Inkjet Advancing Digital Printing Across Packaging Applications
Inkjet is expanding the use of digital printing across packaging applications. According to a new NAPCO Research report, the combination of buyer trends and inkjet technology innovations are promoting wider use of digital printing in the production of labels, corrugated, folding cartons, and flexible packaging. (Click here to download the report.)
Innovations in printheads, inks, and substrates are yielding printing systems with more competitive cost structures, faster printing speeds, enhanced image quality, and the ability to print on a wider variety of substrates are breaking barriers that previously restricted inkjet’s use for printing labels, corrugated, folding cartons, and flexible packaging.
The research surveyed readers of Packaging Impressions, Printing Impressions, and In-plant Impressions that print labels and packaging. Eighty-three percent (83%) of survey respondents report printing labels and/or packaging on digital presses. Figure 1 shows the types of packaging applications respondents reported printed by inkjet presses.
What is Driving Inkjet’s Appeal?
Macro trends among consumers and brands are resulting in demands for smaller quantities, faster turnaround times, and more versioning. Inkjet printing can accommodate many core features and benefits brand owners expect in their packaging, including:
- Compelling and visually attractive labels or packaging that engages customers
- Meeting color standards
- Adhering to tight deadlines and fast turnaround
- Ordering work in desired (required minimum) quantities
- Accommodating higher numbers of SKUs
- Supporting more targeted versions
- Complying with changing regulations
- Meeting environmental standards
Inkjet Expanding Packaging Application Options
As a non-impact printing technique, inkjet prints on a wider variety of industry-standard substrates more efficiently and cost-effectively than other technologies. Inkjet printing can meet brand owner demands for eye-catching designs and personalization elements such as expiration dates, tracking barcodes, and serial numbers.
Survey respondents print various types of packaging applications on inkjet devices. Over 50% of respondents printed folding cartons, labels, flexible packaging, corrugated packaging (and displays), and tags on inkjet devices. This is a testament to the capabilities of current inkjet devices to address label and packaging printing requirements.
According to the report, inkjet offers the following benefits to core packaging applications.
- Enhancing label printing options. Labels have long been printed on digital printing devices. Digital label printing systems include electrophotographic (toner) presses and single-pass and multi-pass inkjet printing devices that print directly onto rolls of papers, films, foils, and other materials that can be converted into different types and sizes of labels. Survey respondents report the top benefits printing labels on inkjet printing devices are the ability to print variable images/data, high-quality output, ease of use, faster print speeds, and low capital costs.
- Expanding folding carton possibilities. Folding cartons are produced from heavier paper-based stocks and can be printed by a wide range of processes including offset, digital toner, and digital inkjet presses. Progress in sheetfed inkjet and finishing have opened up possibilities for both commercial printers and packaging converters to take advantage of new inkjet technology offerings. Inkjet sheetfed presses with B2 sheet size and greater rival offset press image quality with 1200 x 1200 resolution. They can also address a wide variety of folding carton requirements with their support of thick paper —and larger sheet sizes.
- Adding more colors to corrugated. Inkjet printing is enabling brand owners and retailers to add more color and special effects to corrugated, broadening its use from simple brown shipping containers to decorative shelf-ready packaging and high-end boxes. In addition, printing corrugated materials on digital inkjet devices offers brand owners the ability to test new concepts and produce short runs in a cost-effective and time-sensitive manner.
- Emerging opportunity to expand digital printing of flexible packaging. The majority of flexible packaging is produced via flexographic or gravure printing, with less than 1% printed on digital printing devices. Digital printing of flexible packaging started on electrophotographic devices, but the introduction of high-speed inkjet devices is likely to expand its use.
Ongoing advances in inkjet printing technologies are enabling its use to increase in fundamental packaging applications. As previous barriers to print quality, substrate compatibility, speed, productivity, and cost continue to be removed, inkjet’s use will continue to spread and offer advantages in all packaging applications.
Lisa Cross is the principal analyst of NAPCO Research (a unit of NAPCO Media) where she conducts market research and analysis on emerging trends and changing dynamics in the commercial, in-plant and packaging industries, and the market forces that are driving those changes. With decades of experience covering the graphic arts and marketing industries, Cross has authored thousands of articles on a variety of topics, including technology trends, business strategy, sales, marketing and legislation.