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Package Printing — Packing It In

October 2004 By Mark Smith
Technology Editor
People still have to eat and drink, in good times and bad. That's something technology is not likely to ever change. This means, by extension, there will always be a need for packaging.

While oversimplified here, some variation of that argument is often made in support of commercial printers diversifying into package printing. Why shouldn't shops dive right into the market? All that is required is a press capable of handling heavier stocks, right? Not exactly.

A lot of different products and processes used to produce them tend to get lumped together as "package printing." The level of opportunity each represents can vary greatly.

Printers currently serving the label market, for example, are grappling with strong competition, cost pressures, overseas production and changes in the nature and use of the final product. Sounds all too familiar.

Flexible packaging is widely predicted to have a bright outlook, with double-digit growth, due in large part to expanding use of pouches for food products. Too bad this printing is done via flexography.

The folding carton market is bearing the brunt of that shift to alternative packaging, while also facing foreign competition. Speaking at the Print Outlook 04 conference, Newth Morris III, president of Dixie Printing and Packaging, reported he had seen the number of folding carton shops in the Baltimore area drop from 15 down to two in recent years. "Prices haven't gone up in the past three years," he added.

Good and Bad News

The bad news: Folding cartons are the most natural fit with the capabilities of commercial printers. The good news: The Paperboard Packaging Council reports the industry is experiencing a "robust" recovery in 2004, with shipments up 4.7 percent through June. Further, the folding carton market isn't homogeneous and, in fact, contains pockets of opportunity that commercial printers are finding they can exploit.

More than 30 years after 'The Graduate' movie made "plastics" the word for the future, Color Ink Inc., in Sussex, WI, found that business advice still rung true. About three years ago, the commercial printer—and more—added a six-color KBA Rapida 105 sheetfed press with in-line UV capabilities to enable its move into plastics and some heavier paperboard printing, reports Jay Zawerschnik, vice president of operations.

"The market was changing at that point, with the traditional commercial print market eroding," he says. "We looked for other opportunities to grow the business. The gap on this press enables us to print up to 49-pt. stock, and in-line UV helps in printing plastics."

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