Excellence Awards Judging Panel Shares Insights Into 33rd Annual Competition
Being a judge in the Packaging Impressions Excellence Awards is not an easy task. As one of the only competitions in the industry that includes all packaging formats and printing processes, for a day, our judges have to be experts in labels, flexible packaging, shrink sleeves, folding cartons, and corrugated packaging and displays. They compare and contrast flexography, offset, gravure, and screen printed entries, along with both electrophotographic and inkjet digital technologies.
It’s a long day of dissecting dot structure, registration, and special effects, but it’s inspiring to see the panel’s dedication to the print industry and desire to honor the best of the best. This year’s competition was tightly contested and provided clear evidence that the quality gaps between the processes are diminishing. While the top three entries were printed with conventional technologies, the quality across the board proved to be very strong, with digital receiving some recognition for its quality as well.
“We have truly reached a point where all major printing technologies are almost indistinguishable,” said Mark Mazur, a member of the judging panel and 2009 inductee into the Flexographic Technical Association’s Hall of Fame. “Offset, gravure, flexo, and digital all produce outstanding print samples.”
The rise of digital printing’s prowess was a common theme among the judges, who were collectively impressed with how well the technology compared to its conventional counterparts. The quality advancements in digital printing are particularly impressive considering how new the technology is, relative to the more traditional technologies.
Additionally, the digital printing conversation has expanded beyond how well the technology competes with conventional platforms. Digital printing in labels and packaging was once dominated by electrophotographic technologies, but has since seen a significant rise in inkjet platforms. While flexible packaging is still largely EP-based on the digital side, this year’s Excellence Awards saw a multitude of labels and folding cartons printed with inkjet.
“There are some categories where digital has really been emergent, such as shrink sleeves for cans,” Patrick LaMourie, a first-time judge and digital solutions manager for Domino, said. “It’s very well-suited for combination printing. A lot of that historically has been dominated by electrophotography as a technology, but we did see some inkjet entries this year and I’d expect that to grow in future years.”
Another key theme of this year’s awards was the high level of embellishment and print enhancement the entries exhibited across the board. Special effects such as foiling, embossing, and metallic inks were prevalent in all packaging segments, demonstrating how printers and converters are encouraging brands to further enhance their packaging to attract consumers.
In particular, Heather Buchholz, manager of global marketing inks and global communications for Sun Chemical, said she was particularly impressed with the level of embossing. This year marked Buchholz’s third on the judging panel, and she said that even over the course of a few years, the embellishment technologies and techniques have greatly improved.
“I think the continued use of specialty effects has morphed from year to year and the use of embossing was quite evident this year,” she said. “It is interesting to see the trends evolve year over year and how brands choose to incorporate unique effects into the branding elements.”
When it came time to select a winner of Best of Show — the competition’s top honor — there were three entries that quickly rose to the top. The only question was what order they should be placed in. In the end, it was the gravure-printed Hershey’s pouch from American Packaging Corporation that earned the top spot, edging out a wine label from Labeltronix and a folding carton from Diamond Packaging. According to Enright, it was the combination of several factors that placed the pouch over the top, as he highlighted its many strengths in multiple facets.
“This entry showcased exceptional ink laydown, rich strong colors, and great registration,” he said. “This entry exemplifies today’s high quality standards of package printing. It is a truly impressive entry done very well.”
While judging the Packaging Impressions Excellence Awards can make for a challenging day, Enright says part of the reason he has returned to the panel for many years in a row is that each year brings a new surprise. The judges do not have access to entries prior to the judging day, and they enter each year unsure of what the competition will bring.
“While it can be an arduous task to work through the entries each year, I look forward to the opportunity to critique the entries entered into the Packaging Impressions Excellence Awards competition,” he said. “Each year as we begin the judging process, it is really like opening a box of chocolates. As judges, we get to admire and critique the best representations of all types of printing being done today, and as a judge, I truly appreciate the work, effort, and time it takes for each company to prepare their entries for this competition.”