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Archive for the ‘Packaging’ Category

Custom Printing: Packaging and StealthCode® Technology

Tuesday, April 27th, 2021

I just read an intriguing article on (2/13/18) entitled “ToBeUnique: Packaging Becomes Interactive Thanks to StealthCode® Technology.”

Basically, the article is about a new technology created by Tubettificio Favia that turns “aluminum tubes with StealthCode® technology…into a precious tool of corporate storytelling.”

This is a coating applied to the entire surface of aluminum packaging tubes. Using the StealthCode® mobile app downloaded for free from Apple or Google, one can use a smartphone to read the code and be directed to additional content, whether in the form of a website, a video, or any other online destination.

This application is based on Digimarc Barcode® technology, created by BeeGraphic.

So what does it do? How is it different from older technology? When I did some research, I found that the predecessors of StealthCode® technology have included the QR Code, which was revolutionary in its time, but which cluttered product designs and didn’t always work, particularly with non-linear surfaces. The StealthCode® is invisible to the eye and is active in the coating that covers the entire packaging tube (as opposed to a single location on the packaging on which you have to focus the smartphone camera).

According to the article, the StealthCode® “can’t be duplicated and is protected by sophisticated IT systems that protect its authenticity, preventing it from being read if it’s not compliant with the required standards.” What this means is that the StealthCode® is a strong deterrent against counterfeiting efforts, thus protecting the integrity of both the product and the product’s brand or website. And it does all of this while providing the customer with access to a wealth of product information not printed on the packaging.

Implications for Packaging Design

“ToBeUnique: Packaging Becomes Interactive Thanks to StealthCode® Technology” suggests a number of uses for this technology:

  1. In the food industry: “the tube ‘links’ to a food blog or to a video recipe, or even to a page with some advice for the correct use of the product or its storage”;
  2. In the cosmetics industry: “the tube refers to a beauty blog or webpage, to a video of make-up tips”;
  3. In the pharmaceuticals industry: “the app allows you to go beyond the classic ‘patient information leaflet,’ linking to a page with medical advice for the correct use of the drug or for leading a healthy and active life.”

All of these links provided through StealthCode® technology can direct the customer to a manufacturer website, social media website, video, contest, game, or event. The list is endless. But regardless of the destination, the technology offers additional opportunities for customer involvement with the product and the brand. The customer can interact with the manufacturer using this technology as a jumping off point.

How This Will Make Marketing More Effective

Everything I have read about contemporary marketing theory suggests that nothing works as well as multi-channel promotions for connecting with a prospective client. Each time a customer sees a logo or some other reflection of a manufacturer’s brand, he or she becomes more emotionally bonded to both the product and the values the company espouses.

For instance, if a customer hears a radio ad for a product, then sees a billboard with the same message, then reads a social media posting touting the benefits of the service or product in question (such as positive feedback from peers through a Yelp review), the bond grows.

So in the case of StealthCode® technology in particular, this non-intrusive (i.e., invisible to the viewer) technology can provide such a connection and satisfy a prospective customer’s need for more information. As noted in the article, if he or she sees something of interest on the aluminum packaging, there can be an immediate connection with the company’s website.

In some ways this reminds me of NFC (nearfield communications) technology. I had read in the past about large format print posters, for instance, that included NFC chips. Someone interested in more information could bring his or her smartphone (presumably with a downloadable app) close to the poster and then download information that would complement the content of the printed poster.

I’m sure that other technology exists (or soon will exist) to bridge the gap between static commercial printing technology and the Internet: technology that goes beyond the QR code on the side of a building, the StealthCode® accessible on an aluminum packaging tube, or a NFC chip in a poster. But even with the current state of the technology, in all of these cases the customer can access information about the product or company, and the manufacturer can initiate a dialogue with the potential customer.

What This Means for Commercial Printing Technology

In everything I’ve read in the trade journals, I have seen confirmation that multiple exposures to a brand through multiple media create brand loyalty. In the case of commercial printing (either ink or toner on paper), the printed product can be a stepping off point into a more expansive digital realm. This can include virtual reality and augmented reality (which the article does not reference) as well as the videos, contests, and such that the article does mention. It can also involve games (now known as “gamification”), which have been shown to also increase engagement between a potential customer and a brand.

In all of these cases, the tactile nature of print can be exploited. People like its permanence, which they may subconsciously interpret as its having more authority than digital media. People like the feel and smell of the paper, and many are still more accustomed to reading physical print book pages than computer screens. But if the various computer technologies such as NFC, QR Codes, and StealthCode® technology can facilitate a customer’s access to a personal website or some other interactive experience, this will surely bring more customers into the fold than will either print media alone or digital media alone. Each can augment the other by involving more of the potential customer’s senses and providing more and increasingly varied experiences.

These technologies are new, and there are a lot of them. One or another technology becomes obsolete quickly as new ones are developed. However, the goal of bridging the gap between ink on paper and bits and bytes on a computer screen makes it very clear that both are essential.

Custom Printing: Inconsistent Color in Package Printing

Wednesday, December 2nd, 2020

My fiancee and I were in the grocery store a few days ago, and I noticed two packages of brown Jasmine rice. The packages had the same art, typeface, design, etc., but the colors were different. It was only a slightprinted variation. Perhaps no one else would have seen it. But I did, and I pointed it out to my fiancee.

I explained to her that printing on a plastic bag required a different technology from offset lithography. In my experience and study I have always seen flexography used to print on plastic sheeting for bags of bread and rolls, as well as many other product packages in the grocery store, such as milk cartons and frozen food packages.

Flexography uses fast drying inks that work well on non-porous substrates (such as plastic sheeting). It is my understanding that flexography also avoids the high pressure of the offset lithographic rollers, which can disturb the dimensional stability of plastic sheeting (even when the plastic is fed from a roll and kept at high tension to maintain its “flatness” during printing).

In contrast with offset lithography (a planographic process in which the image- and non-image areas of the plate are on the same level), flexography is a relief printing process. The image areas on the rubber printing plates are raised. The raised areas are inked as the rollers turn and then deposit the ink on the substrate using less pressure than offset lithography rollers.

Problems with Flexography

In my experience with flexography (mainly in printing labels), the registration of colors is not quite as precise or consistent as in offset lithography. It’s great for non-porous substrates. It’s cheap, efficient, good for long runs of labels and packaging, but in my experience the color work has not been quite as accurate as I would like. (I just read online that part of the problem is the slight movement of various printing press components during the process.)

When I think back to the flexo-printed bags of Jasmine rice, the first thing I could say is that the technology in use was most probably flexography (due to the plastic substrate). The second thing I could say with confidence is that when colors are out of register (i.e., when the commercial printing plates shift and therefore do not deposit their ink precisely), one of the results is that color shifts can occur. I’ve seen this in offset lithography as well.

Moreover, color shifts I’ve seen often occur in neutral colors. (An off-white might take on a pinkish cast, for example.) On the bags of rice, the color in the two brown backgrounds (neutral ink mixtures presumably containing heavy coverage of all four process colors) showed the most difference from one package to the other. The green grass was slightly off as well.

Why This Is a Problem

I thought about why this was a problem from a design, marketing, and custom printing perspective. Here are a few thoughts:

  1. Certain colors, called memory colors, absolutely have to be accurate. For instance, the blue of the afternoon sky cannot be purple, but it can be a lighter or darker blue. Grass has to be within a tight range of green hues, or it just looks wrong. Flesh tones that are too yellow appear jaundiced. We expect certain colors to be consistent. Our eyes (and brains) do not tolerate as much variation in these memory colors as in other colors. On the rice packages, the green grass was “off.”
  2. When I saw the color shift in these two packages, they were side by side. The human brain cannot usually remember color for very long, but it can definitely see color shifts when two samples are side by side.
  3. From a marketing point of view, color shifts can be a problem. Just as one expects corporate logo colors to be consistent, one expects package coloration to be consistent. Subliminally, in the mind of the consumer, color accuracy can support or diminish the perceived quality of other elements of the brand (for example the taste of the rice). We expect a brand image to always look the same, just as we expect a Chipotle burrito to always taste the same. Even design and printing differences can “dilute” the brand.
  4. This is less true now than in the 1990s (when I was an art director/production manager), but there will always be a slight variation in color from press run to press run. If the two rice bags had been printed by two separate printers on two separate dates, there would be some difference in color. Again, it would be more obvious if two printed samples were put side by side. In addition, the color shift would be more pronounced if two different commercial printing technologies had been used (say flexography and digital custom printing) or if the printing substrates had been different.

What You Can Do in Your Own Work

Here are some thoughts:

  1. If you are using flat colors for backgrounds, particularly if they are neutrals (not primary colors like red, yellow, and blue, but, as in the case of my rice packages, such mixtures of multiple colors as tan or brown), consider adding a PMS match color. These are mixed, not created from overlaid halftone screens of cyan, magenta, yellow, and black. PMS colors are always consistent. In contrast, if your CMYK process colors are out of register, you may see color shifts. But this won’t happen with PMS colors. That’s why designers specify PMS colors for corporate logos.
  2. Based on my own experience, it’s often helpful to avoid colors composed of equal amounts (particularly heavy coverage) of three or four process inks. If these colors are out of register, this can cause a color shift.
  3. I have also experienced color shifts when working with the less expensive online printers that often gang up print jobs to keep their prices low. A client of mine had an account with one of these commercial printing vendors, so I had to use its services for a job I designed. To be safe, what I did was design my client’s job with this potential limitation in mind. I chose colors and photos that would work well on a design level even with a certain amount of color variation. You may want to do the same thing.
  4. Be mindful of the potential limitation of each commercial printing technology you use. For instance, reversing type out of a heavy solid (composed of all process colors) on a digital press might be problematic. Or, at the very least, you might want to choose a typeface with thicker serifs and strokes in the letterforms (to avoid the serifs’ filling in if the ink flow is excessive). If you’re printing a job via flexography, make allowances in your design for any potential misregistration problems, since these can occur in this technology.
  5. When in doubt, ask your printer for samples produced via the commercial printing technology you plan to use.
  6. For a critical job, consider attending a press inspection. These are rare these days. I think the last press inspection I attended was in the late1990s. Color consistency is much better these days than in the past. But for food, automotive, and fashion imagery, a press inspection might be worth your time. In this case you will see successive press sheets throughout the press run under 5000 Kelvin lighting (blue-white light, which approximates sunlight). You will see any color casts right away.
  7. If you plan to match colors across different commercial printing technologies (offset, flexography, digital printing) and/or different custom printing substrates, make sure your printer can rise to the challenge. Again, it’s always prudent to request printed samples produced via all technologies you will employ (ideally using the same file).

Custom Printing: Flexible Packaging Is on the Rise

Thursday, November 19th, 2020

When I was growing up, peanuts came in a can or a bottle, or sometimes a clear bag. Milk came in a glass bottle and later in a coated paper carton that opened up into a spout. There was no such thing as a bag of apple sauce or a box of apple juice with a little straw you punched through a foil covered hole.

Things have changed. Moreover, the whole arena of packaging has had explosive growth within the larger commercial printing world. In an era when fewer of my custom printing clients are producing long-run textbooks, newspapers, and such, I am particularly encouraged when I hear that packaging has been experiencing a huge growth spurt.

Enter Flexible Packaging

All of this came into focus for me when my fiancee brought home a bag of dried bananas and nuts recently, a brightly colored “pouch” with a zip seal, lots of room for information and branding, and clear foil embellishment on the banana and nut cover art. A functional, attractive container and sales device.

So, being a student of commercial printing and design, and with an interest in those printing venues experiencing growth, I did some research. This is what I found.

Packaging in General

Packaging falls into three categories:

  1. Corrugated board. This is the light, fluted board from which cartons are made. They are strong enough to hold glass bottles, electronic equipment, even print books.
  2. Folding cartons. When you open up a box of toothpaste, the container that goes in the trash is considered a folding carton. It is made of coated paper (but not corrugated paper or chipboard). It is used for lighter-weight products (like a box of wheat crackers). If you take it apart (pull open the flaps that have been glued together), you will find that the carton blank is incredibly intricate, for it must be converted from a flat press sheet into a folded and glued, rectilinear box with a top and bottom flap. If you look at cosmetics boxes of the same basic structure, you will see that folding cartons can be embellished with printing ink, clear foils, and metallics.
  3. Flexible packaging. According to my research, this arena of commercial printing is broader, including “bags, pouches, shrink films, tubes, sleeves, and carded packaging” (Wikipedia). Furthermore, this sector can be broken down into three other categories: skin packaging (for example, a side of salmon on corrugated board wrapped in a plastic skin, with everything pulled tight using a vacuum); blister packaging (a pocket made with rigid, thermoformed plastic, placed over a paper or plastic backing: for example, a package of batteries from Costco); and clamshell packaging (two identical shells facing one another, with no paper or plastic backing sheet). An example would be the plastic fold-over box you get from some restaurants if you have left-over food to take home.

All of these have essentially the same reasons for existing:

  1. To sell the product. This is where the branding distinguishes one package from a competitor’s package.
  2. To provide information on the product (such as the saturated fat and sodium percentages for food, usually on the back of the packaging).
  3. To keep the customer safe and the product safe. This might include the zip seals and reusable spouts that allow you to squeeze out some apple sauce and reseal the flexible packaging without the risk of contamination and subsequent disease.

Features and Benefits

Here are some reasons flexible packaging is such a big deal:

  1. The plastic, layered films from which these pouches have been made have exceptional barrier properties. Therefore, they can protect the perishables inside and ensure a longer shelf life (than, perhaps, a bag of potato chips that you simply roll up when you’re full). For meats, for instance, the barrier properties can reduce smells and keep the juices in the package. They can also keep sunlight and external moisture out, or maintain the proper temperature. For pharmaceuticals (and food), flexible packaging can also make the contents more tamper resistant (and therefore safer for you).
  2. Flexible packaging provides an especially printable surface. You have room to easily print clear, eye-popping graphics, as well as information about the product.
  3. Flexible packaging can be displayed at the point of purchase in many ways, as needed. These pouches can be hung from a hole at the top, laid flat on a shelf, or stood up in a line on the shelf.
  4. Flexible packaging can be formed at the exact size needed. This means less waste. It also means less weight, so shipping costs will benefit. In addition, flexible packaging virtually eliminates the need for labels and caps, extra paper or plastic trays, etc.
  5. Flexible packaging is designed for reuse, with resealable spouts and ziplock closures. For instance, the bag of apple sauce gets thinner as you consume the product and close up the cap (a smaller package means less contamination by the outside air, hence a longer product life).
  6. Flexible packaging has been (and is being) designed to be recyclable. Moreover, since less material is used and therefore less energy is needed to manufacture and ship this packaging, and since problems with incineration have been resolved, using flexible packaging is an Earth-friendly proposition.

What You Can Learn

Here are some thoughts, in terms of staying relevant as a designer in a world where product packaging is a growing venue for your craft. This also pertains to you if you sell printing:

  1. First of all, start studying product packaging. Any time you enter a grocery store or pharmacy, keep your eyes open. Cosmetics counters in department stores are other good places to observe closely. Look at the kinds of visual effects manufacturers can achieve on the packages: foiling, embossing, metallics.
  2. Look for the new kinds of product packaging that weren’t available years or decades ago. These might include shrink sleeves that are fitted over bottles and then tightened up with heat so they snugly fit the contours of the bottles. Notice how such packaging provides even more space for marketing graphics. Also look for examples of clamshell packs and carded packs (like the slab of salmon shrink-wrapped to the cardboard backing). The more distinct kinds of product packaging you can identify, and the more able you are to determine the commercial printing technologies used to decorate them, the better.
  3. Begin to see the marketing design, the packaging design, and the printing technology used as distinct but nevertheless connected points in a trajectory from marketing research to initial concept, to more marketing research, to budgeting, to prototyping (a good place for inkjet printing, since you can economically make only one initial package for the prototype item), and then through the bulk manufacturing stage and packing, shipping, and delivery stage, to the final point of purchase. Understand how all of this works financially, and how simple adjustments in packaging can save both money and the environment.
  4. Study marketing, advertising, human psychology, consumer behavior, and economics. You’ll start to see how all of these relate to one another. You’ll also see just how powerful marketing can be, and if you’re a graphic designer, you’ll even see how a font change or a change in the design of a product logo can have far-reaching effects. (Think of how many people now see the green Starbucks logo and buy the coffee, and how this affects all the customers, intermediate vendors, and even the stockholders).

Everything is connected. At the moment, product packaging is the nexus of growth. The more you know, the more relevant your design, commercial printing, and sales skills will be.

Custom Printing: The Future of “Web to Pack”

Saturday, October 31st, 2020

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, (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.

Custom Printing: Bacardi’s Direct Digital Bottle Printing

Monday, July 27th, 2020

reproduction rights purchased from …

When BACARDI does something, people pay attention. As a contemporary brand, BACARDI is stylish and sexy–on the cusp of the future.

So I paid heed when I read an article recently about BACARDI’s new bottle printing work done by O-I: EXPRESSIONS on Dekron digital equipment (“BACARDI Personalizes Bottles with Direct Digital Print,” Pat Reynolds, 07/02/2020). The article defines direct digital custom printing, addresses the benefits of this technology from a marketing design and sustainability vantage point, and then goes on to mention the improved marketing results of linking this technology to digital-only media such as the internet and AR (Augmented Reality).

What the Article Says

(Reynolds’ article is actually quite short. However, it includes links to other articles describing cutting-edge, direct-to-shape (related to direct-to-object) custom printing not only on bottles but also on cosmetics tubes and cans. So this is a quickly growing phenomenon with a number of exciting facets. I think you might find such articles inspiring if you are a designer or printer.)

First off, “BACARDI Personalizes Bottles with Direct Digital Print” describes BACARDI’s marketing initiative, mentions the technology used, and then lists the benefits of the process.

For this marketing campaign, BACARDI chose not to print paper or plastic labels or even shrink sleeves. Instead, BACARDI’s creative team at O-I: EXPRESSIONS used Dekron digital custom printing technology to image the marketing message directly on the bottle using organic, food-safe inks.

From a design/marketing point of view, this approach made for striking BACARDI packaging.

It also expanded the space for branding imagery far beyond the usual limits. For example, in the case of paper labels, the space available for commercial printing is small: some variant of a rectangle or other geometric form on the front and maybe the back of the beverage bottle. The key word is “small.”

In the case of shrink sleeves (while larger than a label), there are still size limitations. Can it be printed and then wrapped around and over the neck of the bottle and also the bottle cap, extending the marketing imagery over the entire surface of the bottle? Will the shrink sleeve, even in its much larger than label-size format, still have too limited a texture? Will it have just an overall gloss or matte surface with no localized, textured effects?

Well, BACARDI’s Caribbean experience initiative addresses all of these concerns/limitations and then goes much further. According to “BACARDI Personalizes Bottles with Direct Digital Print,” the beverage maker was able to produce limited-edition personalized bottles with “a much improved look and feel to the packaging [that] is a more sustainable alternative” (as per Simone Kockelmann, Customer Marketing Manager, BACARDI Europe, as quoted in “BACARDI Personalizes Bottles with Direct Digital Print”). This enhanced effect includes a spot tactile treatment of both the BACARDI bat logo and some palm leaves and tropical flowers printed on the bottle. Using the Dekron direct digital printing equipment, O-I: EXPRESSIONS was also able to print an entire 360 degree, full-color image on each bottle.

The overall effect? An enhanced “Wow” factor.

But the benefits of the direct-to-object commercial printing didn’t stop here. The imaging technology was paired with the internet, Snapchat lenses, and Augmented Reality. As the article notes, these cutting-edge technologies were able to “transport the user to the homeland of BACARDI, the shores of the Caribbean” (“BACARDI Personalizes Bottles with Direct Digital Print”). According to Reynolds’ article, a Snapcode on the bottle unlocks the Snapchat lens, and Augmented Reality creates an immersive experience for the customer.

The Key Benefits of This Technology

So from a marketing point of view, here are some key benefits:

  1. This was a limited roll-out. So a relatively small—and precisely targeted—group of people experienced this promotion. Presumably a loyal group of BACARDI afficionados. In addition, the marketing initiative was prepared specifically for them, using marketing research to make the experience relevant to their needs and preferences.
  2. The marketing initiative extended the BACARDI brand across multiple media: print (the labeling) and digital (both the internet and Augmented Reality). It also involved multiple senses, reinforcing the brand message in the minds of participants.
  3. The experience was immersive—sort of like watching a movie and forgetting you’re just in a theater watching a film—but going even further due to the three-dimensional nature of Augmented Reality. Again, the more senses a marketer engages, the stronger the branding message. Just as the more media the marketer employs (such as signage, radio spots, product packaging), the more memorable the customer experience of the brand message will be.
  4. Sustainability. Increasingly, people are becoming aware of the need to change their behavior to maintain the livability of the planet. Labels leave a residue on bottles that can contaminate the recycling stream. Direct-to-object commercial printing leaves an empty, clean, and ready to recycle container (no labels, no residue). In addition, the inks are food-safe. Even the shrink sleeve noted above would introduce extra plastic sheeting into the environment. Direct-to-shape digital commercial printing will not. Moreover, from a manufacturing and storage point of view, not printing on either labels or shrink sleeves reduces materials’ costs as well as materials’ storage and inventory costs. No labels to buy and store. No shrink sleeves to buy and store. More profit.

The Takeaway

Digital commercial printing, in general, is ideal for marketing work. You can print short runs economically and efficiently. (Limited editions sell; it’s the “exclusivity effect.”) You can create a customized marketing initiative based on increasingly precise marketing research, and you can effect this “differentiation” quickly, making changes on the fly as needed. You can also personalize the experience to make the brand immediately relevant to the target audience (and even specific individuals you have identified as prospective clients).

This is even before you get to the mixed media effects BACARDI exploited in their marketing initiative.

Deep inside there is a child in every adult. That’s why people are so attracted to new, immersive experiences such as Augmented Reality, Snapchat lenses, and such. Your marketing work will be more effective (“relevant,” as they say) if you can tap into this quality of human nature. And using the new direct-to-object or direct-to-shape technology, you can even do this in a sustainable way, lessening your environmental footprint.

If you’re a printer (offset or especially digital), or if you’re a graphic designer, it behooves you to read up on this technology. (Research “direct-to-shape,” “direct-to-object,” “direct-digital.” There are multiple terms describing this technology.) Even if you’re not designing for packaging (shrink sleeves, labels), websites, Augmented Reality, or any or all of these—this is the future. It will serve you well to become conversant in this developing technology.

I think BACARDI has the right idea.

Custom Printing: Some Functional Elements of Packaging

Sunday, July 5th, 2020

Readability. Utility. Precision. Some commercial printing work is not meant to persuade or educate, but rather to convey information clearly. It’s called functional printing. The printed keys on your keyboard fit into this category. So does the package of eyedrops my fiancee just received from her eye surgeon. She will undergo cataract surgery in a few weeks, and the pre-operative information she just received has to be unquestionably clear.

The Custom Eyedrop Kit Packaging

Here’s a description of the packaging for my fiancee’s eyedrops with a focus on utility:

  1. The interior packaging is a cross between “clamshell” packaging and “blister” packaging. Two parts of a fold-over case are joined with a scored, central hinge, just like a muscle in an ocean clam. This allows the user to lift the top cover of the clear plastic box and then lower it again to close the box. The bottom half has four thermoformed wells (presumably created by placing the sheet of clear plastic over a super-heated mold). In this way, the bottom half is more like blister packaging (with bubbles or wells or chambers). The top portion locks down tightly over a ridge on the bottom half, ensuring the safety of the plastic bottles of eyedrops my fiancee will need prior to her cataract surgery.
  2. A Crack ‘N Peel label printed in black, green, and red has been hand-marked in pen with the dates of the eye surgery and the required numbers of eye drops for each date. The most important information is printed in red, but due to the simplicity of the sans serif typeface, plus the limited number of colors and the contrast between the handwriting and the printed type, it is very easy to instantly grasp all pertinent information. (The increased type leading and the type size also facilitate readability.) The bottom line: there’s just enough information, and the design and coloration of the type enhance readability by anyone of any age.
  3. The screw-on tops of the eyedrop bottles are color coded. Two (coded in green) are larger than the third, which has a red top. Each bottle label has clear, sans-serif type, and the most important type has been reversed to white out of a solid green printed bar. All of the custom printing is on Crack ‘N Peel labeling affixed to the bottles. Clearly the goal was to use the proper type (sans serif) at the most readable size for the elderly, who have compromised sight, to avoid a dangerous misunderstanding of the instructions for the use of these drugs.
  4. In all cases, there is contact information for reaching the pharmacy. This is not only useful for my fiancee, but it also reinforces her confidence in the whole eye surgery procedure. Hence it supports the branding of the pharmacy.
  5. Much of the information on the labels is very specific, such as expiration dates for the medications. Hence, we can assume that digital commercial printing technology was used rather than offset printing technology.
  6. On the top of the closed plastic packaging shell are laser printed (I checked with my 12-power loupe) Crack ‘N Peel labels printed in black toner noting everything from the pharmacy contact information to my fiancee’s contact information to the kind of medication, lot number, and expiration dates for the medications. In addition, there are three strips of color (magenta, yellow, and cyan, with black surprinted type noting when the medications expire, how to store them, and that they were made according to the doctor’s prescription). So your eye is attracted immediately to the colored, printed strips (and the information contained therein), and then to the information on the other two labels. All necessary information is contained (in its entirety) on the front panel, and is repeated in bits and pieces inside the packaging.
  7. Therefore, the interior packaging protects the medications and tells my fiancee how to use them. None of this is unattractive. It’s just that functionality is paramount. (And the package design is based on the marketer’s knowledge of how people best consume and process written information.)
  8. Now for the exterior wrap. This portion of the package focuses on two things: the user’s confidence in the reliability of the product and the pharmacy’s branding. And of course these are intimately connected.
  9. The wrap feels like 14pt or thicker cover stock, printed and then scored to wrap all the way around the interior plastic insert. (That is, it’s a sleeve with open ends.) The wrap front panel includes a large eye printed in 4-colors but desaturated overall to look like a black halftone or quadtone. However, the iris of this eye retains its intensity of blue coloration, making it look like a black and white eye with a hand-colored blue iris. Above this is a solid green bar out of which the name of the drops (plus a brief description thereof) has been reversed.
  10. On the back of the cardboard sleeve is the name, logo, address, website, fax, and email for the pharmacy. The logo and name are very large and prominent. In an emergency, or even if you have a question, you’ll know just how to contact someone who knows what to do.
  11. To the entire outer package sleeve, the commercial printing supplier has applied a flood UV coating in high gloss. The whole thing feels very competent, clinical, locked down and ready for the surgery. Even without the printed content, the paper weight and the coating would convey an air of gravitas and competence. Hence, the packaging elicits confidence and therefore supports the pharmacy brand.

What You Can Learn from This Case Study

  1. Ensuring readability depends on understanding how people process information. This involves understanding which fonts and colors are the most readable and what people of various ages can read, depending on the health and flexibility of their eyes.
  2. It also depends on understanding how to gather and group information so that it will be read (i.e., in small, understandable chunks). This is especially true for scientific information, especially when making a mistake can threaten one’s health.
  3. Functional printing opens the field of commercial printing way beyond promotional products, labels, print books, and large format signage. There’s informational, functional printing on almost everything. That means, as a graphic designer, you can always be relevant.
  4. That said, all functional custom printing still either enhances or tarnishes the company brand. If your functional type is unreadable, that’s a problem. Think about cheap computer keyboards with printed letters that are flaking or rubbing off. Personally, that makes me feel less comfortable about both the durability of the keyboard and perhaps even its accuracy (I’ve noticed that some cheap keyboards skip letters when you’re typing quickly).
  5. So the bottom line is that functional printing embraces everything from graphic design to branding and marketing, to ways to facilitate communication, to the operation of the human eye. The more you understand all of these, the more skilled and useful you will be as a designer.

Commercial Printing: Package Printing for Vegetables

Monday, March 16th, 2020

Everywhere I look now I see articles about how digital custom printing benefits the package production market. Moreover, this seems to be a two-way street, with the approach of a business to packaging and distribution changing and growing in response to advances in digital commercial printing.

More specifically, I read an article this week about corrugated packaging for vegetable boxes. The title of the article was “Keeping Packaging Fresh for Veg Boxes.” It was written by Cristobal Macedo of HP (Hewlett-Packard) and published online in Packaging News on November 7, 2018. The article focused on a new breed of consumer, the “locavore,” who prefers to buy locally sourced foods. The article refers to them as “ideological consumers who prefer to buy foods farmed in their region” (“Keeping Packaging Fresh for Veg Boxes”). So, as I understand it, the term seems to pertain more to supporting local vendors than to buying fresher produce (although both may be true).

The article goes on to say that online vendors are offering seasonal fruit and vegetable boxes as well as eggs, cheese, meat, and other foods, and that this creates the need for corrugated (and other) packaging. Moreover, it also creates the opportunity for marketers to directly communicate with consumers in bi-directional ways using commercial printing as the initiating medium.

In addition, the success of the online sale of locally sourced food, and the interactive marketing it has spawned, has further increased demand by locavores, and the number of local food vendors has grown. Furthermore, their entry into the locavore market has increased the demand for digitally printed packaging.

The Perfect Storm

What makes this marriage of locally sourced food and digital package printing so successful is the variable nature of digital commercial printing, the ability to economically produce short print runs of corrugated food packages, and the availability of food-safe inks that do not migrate into, and therefore do not contaminate, the food.

Regarding the issue of press run length, for analog printing to be a competitive technology, food vendors would need to produce much longer runs of their packaging jobs. There would be issues of storage, waste, and possible obsolescence of packaging. Printing on corrugated board via offset lithography would not be an option, since the pressure of the press rollers would crush the fluting in the corrugated board. Therefore, low-pressure options such as flexography (a relief custom printing process using rubber plates) would be the technology of choice. This would allow for direct printing on the corrugated board, but it would yield lower quality results than offset printing, so (presumably) the creative packaging design would need to be simpler. Or, if the press run were very long, the printer could offset print the marketing artwork for the corrugated boxes onto liner paper that would be laminated to the fluting, and then the flat box material could be converted into corrugated cartons.

But all this would only be good for long press runs.

In contrast, digital printing allows for the spraying of non-toxic printing inks directly onto the fluted corrugated board of the cartons, with the print heads never directly contacting the substrate. Therefore, nothing can crush the box material. Moreover, the high quality of the technology will allow for much greater detail (both higher resolution and a wider color gamut than the other commercial printing options), all while allowing for economical, short press runs.

In addition, all of this can be done quickly, with an infinite varying of the creative marketing message on each fruit or vegetable box or with short, versioned press runs that allow for seasonal marketing (maybe a special press run for fresh peaches during a limited period) or localized marketing (maybe a special press run of boxes aimed at a small geographical location).

At it’s most granular level, this can even allow farmers to communicate directly (through their package messaging) with individual customers or at least small groups of customers. Such messaging can therefore be more personal and targeted to the customer’s interests, and this can open up a dialog between the food producers and the food consumers.

Such a dialog can then be enhanced through the pairing of online messaging with the printed package. A customer can initiate the purchase online through a web-based store; the fruits and vegetables can be packaged in boxes decorated with digital printing; and when the boxes arrive at the customer’s door, specific messaging on the corrugated cartons can direct the customer back to the Internet to further the conversation with the local food vendors. (This messaging may include nutritional information, cooking recipes, and information about the farm and the farming practices.)

In addition, digital printing offers a functional tracking benefit. Since each corrugated box can be different, identifying codes can be added to track the growing and shipping of all food products.

Macedo’s article in Packaging News, “Keeping Packaging Fresh for Veg Boxes,” refers to the “unboxing experience,” noting that receiving the package, reading all of the printed messaging, and absorbing the overall “look” of the brand allow for an intimate point of connection between the farmer and the customer, particularly since the customer can personalize the boxes when she or he orders the food online. In addition, the farmers can enhance the experience by varying the packaging. Therefore, the customer can be continually intrigued by new and different packaging each time she or he orders.

The Farmers

“Keeping Packaging Fresh for Veg Boxes” goes on to describe some of the food producers who have benefited from digital printing technology.

The first case study involves an egg vendor in the Czech Republic, Golden Egg. Macedo’s article notes that the commercial printing quality available through digital inkjet allows for superior graphics, which can be varied to show the region where each batch of eggs originated. This visual, as well as written, sourcing information can enhance both the knowledge and the confidence of egg buyers.

The second case study involves Vignola, an Italian fruit consortium. Using digital printing paired with QR Codes, the vendor produces individual fruit boxes that can send the customer (via the Internet) to information on the grower, the date of the food production, etc.

A third case study involves Yamo Foods in Germany. This vendor prints corrugated packaging (through Thimm Group) that is food safe (due to the nature of the digital printing inks). Buy beyond this, Yamo can provide “tamper-proof boxes with a printed safety strip” (“Keeping Packaging Fresh for Veg Boxes”). This not only provides secure packaging throughout the process but also enhances the customer’s level of comfort in the reliability and safety of the food product.

What You Can Learn from This Article

There are a number of elements in Macedo’s article that interest me and that might interest you as well, if you design printed products or sell custom printing:

  1. The concept of the “locavore” is supported by the flexibility and personalization capabilities of digital commercial printing. Just as the nature of the locavore creates the demand for digital printing, the capabilities of digital printing also foster the growth and multiplication of small farmers through variable-data printing and online communication. Each fosters the growth of the other.
  2. Printed marketing materials and Internet communication also have a mutually supportive effect. Used together, they are more effective than either used alone.
  3. All of this consumer demand bodes well for growth in digital printing: including the quality, cost, and flexibility of the technology, as well as the growth of post-press finishing operations (and other elements beyond the printing component).
  4. All of this also bodes well for printing in general, digital printing specifically, and both copywriting and package design.

Custom Printing: Digital Direct-to-Shape Printing

Tuesday, February 26th, 2019

Digital package printing is hot. It’s a growth sector within the commercial printing industry, and I find this most exciting. And as with other growth industries, consumer demands drive innovation. Customers want something, or like something, or find something intriguing, and to keep them happy the inventors and manufacturers create the technology to satisfy these wants and needs.

In this light, I just read an article by Elizabeth Skoda on entitled “A New Dimension of Digital Printing.” It was published on 09/19/18. This article describes many of the features and benefits of direct-to-shape digital commercial printing. At this point the technology exists for custom printing on rigid packaging tubes and cylinders (a full 360 degrees around the tube, and from the cap to the base), avoiding the need for screen printing, flexo, and even labels. This is ideal for the pharmaceutical and cosmetics industries that use both plastic and aluminum packaging tubes.

Skoda’s article focuses on the Velox IDS 250, a direct-to-shape digital printer produced by Velox Ltd. As Skoda notes in her article, this “entirely new approach to digital printing…is poised to disrupt the packaging decoration market” (“A New Dimension of Digital Printing”).

Why This Is Disruptive Technology (Features and Benefits)

Velox Ltd. claims that its “decoration quality and capabilities…outstrip analogue printing solutions, while allowing a more efficient and flexible production process and a low total cost of ownership” (“A New Dimension of Digital Printing”).

More specifically, here are the features and benefits of Velox’s IDS 250 and its proprietary adaptive deposition architecture (ADA) and variable viscosity ink (VVI):

  1. The IDS 250 prints directly on rigid, cylindrical packaging containers, sidestepping the need for labels.
  2. It allows for both low volume and high volume printing.
  3. It requires only minimal make-ready time.
  4. It is fast, decorating up to 250 packaging containers per minute.
  5. The IDS 250 can incorporate up to 15 colors and embellishments in a single press run, including both inks and coatings, and in particular including tactile coating treatments.
  6. The equipment prints high-resolution, photo-realistic images.
  7. The IDS 250 can print from the base all the way to the cap of a packaging tube, with no visible seam.

Prior Technologies

Let’s put this in perspective. Prior to direct-to-shape commercial printing (or more specifically, prior to Velox’s IDS 250), a print shop could mass produce decorated packaging tubes using the following technologies: dry offset, screen printing, and flexography. All of these required considerable set-up time and effort. Therefore, they were cost-effective only for longer runs. In contrast, the IDS 250 can produce quality comparable to the analogue methods, albeit with faster make-readies, faster and therefore more economical production runs, and the ability to vary the content of the custom printing.

Here are a number of benefits that even surpass the quality and flexibility of the prior analogue methods:

  1. You can print on the packaging tube, its “shoulder,” and its cap. That is, all surfaces of the product packaging can incorporate the design. Therefore, you have a larger, more dramatic “canvas” on which to print your marketing message. In most cases, prior custom printing technology could not achieve this look.
  2. You can print on the seam of the packaging tube. In addition, you can not only cover the entire tube; you can do so without overlapping any portion of the design (as was necessary with prior analogue technologies).
  3. You have all the flexibility of digital custom printing. That is, you can produce a prototype packaging tube (a one-off product), then show the prototype to your client, then make any required changes, and then produce the entire print run. Unlike prior digital printing options, you can even produce a long final run, since the Velox IDS 250 can print 250 containers per minute.
  4. As with other digital technologies, you can personalize your decorated packaging tubes. For example, you can make each one unique, incorporating the recipient’s name into the design. Or you can target a specific demographic with a short print run, or perhaps create a seasonal product that also has a short run. Unlike analogue printing, digital direct-to-shape printing can be cost-effective with short runs as well as long ones.
  5. Velox’s IDS 250 incorporates so many ink colors (up to 15 colors and embellishments) that it can reflect a much wider color gamut than traditional analogue methods can achieve. Therefore, you can match more PMS colors (for corporate logos, for instance), and also you can print colors of amazing vibrancy.
  6. The textured coatings available on the Velox IDS 250 add a tactile dimension that in many cases was unavailable with prior analogue printing methods. These include matte, glossy, and embossed coatings incorporating raised particles. Such coatings add another element that can enhance the customer’s emotional experience and bond with the product and the brand.
  7. According to Skoda’s article, the Velox IDS 250 will provide “full functionality on any material or coating” (“A New Dimension of Digital Printing”).
  8. Overall, this means you can focus exclusively on the creative message rather than on the limitations of either the custom printing method or the printing substrate. At the same time, you can reap the marketing benefits of precise targeting and personalization in order to strengthen the bond between the customer and the product.
  9. At best, all of this used to be achievable only by printing and applying digital labels. Now it is available digitally (without labels) within a cost-effective structure that allows for consummate flexibility and creativity. And unlike many other digital custom printing technologies, the process can also accommodate longer production runs.

What You Can Learn From This New Technology

Here are some thoughts:

  1. Packaging is clearly a growth industry within the realm of commercial printing. Given that direct-to-shape (DTS) digital printing has been making the aforementioned strides, it seems that DTS might even capture work from the custom label market. Furthermore, according to Skoda’s article, cosmetics and pharmaceuticals are two major markets for DTS technology.
  2. With this in mind, I think it behooves both creative designers and larger commercial printing vendors to closely study the following: digital printing, direct-to-shape printing, marketing, personalization, and “big-data” analysis.

I think the future will be all about understanding the psychology of the buyer, and then using digital technology to speak directly to her or him in a way that engages the senses, the emotions, and the intellect.

Custom Printing: Flexible Package Printing Samples

Monday, November 19th, 2018

I’ve read a lot about flexible package printing recently. It is a vibrant element of a quickly expanding arena of commercial printing (i.e., package printing in general).

Packaging isn’t going anywhere. Newspapers may fold, and magazines may go online. Some people may prefer e-readers to print books. But as long as products in grocery stores, pharmacies, and other retail establishments compete with each other for the consumer’s attention (i.e., their dollars), package printing will thrive. (Think about a store with packages that have no labels or graphics. It’s not going to happen.)

In this light, earlier this week my fiancee sent me some photos she had taken of unique flexible packaging that looks like a mason jar. She also tore the back cover off a magazine to give me because it has a tip-on Chanel perfume container fugitive glued to a Chanel ad.

What Is Flexible Packaging?

So what’s this all about? What is flexible packaging?

The Flexible Packaging Association defines flexible packaging in the following way on “Typically taking the shape of a bag, pouch, liner, or overwrap, flexible packaging is defined as any package or any part of a package whose shape can be readily changed.” That is, the contents of flexible packaging can be squeezed out, and the container can be resealed and rolled up or squished up to take up less space. It’s not rigid.

It has the following benefits:

  • “From ensuring food safety and extending shelf life, to providing even heating, barrier protection, ease of use, resealability and superb printability, the industry continues to advance at an unprecedented rate.” (
  • “Innovation and technology have enabled flexible packaging manufacturers to use fewer natural resources in the creation of their packaging, and improvements in production processes have reduced water and energy consumption, greenhouse gas emissions, and volatile organic compounds.” (
  • “Even more, lighter-weight flexible packaging results in less transportation-related energy and fossil fuel consumption, and environmental pollution.” (

The Samples: Faux Mason Jar and Chanel Perfume “Bottle”

Let’s get back to the samples my fiancee gave me and discuss why they work.

The first sample is packaging for a chocolate cookie mix. It is a soft version of a mason jar, the kind used for canning fruits and vegetables. It has precise detail in its lid as well as specular highlights that make the faux glass of the jar look like real glass and the metal top (which is really just foil) look like rigid metal. A fine artist would say the design is a good example of “trompe l’oeil.” (Wikipedia defines trompe l’oeil as “an art technique that uses realistic imagery to create the optical illusion that the depicted objects exist in three dimensions.”) In the case of this flexible packaging, the image of the mason jar appears to be three dimensional when it is really only composed of a front and a back foil panel.

From an emotional point of view, the packaging brings to mind a simpler time when we grew and canned or bottled our own products. It evokes thoughts of really good cookies that were made at home from quality ingredients. Presumably this will interest those consumers who grew up making cookies in their own oven. This is the emotional hook.

What makes this sample of flexible packaging special is two-fold. There is a bit of humor in the double-take it provokes. (It looks like a cylindrical mason jar, but it’s really only flat, flexible packaging.) For those who grew up in the 1960s and 1970s, it also is a nod to Pop Art or, more specifically, to those soft sculptures of everyday consumer products such as Claes Oldenburg’s huge fabric ice bag from the 1970s. In that case and in other similar works, by making the art much larger than usual or by using unexpected materials (like a hamburger made out of cloth), the artist gets us to look at an object from contemporary culture in a different way, as a piece of art in and of itself.

In the case of the flexible packaging mason jar of cookie mix, what makes it unique is the initial recognition of the jar, and then the realization that it is not as it seems. The consumer sees it on the shelf and stops, and then looks again. Sometimes that’s all it takes.

Now the Chanel box.

I just pulled the Chanel box off its backing (the back interior cover of the magazine), and, upon closer inspection, it seems to be a printed bottle of perfume. It has a vertical pull-tab that brings up a small nozzle. When I squeeze the box, the flexible bag inside is compressed, and a stream of perfume exits through the spray nozzle, bringing an irresistible note of high-fashion to my nose.

I think it’s intriguing because it is a functional product. Granted it is small, so the reader of the magazine will be compelled to go out and buy a large bottle if she likes the perfume. But more than that, it is a reader “involvement” device. You do something, and you get the product—all in the comfort of your home. You don’t need to drive to the department store and test perfume from the sample bottles. This creates an intimate moment. It’s just you and Chanel. And all of this would not be possible without flexible packaging. The little foil pouch in the fold-over Chanel box fugitive glued to the magazine cover makes this possible.

How Do You Print on These Packages?

I thought about this packaging film, and I made the assumption that offset commercial printing would not be an option. I assumed that maintaining the dimensional stability of such foils would be impossible given the pressure of the offset press rollers.

I found the answer to my quandry on the Consolidated Label website, which references its new 10-unit flexographic press as being ideal for flexible packaging. Elsewhere I read that inkjet equipment could also be used for such package printing, and still elsewhere I saw a reference to using rotogravure printing for flexible packaging.

Notably, the research I did touted the benefits of UV-cured inks for flexible packaging, since they “dry” instantly when exposed to UV light and since they therefore adhere well to non-porous materials such as packaging film.

What You Can Learn from This Case Study

  1. Package printing is a growing industry. Therefore, if you’re a designer, a print buyer, or a print sales professional, it behooves you to read as much as you can about the subject.
  2. Flexible packaging can be unique. It can catch the eye of the consumer. It also provides a large “canvas” on which to display the advertising graphics: much more than the space provided by a stick-on label. This leads to more consumer interest and more sales.
  3. Flexible packaging takes fewer resources to make. It is usually recyclable. It takes up less space in transit to retailers and on the display shelf as well. And it is resealable. In addition, it is not permeable (nothing can contaminate the food or other substance it contains). This means it provides superior “barrier protection,” which makes the FDA happy and also keeps you healthy.

Commercial Printing: Personalized Package Printing

Sunday, September 9th, 2018

I just read an article by Tom Egan, vice president, industry services, at the Association for Packaging and Processing Technologies, entitled “Package Printing Gets Personal.” It was published online at on 7/30/18.

What makes this article intriguing to me is Egan’s ability to articulate the immense power of personalization. Basically, even when you buy a bottle of water (which is one of the examples he cites in the article), you’re making a statement about who you are: your essence, your individuality and values. And when the brand, as reflected through the packaging of the water, engages your emotions and makes you want to buy one kind of water over another again and again, it is clear that the marketing information on the product has created a tidal pull on you, both intellectually and emotionally.

When you think about this, it’s pretty amazing. And according to Egan’s article, the ability to personalize packaging design dramatically enhances the “pull” of the brand. Furthermore, it is the increasing ease of personalization, as well as its economy, plus the increasing quality of digital commercial printing, that are creating the perfect storm for package printing today.

Breaking It Down

Here are some of the words and phrases Egan uses in “Package Printing Gets Personal” to characterize the emotional pull of good packaging design:

  1. “Beverage manufacturers are looking to captivate customers with packaging that offers some form of personal resonance.” (“Package Printing Gets Personal”)
  2. “Whether referencing a lifestyle choice, a fond memory, or an important goal, a beverage label that can connect with consumers on a deeper level has the power to stick.” (“Package Printing Gets Personal”)
  3. “Today’s consumers will likely not reach for a drink when they simply feel thirsty, but instead when they feel understood.” (“Package Printing Gets Personal”)

Particularly the last quote has an almost transcendent feel. It’s not about the product; it’s about the experience and the values the product resonates with in the mind of the consumer. Using typefaces, the principles of graphic design, copywriting skill, and custom printing acumen and technology, marketing departments wield immense power to influence their customers.

Beverage Packaging Examples

Egan goes on to describe a number of bottling promotions and their beverage packaging.

  1. For instance. he describes a promotion in which Johnnie Walker, the whiskey company, created Jane Walker whiskey, a limited edition from which a portion of the proceeds went to organizations that empower women. So those who bought this whiskey could be affiliated with a brand that values strong, successful women and that shows this commitment through financial donations. This commercial printing initiative attracted “the female demographic typically not considered a whiskey-drinking group” (“Package Printing Gets Personal”).
  2. Another example Egan describes involves Jack Daniel’s Gentleman Jack whiskey, aimed at a demographic that “associates fine whiskey with a premium sipping experience.” (“Package Printing Gets Personal”) To distinguish this premium product from value brands, the manufacturer employs tactile labels and tinted glass to give the bottled product a more sophisticated look.
  3. A third example in Egan’s article involves promoting smaller cans and bottles of beverages, since there is a current drive toward portion control. So, in essence, bottling companies can command a higher price for smaller amounts of their product while making their customers feel good about their decision to drink less (less sugar, less alcohol, or just “less”).

Benefits of New Commercial Printing Technologies

Egan references the “Share a Coke” campaign in which Coca-Cola cans were personalized with customer names. This “strengthened customer loyalty and created buzz around the brand” (“Package Printing Gets Personal”). And it was only because digital custom printing can infinitely vary its printed output that such a powerful and persuasive campaign could be done, particularly for a reasonable cost. In addition, since high quality commercial printing is such an integral part of premium packaging, the fact that digital printing is now achieving such high quality makes a huge difference in the effectiveness of digital labeling. After all, if a customer is asked to pay a premium for a personalized product, the printing has to be stellar.

Sustainability is another draw of this new technology. Digital printing creates less waste and uses less energy. For environmentally conscious customers, this reflects well on the beverage makers and bottlers. Vegetable-based and aqueous inks provide excellent quality printing while releasing few if any VOCs (volatile organic compounds) into the atmosphere.

The same holds true for UV inks. These are cured instantly with UV light, so fewer VOCs are released, plus this technology allows for printing directly on non-porous substrates such as glass and plastic bottles. Furthermore, such direct printing is eye catching and dramatic when compared to traditional labels.

What this means is that beverage companies can produce their alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks, and get them packaged more strikingly and in a shorter time frame, so their products can be fresher when purchased by the consumer. And at the same time, the entire production cycle can be better for the environment. Moreover, since digital printing allows for versioning and immediate printing, it’s possible to keep less product in inventory or change the product more often (perhaps on a seasonal basis to focus on special calendar dates).

Another benefit of the current digital technology is the amount of coverage possible with some of the newer technologies. For instance, Egan in “Package Printing Gets Personal” focuses on both shrink sleeves and paperboard packaging, noting the benefits of each. That is, the shrink sleeves holding a six pack of a beverage provide a lot of space for dynamic images; however, they are often torn off and discarded. In contrast, some bottlers choose to package a six pack in cardboard, providing a longer-lasting visual display. The consumer can see the imagery and read about the brand story whenever she/he goes to the refrigerator. In both cases, the printing and wrapping of the product have benefited tremendously from digital printing and finishing technology.

Specialty inks can also add to the brand appeal. For instance, Egan’s article references the use of thermo inks in Coors Light packaging. The color of the imagery will change depending on the level of coldness of the beer. When the beer gets to the right temperature for drinking, this will be reflected in the color of the ink on the cans. (This is both useful and fun for the consumer.)

This reflects the growth in specialty inks, which have been crafted to change with temperature, and which can adhere better to metal cans. At the same time, other inks are now on the market that are light responsive or more tactile than traditional inks. And in addition to better technologies for coating metal cans, there has been an increase in the resolution of the imagery that printers can produce when printing beverage packaging.

The Take Away

Tom Egan’s article, “Package Printing Gets Personal,” basically says that if you’re a commercial printing vendor, the newer digital printing technologies, as well as advances in inks and coating methods, will help your brand tell its story. If you can create an experience that resonates with the consumer’s values and aspirations, and if you vary the appearance of the packaging to keep making the buying experience new and interesting, you can drive customers to your product year after year.


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