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Printing Industry Exchange (printindustry.com) is pleased to have Steven Waxman writing and managing the Printing Industry Blog. As a printing consultant, Steven teaches corporations how to save money buying printing, brokers printing services, and teaches prepress techniques. Steven has been in the printing industry for thirty-three years working as a writer, editor, print buyer, photographer, graphic designer, art director, and production manager.

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Custom Printing: Mass Customization of Bud Light Cans and Diet Coke Bottles

Although I myself don’t drink beer, if I did I’d probably want to check out Bud Light due to their cool, variable-data advertising campaign.

A close friend and associate just sent me an HP press release describing a press run of 200,000 unique cans of beer. Each one is totally different from all the others.

When I started reading the press release, I assumed that each beer can just had a different person’s name on it. That was the level of customization I had expected (the same art and different type). So I was overjoyed to learn that HP’s technology had advanced to the point where the underlying artwork itself could be varied to this extent.

According to the HP press release, HP digital print has been used to produce “200,000 unique, limited-edition Festival cans available at 2015 Mad Decent Block Party music festival events.” The HP press release goes on to say that Bud Light is the “first brand in the U.S. to use HP Smart Stream Mosaic for mass customization.”

The Implications of the Technology

First of all, all of the cans are unique. The press release notes that “31 designs were transformed into more than 31 million possible graphics, ultimately creating 200,000 unique can designs, with no two cans exactly alike.” Therefore, an offset press could not have produced this marketing press run. Instead, the Bud Light marketing team had to produce the job on a digital press, an HP Indigo. Mind you this is not just any Indigo. It is a WS6800, which is a roll-fed digital press specifically developed for package printing.

To prepare the art files that became the backgrounds for the cans, Bud Light designers created vector art in PDF format (PostScript curves that would be of the highest resoluton at any printed size, unlike bitmapped graphics produced in a photo editing program). For the most part, as was evidenced by the photo accompanying the press release, these vector graphic images were repeated geometric forms in an abundance of wild colors (squiggles, waves, lines, and so forth). The Bud Light logo was then surprinted over the colorful pattern.

Using this vector artwork as a base, the designers then used a software package for the HP Indigo called HP SmartStream Mosaic. According to Vivian Cohen-Leisorek in her March 4, 2015 article, “Taking Designs to Infinity, and Beyond” (on www2.hp.com), this is a personalization application included in HP SmartStream Designer that “generates a large number of variations by randomly transforming the file, using scaling, transposition, and rotation. The results can then be used as the variable image assets in the graphic design of VDP jobs.”

So this particular application lends itself to an infinity of graphic renditions of small portions of a large drawing—ideal for the Bud Light cans. In fact, a photo included within Vivian Cohen-Leisorek’s article shows another marketing campaign by Diet Coke using similar varied patterns, apparently printed on shrink sleeves with the beverage logo surprinted over the vari-colored images.

The Implications for Marketing Campaigns

When taken together, the two articles about HP SmartStream Mosaic and the HP Indigo WS6800 say a lot about mass customization and digital printing:

  1. Digital printing is coming of age. With equipment such as the HP Indigo WS6800 (directly aimed at package printing) and the HP Indigo 10000 (with its much larger than usual image area—for a digital press–of 29.1” x 20.1” allowing custom printing of such large-format jobs as customized pocket folders), digital commercial printing is growing into an unstoppable force.
  2. All of this wouldn’t be happening without intense consumer demand for press runs made up of totally unique, individually personalized items—instead of multiples of the same product.
  3. Cool visuals on the marketing projects produced by Diet Coke and Bud Light attract attention, get people to want to collect the cans and bottles, and presumably create the kind of “buzz” that can drive up product sales in a major way.
  4. Software packages like HP SmartStream Mosaic can automate what would have taken a huge number of designers almost forever to produce not that long ago. So production costs can remain stable for unique marketing campaigns such as these two–as can the art production schedules. This also implies that when you pair intelligent computer applications with intelligent equipment, ultimately there are no bounds to the kinds of custom printing you can do.

What This Means for You, Personally and Professionally

Stay current. Study all of this new technology. At least know something about variable-data printing, electrophotography (and specifically the laser printing the HP Indigo does with its nanoparticles of ink in a liquid vehicle), inkjet printing, and the new design and prepress applications. A lot of the new stuff is happening right now in package printing (folding cartons, flexible packaging, shrink sleeves, and labeling). You don’t have to leave printing and become a web-page designer to stay relevant. There is life in packaging and large format printing, so the more you learn, the more in demand your skills will be.

2 Responses to “Custom Printing: Mass Customization of Bud Light Cans and Diet Coke Bottles”

  1. geleroneems says:

    Hi! My name is Edmund Lester and I live in Jacksonville,NC. I have read your blog post about Custom Printing: Mass Customization of Bud Light Cans and Diet Coke Bottles | Printing Industry Blog and I want to say that I am quite impressed with your professionalism on the subject!

    • admin says:

      Thank you for your comment. I’m glad you like the blog. Keep coming back and checking out the articles.

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