Crossing the digital divide

18 February 2014

Once an infantile technology, digital print is now a rapidly maturing proposition that offers
packaging companies an array of ways to add value to their print offering. However, it remains a major investment, and knowing what you want digital to do for your business is paramount.

The phrase 'Anything that can go digital will go digital' has become something of a mission statement for manufacturers, end users and brand owners in recent years. Companies that have already embraced the digital print revolution are benefitting from the ability
to enter new markets, create new applications, and add value to their printed packaging offering.

The confidence in this technology is arguably well placed. Recent research shows that the market for digital packaging and labels was worth $7.3 billion in 2013, with an impressive $6 billion (89.6%) of this accounted for by digitally printed labels.

According to market analyst Smithers Pira, the size of the digital packaging market is expected to grow by a considerable 375%
by 2018, a marked improvement over the 28% growth projection expected of the analogue packaging sector.

Burgeoning field
Growth in digital print isn't confined to one locality either. While the adage of declining print runs in conventional print still rings true, burgeoning populations and an increasing demand for packaging, innovative packaging in particular, has resulted in growth in digital across the globe, especially in Europe and the US.

Packaging firms and, as a result, brand owners are increasingly tapping into the variable data capabilities prevalent on digital presses, which enables companies to offer personalisation coupled with short run projects.

There are growing numbers of manufacturers and suppliers wanting a piece of the digital pie, but it can be argued that herein lies the danger. Packaging converters run the risk of landing themselves an expensive piece of admittedly capable equipment that could
lay idle unless they have a suitable business plan to accompany the considerable investment.

A knowledge of the technology's capabilities, and how best to leverage them in order to add value for the customer, is imperative if the kit is to pay off.

"Training, support and financial assistance should also be considered when choosing a digital press," advises Alon Bar-Shany, vice president and general manager of HP's Indigo digital press division. "While digital flexible packaging printing may still sound like a step into the unknown for traditional converters, some suppliers offer support from myriad sources and programs."

Giant leap
According to Bar-Shany, selecting a new digital press is only part of the process, with training by the selling supplier expected to go further than face-to-face training of the press operator. In his eyes, this should also comprise sales and marketing advice for the simple but often overlooked reason that selling digital print is different from selling conventional print.

"Integrating a digital press into a well-established conventional workflow can have a major impact on a company's success," he explains. "Digital press manufacturers that have existing partnerships with prepress and finishing suppliers will be able to help construct a digital end-to-end solution that best meets the requirements and integrates seamlessly into existing and future operations."

While the ability to offer personalisation on printed packaging is an obvious boon for companies moving into digital print production, print quality and reliability are key factors to take into consideration. With marketing spends expected to stretch ever further, brand managers are demanding more of their print spend, however that may be used.

One element of this is in the field of colour matching, with digitally printed materials expected to match the equivalent collateral, which is printed conventionally. What is integral here too, is that this consistency is expected to be the same across the growing substrate range. When you take this into consideration, packaging converters that are investing in digital will likely be looking to be able to print more than four-colour.

For flexographic print converters, this will also require white ink in its sole channel in order to print as a backing colour or as a standard one.

As 2014 progresses, there is likely to be an increasing number of digital product launches entering the equation. An exciting tradeshow calendar, with major events such as Ipex 2014, will result in major manufacturers announcing a raft of print technology for packaging producers wanting to invest in digital. The ability to economically produce short print runs that suit the needs of packaging buyers will continue to attract companies to this burgeoning technology.

It comes as no surprise that print on demand results in less waste. This helps brands ensure that new designs, or changes in products such as food product ingredients, do not result in said stock becoming redundant.

However, for every adopter, the print industry arguably remains comprised of a hesitant, reluctant breed. But this represents a very viable chance. While digital print technology is a rapidly maturing arena, there is still much to gain from such an exciting, versatile opportunity.

Case study: Tesco and Shere Print
Tesco and major UK potato producer Branston recently called on Shere Print to help launch its 'Pic on a Pack' initiative with the range of Tesco Parmentier Potatoes. The project successfully leveraged digital print and workflow technology to enable Tesco customers to upload their own photo online, so that it could be featured on the front of the package, which is sold across Tesco's stores.

According to Mark Wilcox, technical manager at Branston, the initiative was a way of "getting people talking: about its great products in a category where it's often hard to generate any publicity".

He explains: "Tesco were very keen to embrace the project and saw the benefits in linking directly with their customers. We worked closely with the Shere Print team at Ultimate Packaging to deliver the first digitally printed, personalised lidding film in produce. "Using digital print has made the project possible as each impression can be different, there are no plates involved at all. Digitally printed personalised labels have been around for some time but personalised flexible packaging is a new and exciting opportunity."

Success story: Coca-Cola
The relatively recent 'Share a Coke With...' campaign became something of a phenomenon. A classic case of personalisation transcending the sphere of direct mail campaigns to engage the public and raise brand awareness. HP Indigo presses were used to produce more than a billion labels, featuring a number of the world's most popular names, that were digitally printed onto 375ml and 500ml bottles of Coca-Cola.

'Share a Coke' took clear advantage of the variable data capability of these digital presses, and used personalisation to roll out the campaign in 35 European countries. What was impressive in this case is that the production run of more than a billion labels
dispelled the common myth that digital print technology is only suited to short run jobs.

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