Digitally Printed Packaging: Opportunity for Commercial Printers?

Digital print has taken hold in several areas in commercial printing and book publishing, driven by the need to maximize the return on the investment (ROI) in print. However, packaging printing, book printing and commercial printing are all very different. Books are printed, sold, shipped, inventoried, and often unsold and returned. Print-on-demand has proven to be an effective way to reduce waste. Variable data printing (VDP) and personalization have been shown to increase the effectiveness of direct mail.

Can these value propositions apply to digital print for packaging? If so, why haven’t we seen more digital print in packaging? And is there an opportunity for commercial printers in digital packaging?

Packaging includes metal and glass containers, corrugated, folding cartons and flexible packaging. Corrugated also includes litholam, where a paperboard top sheet is printed, generally offset (litho), and laminated (lam) to corrugated for point-of-sale displays and cartons. The litholam top sheet is typically a coated cover or folding carton grade of paperboard. Packages also have labels, of course, and labels have seen the greatest development in digital print for packaging.

Mark Hanley of IT Strategies explains, “The value proposition is understood to be very high by those who know. In the last five years, the market has fragmented, and one product may be sold in five different versions. This can lead to five runs of 10,000 rather than one run of 50,000 and, for some sub-segments, 10,000 is near the breakeven point.”

Kevin Karstedt of Karstedt Partners advises that, according to their new report (“Is Digital Printing Part of Your Brand or Operational Strategy?”), “the ultimate success or failure of digital printing in the packaging market depends on how well the three critical legs of the supply chain work together: Consumer Product Company (CPC), Print Service Provider/Converter, Technology Developer/OEM.” Based on more than 400 interviews with a variety of CPCs, he concludes that “there is a meaningful business opportunity for the concept of digital printing among a broad cross-section of market and customer segments,” adding that “approximately 50 percent of respondents note that their customers demand more customization of products and services.”

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