How Commercial Printers Are Breaking Into Package Printing Successfully
The following article was originally published by Printing Impressions. To read more of their content, subscribe to their newsletter, Today on PIWorld.
Commercial printers seeking to diversify their capabilities and expand their offerings are increasingly turning to the high-growth segments of labels and packaging. With packaging production technology becoming more accessible and lowering entry barriers, many commercial printers are experiencing packaging expansion success through a combination of investment in equipment and education.
In fact, in NAPCO Research’s report “Convergence in Print: A Shift to the New Normal,” 40% of the nearly 250 commercial printers surveyed stated that they have either added label printing capabilities or are considering it. The other packaging segments also showed substantial interest with 37% of commercial print respondents considering folding cartons, 32% with an eye on flexible packaging, and 29% considering corrugated.
While the opportunities across the packaging space are certainly worthwhile for commercial printers to consider, making a successful move into packaging is easier said than done. There are significant complexities to be aware of in label and packaging production, and there are distinctions that must be made between packaging customers and prospects versus commercial. But with the right educational initiatives and investments in technological and human resources, packaging success can be achieved.
Understanding the Packaging Market
In a recent Printing Impressions special report, “Ways Commercial Printers Can Expand Into Package Printing,” the importance of education for commercial printers entering packaging is evident. For example, at Wallace Carlson, a Minnetonka, Minnesota-based print service provider, growing a successful packaging division was a result of bringing in external expertise, investing in existing employees’ understanding of packaging, and bringing the right equipment on board.
Charlie Cox, Wallace Carlson’s COO, explains that before he joined the company he had extensive experience in packaging, which helped him in growing Wallace Carlson’s packaging capabilities. But he adds that internal training and seminars, along with strategic purchases of robust equipment including a new Komori GLX640 advance press with coater – the first of its kind in the US – along with finishing equipment such as a Brausse Tornado 106CE diecutter and embosser and a Brausse TA900 folder/gluer, have given the company a leg up in producing high-end retail packaging.
The Digital Package Printing Opportunity
While conventional printing equipment has been central to Wallace Carlson’s journey in packaging, many commercial printers entering the packaging segment have done so by leveraging the flexibility and lower capital costs of digital equipment.
SunDance, for example, an Orlando, Florida-based print service provider, has grown in folding carton, label, and flexible packaging with a combination of conventional and digital technologies. On the folding carton side, many commercial printers have found a viable entry point with their sheetfed offset equipment. This is the primary technology used to print folding cartons, and the presses that commercial printers use are often robust enough to run carton stock. For SunDance, the company’s 2009 addition of a Heidelberg Speedmaster CD 102 helped it make the leap into folding cartons.
But with an eye on additional opportunities in the packaging segment, SunDance made the move into flexible packaging, which is among the fastest growing segments in packaging. This was done through the latest in digital technology, with the 2021 addition of an HP Indigo 25K digital press, accompanied by a pouching line and laminator that came online earlier this year.
The addition of the digital flexible packaging system at SunDance is an excellent example of how digital printing is lowering barriers to entry into the various packaging segments. In flexible packaging for example, the vast majority of output is produced on wide-web flexographic or rotogravure presses, which are both capital intensive and require a sizable footprint – not ideal for commercial printers looking for an entry point into the segment. Digital printing however, is less costly up front, is well-suited toward short-run production, and requires less space on the floor. It is also easier to operate than conventional equipment, which benefits from highly-skilled operators.
In a NAPCO Research report “Digital Package Printing: The Time is Now!,” the potential for digital printing in the flexible packaging space is evident. The survey studied both printers’ and brand owners’ experiences with digital printing and its advantages. In a question directed toward printers that have made the move into digital packaging production, respondents indicated that short-run production capabilities (59%), plate and tooling cost reduction (58%), and fast turnarounds (52%), were all top advantages of digital package printing. For commercial printers seeking to enter the market, these are all key components for success in growing a packaging division.
Meanwhile, brand owners were asked to share how demand was fluctuating among the packaging formats they utilize. While prime labels were the top growth segment, with 76% of respondents stating their prime label demand is growing, flexible packaging and shrink sleeves were not far behind at 68% and 60% respectively. As more digital presses geared toward flexible packaging hit the market, commercial printers seeking packaging growth will benefit from the advantages of the technology and the increased demand for the application.
Education is Imperative for Packaging Expansion
While the latest in printing and converting technology has made the jump from commercial to packaging easier to make, printers should not view these tools as a golden ticket to packaging growth. In addition to investment in the right equipment, commercial printers must recognize that training and education in sales, production, and customer service is imperative for packaging success.
Printing is often considered to be the “easy part” when making the leap into labels and packaging, and while these technological advancements have made packaging a viable option for commercial printers, it can only be used to its highest potential when accompanied by the necessary knowledge and expertise.
Click on the following link to access the “Ways Commercial Printers Can Expand Into Package Printing" special report.
Additionally, to learn more about convergence — and to see it in action — be sure to attend the PRINTING United Expo taking place October 19-21 at the Las Vegas Convention Center. The Expo will bring together the entire printing industry under one roof. Registration is now open. Visit printingunited.com for more information.
Cory Francer is an analyst at NAPCO Research. He formerly served as editor-in-chief of Packaging Impressions.