Can Commercial Printers take advantage of the latest trends in packaging ?


I’m constantly reading endless promotional material and press releases about the new emerging digital print opportunities like photobooks, transpromo and packaging. But do printers really see these applications as opportunities and is it realistic to expect a printer to compete successfully in such unfamiliar territory? Probably the least talked about and certainly the application least taken advantage of is packaging. 

Qualifying the Packaging opportunity

Firstly, we need to qualify what we mean by the digital packaging opportunity – the majority of fast moving consumer goods packaging found in high street supermarkets is currently off limits due to the enormous volumes being produced and the wide variety of format sizes and substrates being used. This is further compounded by commodity pricing – which digital isn’t competing with of course. 

Opportunities for Digital Printers

However, there is a vast array of packaging applications where digital printing can be more successfully used than the traditional print on packaging processes of offset, gravure and flexography. Segments like pharmaceutical and cosmetics generate large volumes of high value, short-run products. Many of these products also require quick turnaround and the use of variable data for language and ingredient changes as well as anti-counterfeiting applications for brand protection, which make them perfectly suited for digital printing. There are other opportunities where products are linked to specific time sensitive promotions and events where digital printing becomes an obvious choice because of the lower volumes, the requirement for specific branding, versioning and the need to eliminate waste and obsolescence.

Most mainstream packaging printers and converters are not generalists. They are specialists in either: corrugated, cartons, labels or flexible packaging using predominantly flexo and offset production with very little digital output. Consequently there is a significant opportunity for digital print providers to find growth in the packaging sector. However, to be a mainstream packaging printer and attract new larger packaging clients, digital printers need to develop a higher level of credibility and expertise. Being able to provide an array of finishing applications to convert the printed sheet into a piece of packaging is fundamentally important. The majority of packaging also has a combination of die-cutting, laminating, varnishing, foiling, gluing, inclusion of windows and security features. Most commercial printers are used to producing a printed product and delivering it directly to the client. They need to understand that in packaging they are part of a supply chain and have to liaise and produce products that fit into a particular supply chain’s requirements, with logistical constraints and SLAs..

Key drivers

According to a recent Packaging News/easyFairs survey on buying trends 2012 ,the top drivers for packaging innovation were:

Digital printing can certainly play an important part in all the major drivers for packaging innovation. From a manufacturing perspective it is about reducing cost, achieving greater efficiency in the supply chain and a reduction in carbon footprint. Digitally printed packaging can deliver low volumes, which contain an element of personalisation or versioning and the use of print on demand to significantly reduce production cost, inventory and waste. This can be effectively supported by automated workflows, which can reduce order processing and manual touch points.

Commercial printers with digital print equipment often have fully automated workflows with closed loop colour management, for ensuring quality and consistency of print jobs. Hence they are adept at handling large volumes of print jobs with variable data. This gives them a significant advantage over most traditional packaging converters who are more likely to have limited digital print capability or fully automated workflows and data management skills.

The digital packaging market is currently in its infancy but it is growing rapidly, largely through the production of labels, cartons and corrugated packaging.  In a recent report by InfoTrends, the worldwide growth rate of Digital Packaging is estimated at 15% CAGR 09/14 (Digital Packaging, Making it Work *). The best entry point for commercial print providers is to become a “one-stop shop for packaging”, working with smaller clients who have a particular set of product requirements such as labels, cartons, supporting point of sale merchandising and marketing collateral.

Benefits for Brand Owners

The key benefit that digital print delivers for smaller brand owners is increased flexibility over production and the ability to control marketing and packaging budgets more effectively.

For brand owners the emphasis is slowly moving away from the unit cost of the printed package and is becoming focused on the end to end supply chain cost. Consequently there is huge interest in how digital print can provide solutions to supply chain problems by creating efficiencies and reducing cost. Web to print systems are a great example of this and we have already seen many successful applications, which have created new business models and driven large volumes of personalised, digitally printed packaging. Applications that have included personalised chocolate boxes, mug boxes, cosmetics and versioned print for computing and software packaging. This is a new opportunity for printers to create more profitable printed packaging and become more valuable to their customers by reducing cost and at the same time increasing revenues.

Examples of digital packaging*

How to get started

For printers looking to enter the packaging market as a long-term opportunity to grow their business, it is essential to have a clear business and marketing plan. This should include:

  • Background research on suitable packaging sectors
  • Identification of the right product mix
  • Profiling of new prospects to ensure there is a good fit
  •  Identifying sales channels and route to market
  •  Equipment and workflow investment requirements
  •  Identifying added value services and high margin products
  •  Identifying opportunities to reduce overall product lifecycle cost through digital printing
  •  Creation of products that have a sustainability advantage from on demand digital production.

 Digital print has played a part in the packaging supply chain for many years, but it has always been on the periphery for proofing, prototypes and sales samples. As digital print technology becomes more competitive from increases in production speed, improved print quality and utilisation of a much wider range of materials, it will become even more attractive for both mainstream and niche packaging applications.

The packaging market will continue to grow steadily and there is no doubt that the future holds tremendous growth potential for digital printers willing to embrace the opportunity. With creative ideas and careful planning that leverages the full range of digital capability – this may not be such a big leap as most commercial printers might think.

Neil Falconer -Print Industry Strategy Consultant and MD of

Neil Falconer -Print Industry Strategy Consultant and MD of

Neil Falconer



*From InfoTrends, Digital Packaging: Making It Work –  Available from the Ricoh Business Driver Programme Portal

This article was commissioned by Ricoh to bring you independent opinions from industry experts. We hope you find our guest speaker’s views interesting and stimulating. We would appreciate your feedback. 

For more information about Ricoh’s Packaging solutions and initiatives see:

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