product packaging is actually growing.

The flat iron straightening tool was a $130.00 piece of hair stylist’s equipment until it was put in a discount store. The box designer (and the marketing people backing her or him) assumed that a $5.00 (just a stab at the price) box would sell a $130.00 straightening iron. That’s a fair commitment of money as well as design and production time.

My personal belief is that until a material can be invented that will encase products in a screen onto which digitally projected images can be projected, we will have both high-end and low-end product packaging. Tiffany & Co. and other luxury stores will provide shopping bags that are works of art. Even the boxes in the grocery stores containing microwavable dinners will be around for the foreseeable future.

Commercial Printing: Advances in Product Packaging

Thursday, June 7th, 2012

In a world where offset and digital custom printing are struggling for a place among digital-only communications media—such as e-books, Yelp, and Facebook–product packaging work is actually growing.

Advances in Digital Packaging Presses

Until recently, the main focus of digital custom printing within the packaging arena had been custom labels. For flexible packaging beyond custom label printing, the options included offset printing and flexography. However, this has started to change.

The drupa commercial printing trade show highlighted the HP Indigo 10000 (a B2 press, accepting sheet sizes up to 29.5” x 20.9”) that will be ideal for the folding carton and flexible packaging market.

Why is this such good news:

  1. The ability of the press to accept a 29.5″ x 20.9” press sheet allows operators to either produce larger printed products or impose more units on a press sheet. Prior iterations of the Indigo had accepted press sheets closer to 12” x 18”. Accommodating larger press sheets will allow HP Indigo to potentially compete head to head against sheetfed offset presses.
  2. Sustainability of both product and packaging is a deciding factor for many people when purchasing consumer goods. The ability to produce more environmentally sound packaging via digital custom printing is a major selling point, particularly in terms of the waste reduction and productivity enhancing qualities of digital printing.
  3. Mass customization of data and images has become essential as well. The new, larger-format digital presses allow for combining packaging with variable data coupons, tickets, and surveys, thus integrating dialogue marketing with product packaging work.
  4. The variable data capabilities of digital presses such as the HP Indigo 10000 allow commercial printing vendors to add individual barcodes or QR codes to packaging. This helps in tracking individual products, coding and controlling inventory, and identifying counterfeit products.

 

Advances in Offset Lithography

KBA, Rapida,Heidelberg—these are the heavy hitters in offset custom printing, and these companies have been expanding their offset printing options for product packaging, as evidenced at drupa and elsewhere.

For instance, one particular press, the Heidelberg Speedmaster XL 105-8+LLYLX3 offers eight printing units and coating units, as well as UV-ink printing capabilities. It allows for in-line printed dull and gloss varnish effects, and the use of opaque white, metallic inks, and substrates such as aluminum coated cardboard.

Why is this such good news:

  1. As with other commercial printing arenas, packaging faces cost, quality, and turn-around pressures. Being able to print multiple design effects in-line speeds up the manufacturing process and controls costs. Increasingly, such eye-catching effects as printing on metallic foils can be produced efficiently, allowing packaging to really stand out on store shelves.
  2. Press automation improves make-ready times, reduces waste, and improves overall efficiency. For instance, the Heidelberg Speedmaster XL 105-8+LLYLX3 includes automated pile changing at the feeder and delivery ends of the press. It is increasingly possible to provide eye-catching packaging faster and more economically.
  3. Many of these packaging presses are hybrid, including both offset and inkjet capabilities. This means that variable data can be added during the press run rather than in a separate pass. Printers can use such capabilities for adding QR codes, barcodes, and other variable data, or for error detection.
  4. Closed loop, electric eye devices constantly monitor the color density on press, making adjustments as needed to match preset color data. This leads to faster throughput and less waste, as well as improved color fidelity.
  5. Presses such as the KBA Rapida include automated process synchronization. For instance, 41” Rapida presses can change plates automatically while the press automatically washes blankets, cylinders, and rollers. Again, speed translates into cost-savings and improved turn-around times.
  6. The production of flexible packaging consumes vast amounts of power due to long press runs and high heat requirements (the ovens for drying ink on web presses, for instance). With energy-reduction in mind, KBA has developed VariDryBLUE, which captures heat from the initial drying units and reuses it for subsequent drying processes, reducing heat, saving energy, and lowering carbon emissions.

 

Product packaging seems to be immune from the encroachment of digital-only media. That said, digital technology has been instrumental in improving the speed, quality, cost, and environmental impact of this custom printing work.

Custom Printing: Drupa Highlights Future of Printing

Thursday, May 31st, 2012

Wikipedia defines “bellwether” as “any entity in a given arena that serves to create or influence trends or to presage future happenings.” In the arena of offset and digital printing, this word fits drupa perfectly.

drupa (spelled with a lowercase “d”) is the quintessential printing trade show. Held for 13 days in Dusseldorf, Germany, this event brings together experts from all aspects of the printing field to share knowledge and discuss trends. In many cases it is the top managers of various firms who attend, and since major commercial printing equipment manufacturers have booths at drupa, many of these managers order their new presses, folding equipment, and such, right at the drupa trade show.

In addition, according to the Packaging Europe website, this year’s drupa reflects an international presence, including more than 190,000 foreign visitors, with the highest number of attendees representing Germany, India, Belgium, France, the Netherlands, Great Britain, the United States, Switzerland, and Italy.

What Does This Say About the Future of Custom Printing?

When you consider the international nature of drupa’s attendees and their “decision-maker” status, plus the list of new equipment on display by such vendors as Goss and HP, plus the high number of actual orders for heavy press equipment placed during the trade show, you can see that divining the trends at drupa can give us a global view of the state of printing.

These are my assessments based on reading I have done about this year’s drupa.

  1. Print is not dead. OEMs (original equipment manufacturers) are investing heavily in new commercial printing processes and devices (digital and offset) because they have buyers for their equipment.
  2. Print is pervasive. The international nature of the attendees attests to the international market for custom printing.
  3. Major trends in printing reflected in drupa seminars and exhibits include the following: digital printing, printing of packaging materials, hybrid technologies mixing offset and digital printing, new technologies such as Nanography ™, environmentally sound printing practices, and automation in commercial printing technology.
  4. More workflow-oriented rather than technology-oriented trends include integrated media campaigns; the future of print books, newspaper printing, and magazine printing; dialogue marketing; and packaging.

On a More Global Level, What Does This Mean?

  1. Print must compete with digital-only media. E-books are creating an ever-larger footprint. Many newspapers are merging the staffs for their digital and print editions and reducing the frequency of print editions to a few issues a week.
  2. However, print (both offset and digital) can do things digital-only media cannot. Textured UV coatings (soft-touch and sandpaper) show that digital-only media cannot provide a tactile experience. And this is still important, on some level, for some printed products, to the vast majority of people.
  3. Print buyers are demanding a faster turn-around for more customized work. Equipment that offers both offset and digital capabilities can accommodate short, variable-data work on a tight deadline.
  4. Buyers, in general, will not accept being “talked at” by advertisers. Increasingly, advertisers are developing ways to interact with prospective buyers, through integrated promotional efforts involving digital and offset printing as well as various forms of social media. Studies are beginning to reflect the synergistic nature of cross media initiatives. For instance, combining a direct mail campaign with a QR code and a PURL can yield a much higher response rate than would a print-only or email-only advertising initiative. Clients want vendors to interact with them. Integrated media serves this purpose.
  5. Packaging isn’t going away. When we enter a grocery store or a computer store, the packaging contributes to the saleability of the products. That said, being able to create one box or 1,000 is becoming important, so digital custom printing technology has been making inroads into packaging work.
  6. Digital printing in general seems to be the wave of the future. Many of the high-end sheetfed digital presses are accommodating larger press sheet sizes (and in so doing are competing head-to-head with offset sheetfed presses). In addition, web-fed inkjet presses are coming into use for newspapers and books. The digital equipment is larger, faster, and better, increasingly rivaling or exceeding the quality of offset lithography.

So here we are. It’s an exciting time. The next drupa will be held in Germany in June 2016. Who knows what will be on display (maybe even some of the new 3D printers).

Large Format Printing: Faux Beer Cans on a Standee

Tuesday, May 15th, 2012

My fiancee and I installed a standee this week for the movie That’s My Boy. It came with three or four beer cans.

A few years ago, while installing another standee, I thought I had seen everything when I opened the heavy standee box only to see a bag marked “bricks.” (They had been ballast for a Lazy-Susan type of rotating display stand.) But the beer cans really took the cake.

Interestingly enough, assembly instructions for the beer cans appeared in the four-page instruction manual. The text showed exactly how to twist them so they would look like the remains of a fraternity party. To keep them in place, each can had two strips of double-sided tape. The instructional print book showed exactly where to place them on the “lawn” portion of the standee.

How Is This Relevant to Custom Printing?

You might ask how this relates to commercial printing. I see two very direct connections.

First, if you looked closely, you could see that the faux beer cans were not metal. They were cardboard canisters with applique’s of a nondescript beer. Someone had printed and assembled cylinders, each with a top and bottom image and another image wrapped around and glued to the sides. The custom printing vendors had done a lot of work.

Why cardboard and not metal? I haven’t a clue, but here are some thoughts:

  1. Liability: If broken or torn apart, an aluminum beer can could have a jagged edge that might cause an accident. The movie studios, standee designers, and movie theaters increasingly attempt to avoid accidents to those who interact with standees, particularly as more physical materials are used in standees and as standees become more interactive.
  2. Sensitivity in Marketing: Perhaps the designer of this large format printing piece wanted to avoid promoting a particular beer (again for liability issues regarding product placement). Perhaps the studio wanted to avoid explicitly promoting beer to minors who might see the standee (after all, a cardboard beer can with a nondescript label glued to its surface can give the impression of a beer can without identifying a particular beer or any beer at all).
  3. Cost: Creating a fake beer can out of cardboard allowed the designers at the movie studio to avoid the need to have aluminum beer cans mocked up. Perhaps the cost to create simulated aluminum cans exceeded the (considerable, I would assume) cost to mock up a cardboard tube, print the beer can label in four colors on 80# or 100# enamel printing paper, and then, using hot-melt glue, affix the appliques onto the sides, top, and bottom of three cans per standee (multiplied by the majority of movie theaters in the country, presumably).

What About Your Large Format Printing Work?

What can we learn from this? First, consider multiple custom printing options and a variety of materials for your large format printing work. Cost is one factor. The number of copies you will need to produce as well as the accessibility of the particular materials are two more considerations. Talk with your commercial printing suppliers early. In fact, the more outlandish the project, the earlier you should start making physical mock-ups of the large format printing piece, and the sooner you should involve the printing suppliers.

Also Consider Shipping Logistics

When you create something as easily crushed as three beer cans, you need to consider shipping logistics. The standee company inserted all three cans in an additional carton within the main carton that contained the standee. Not to have done so might have compromised a lot of work and wasted a lot of money. So don’t just design a large format printing piece. Also think about how you will get it to it’s destination for assembly.

The Immersive Experience

As an aside, I want you to know how real these looked. The manager of the movie theater came into the room we were using to assemble the standee, and looked disgusted when he pointed at the beer cans and asked, “What are those?” Apparently he had thought we were drinking on the job.

Large format printing, as reflected in movie standees, is moving away from cardboard-only assemblages toward real-world objects. Over the last month I have assembled one standee with a metal street sign pole affixed to a base covered in simulated grass. I have also assembled two photo opportunity standees with fabric-covered chairs.

Anything that looks real captures the interest of the movie-goers and draws them into the fictional world of the movie (and the movie standee). I think it’s powerful marketing. I also think it is fascinating that this is happening at the same time as computer technology is embracing both virtual reality and augmented reality.

There is room for custom printing, it seems. However, to make offset and digital printing viable alternatives to entirely electronic media, it helps to accentuate the tactile qualities of print. After all, you cant touch anything on a computer screen.

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