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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: The Future of “Web to Pack”

Not that long ago (perhaps the 1990s to 2000), I remember sending out perfect-bound book printing jobs that took six weeks to produce and brochures that took five to seven (or even ten) days to print and deliver. That was the norm. Everything was analog (offset lithography). No one said the printers were slow because we had nothing digital to which we could compare the analog work schedules.

Then digital commercial printing went from the low quality laser and inkjet machines we had for proofing to full-fledged work horses, and the expected turn-around times on digital jobs got shorter and shorter. It even became possible to upload an InDesign or PDF file to a website (web-to-print), push print, and get business cards or flyers delivered within a few days.

So now, as I read “Is Web-to-Pack the Next Big Thing” by Pat Reynolds, VP Editor Emeritus, www.packworld.com (dated 7/26/19), I am not surprised that a Shenzhen, China, firm called Xianjunlong Colour Printing Co. Ltd. allows you to order folding cartons online and get them in 72 hours.

Beyond the fact that China is a long way from here, this is still remarkable, as is the equipment footprint of this particular Chinese printer.

Here’s why.

What Xianjunlong Colour Printing Co. Ltd. Can Do

  1. First of all, Xianjunlong Colour accepts orders over the internet, so the process starts off with a bang. Presumably an increasing number of clients will now accept PDF proofs (as opposed to hard-copy proofs), so the overall proofing process can proceed swiftly and smoothly. Compared to earlier days in commercial printing, the time from file upload to actual printing would now seem to be negligible.
  2. Then a Heidelberg Primefire 106 prints the carton stock. This particular equipment accepts B1 press sheets, which are 40” wide. This means the company can impose multiple images on each press sheet (in contrast to smaller digital presses). More sheets (i.e., more images) can run through the press faster, so Xianjunlong Colour Printing Co. Ltd. can produce much more work for less money. The company makes more; the clients pay less (certainly less than locally produced jobs printed in the U.S.).
  3. A dmax 106 coating system from Steinemann with an in-line dfoil digital foiling module does in-line coating and foil embellishing. These two processes can occur simultaneously in one pass.
  4. Finally, a Masterwork Group Co., Ltd., digital laser system does the final creasing and cutting of the digitally produced folding cartons.
  5. Then the job gets delivered to the client by air carrier. Done. 72 hours. A game changer.
  6. According to “Is Web-to-Pack the Next Big Thing,” the Chinese company’s equipment footprint doesn’t stop there. They have 50 offset presses, “which makes them huge compared to nearly anything you’d see in the rest of the world” (Jordi Giralt, Sales Director of Primefire at Heidelberg, as quoted in “Is Web-to-Pack the Next Big Thing”). In my eyes, a company this large should be paid attention to. They clearly have done their homework, and they understand what customers want and in which direction commercial printing is going.
  7. The process uses food-grade inks. This means they are water-based and non-toxic, acceptable (presumably) to the FDA. So food packaging is an ideal target market for Xianjunlong Colour Printing Co. Ltd.
  8. The digital laser cutter and creaser from Masterwork Group can do its work offline. Even though this sounds like a drawback (and is therefore counterintuitive), it is not. If the custom printing, embellishing, and cutting and creasing were all done inline, there might be bottlenecks. The cutting and creasing could slow down the work flow. As is, Xianjunlong Colour Printing Co. Ltd. has options. They can prepare and cut and crease one job while another job is being digitally printed, coated, and foiled. This speeds up overall throughput.

What This Means

Xianjunlong Colour Printing Co. Ltd. can accept, preflight, and correct jobs using cloud-based, industry-standard software, reducing prepress to a bare minimum and getting to the printing stage almost immediately. Over time, this might well eliminate the need for proofing entirely.

Then Xianjunlong Colour Printing Co. Ltd. can print the jobs on large format (B1-sized) digital inkjet equipment with food-safe inks—quickly and economically.

Then Xianjunlong Colour Printing Co. Ltd. can coat and embellish the jobs (apply foil embellishment) simultaneously.

Then Xianjunlong Colour Printing Co. Ltd. can crease and cut the folding cartons without metal dies in record time (avoiding the extra cost and extensive time involved in traditional die making).

Then Xianjunlong Colour Printing Co. Ltd. can deliver by air freight the folding-carton commercial printing work that rivals anything else on the planet. They can do this while taking advantage of all the digital decorating applications (various coatings and foils) available for packaging work (i.e., making short run jobs that are digitally coated and foiled look like they were embellished with high-end analog processes).

Why This Is Important

  1. Consumers are demanding shorter and shorter runs of personalized packaging. Digital processes are ideal for this market.
  2. There’s more and more packaging on the shelves in stores. Everything competes with everything else. It helps a brand stay relevant if it can change packaging for local initiatives or special events or even provide personalized packaging printed for individual clients.
  3. The “unboxing process” is also becoming more important. People are carefully studying exactly what happens when you take a product home and open the box. They are asking how the appearance and feel of the box contribute to the “wow” factor of the overall experience. (Think about how it felt to open a package on Christmas or Hanukkah or any of the other major holidays.) The fact that digital equipment can now add the gloss and textures provided by foils and paper coatings (dull, matte, glossy) allows manufacturers to make opening the carton a special event. Designers and marketing psychologists are now committed to learning the best ways to do this.
  4. If Xianjunlong Colour Printing Co. Ltd. has this kind of digital custom printing footprint in China, that’s a sure sign that digital folding cartons and web-to-pack are the future of the commercial printing industry.

Why You Should Care

If you are a printer, print buyer, or graphic designer, it behooves you to study all aspects of packaging, from “flexible packaging” to “corrugated board” to “folding cartons” (these are the industry-specific terms to Google). The more you know, the more useful you will be—in researching potential markets and selling these products and processes, in designing packaging, and/or in buying these processes for your company.

If the number of printed pages (books, magazines, newspapers, catalogs) is declining, or if work is migrating to online media, that doesn’t mean commercial printing is dead. It just means that other venues are opening. Chief among these are packaging and labels, large-format inkjet printing, and digitally printed décor (an offshoot of large-format inkjet). With these markets actually growing (and especially with packaging work growing exponentially at the moment), there will be significant demand for what you know and what you can design and produce.

So any time spent studying digital custom printing technology, design, marketing and promotions, and the psychology of consumers is time well spent.

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