Commercial Convergence: Expanding Into Packaging
A common downfall of commercial printers expanding into packaging is thinking that buying new equipment is all it takes. While having the right tools for the job is essential, to succeed in this segment, printers need a healthy combination of confidence and determination. But most importantly, they must understand that package printing is different from commercial printing — and be willing to accept the necessary education.
Despite the added complexities of label and package printing compared to commercial printing, there is convincing evidence that droves of commercial printers are seeking to enter the space. In November of 2021, NAPCO Research, a division of NAPCO Media and PRINTING United Alliance, published “Convergence in Print: A Shift to the New Normal.” The study provides in-depth insights into the ongoing trend of PSPs expanding beyond their core segment and adding new print capabilities. Of all the segments studied, packaging proved to be the most popular market for printers to consider.
For example, of the nearly 250 commercial printers surveyed, 40% stated they either have added label printing capabilities or are considering it. Meanwhile, the three other main packaging segments were not far behind, with 37% of commercial printers eyeing folding cartons, 32% exploring flexible packaging, and 29% considering corrugated.
The research also uncovered printers’ willingness to back these explorations with their checkbooks. Because expansion into a new print segment may require investment in equipment, software, materials, and staffing, printers’ allocation of funds for the purpose of adding capabilities is a good indicator of their level of seriousness about making such a move.
More than a quarter (28%) stated they had already allocated funds for the equipment to expand into an adjacent printing segment. An additional 50% stated that they were at least considering making this allocation.
While packaging has been among the top growth segments of the industry, one of the most substantial barriers to entry has been the equipment required. For example, in label printing, narrow-web flexography — a technology rarely seen in traditional commercial printing — has been the dominant platform. In folding cartons, sheetfed offset, which is nearly ubiquitous across commercial printing, is the most common printing technique.
However, for commercial printers entering the market, their first packaging jobs tend to be of the short-run variety, which their offset assets are not as well-suited for. Meanwhile, the complexity and large manufacturing footprints required for conventional flexible packaging and corrugated production have long kept commercial printers on the sidelines.
However, digital printing solutions have emerged across the four major segments, giving commercial printers increased options to enter the packaging space with a lower-cost, short-run platform that does not require plates, tooling, and other components of conventional processes. While there are complexities in prepress and finishing that commercial printers must become acclimated with, the rise of digital printing has at the very least made the printing component of the process far more accessible.