According to Smithers Pira market analysts, digital has been the fastest-growing part of the print market for many years, averaging a compound annual growth rate between 2009 and 2014 of 9.2% in terms of value and 5.9% by volume.
Challenge to find ways to reach customers
The sky’s the limit when it comes to what we can print on; packaging boxes, synthetics, name tags, coated or uncoated substrates. Some of the latest presses are capable of printing on materials that couldn’t be printed on a few years ago.
In the challenge to find ways to reach customers, flexibility is necessary said Filip Weymans, business development manager, Xeikon.
“We’re in an era where packaging has to trigger emotions and there are numerous examples where social media together with personalisation can be used to do this,” he told Inspire, Iggesund Paperboard magazine.
Weymans cites Ferrero’s Facebook campaign for a personalised label on a jar of Nutella, with the same font, look and feel as the original label.
“The Nutella campaign triggered an enormous flow of people to the company’s Facebook page – 185,000 in Belgium, a country of just 11m,” said Weymans.
“All of the labels were printed on a digital press and every label was unique. This is something that could not have been done in the past, but it will become a part of companies’ print and packaging portfolios in the next two or three years.”
The new digital presses can also handle large formats for signs or roll-ups. That roll-up can have electronics printed on it for more interactivity, such as measuring the number of passers-by or how long someone stops to read the message. Consumers can touch the printed material by hand and hear a message or music. Printing and packaging has come a long way since the days when its sole purpose was to inform.
“Digital printing enables brand reinvention by creating opportunities that were not possible before. Imagine what a creative brand can do when the packages don’t have to look exactly alike,” added Weymans.
Variable data printing customises the content of printed products to make them more personal so that what lands in front of consumers is more targeted, relevant and measurable, said Ulf Sunnberg, chairman, GrafKom, a Nordic network for the graphics industry.
Sunnberg acknowledges the printing industry has become more complex as the trend moves towards increasing personalisation and variable data. Despite predictions we are heading towards a paperless society, social media is actually generating print.
“A lot of people are looking at digital and offset and deciding where to print based on the cost rather than considering value,” he added.
“Instead of buying print communication, they should be talking to their customers about what they are trying to achieve.
“Six hundred and fifty million pieces of content are uploaded every year to social media, and many of these images are being printed ie Postify postcards from Facebook. People are starting to realise paper has its own value. It’s tactile, and people feel more engaged with physical media than with a screen.”
The power of paper
Carmit Poleg, market development manager, HP Indigo, believes more brand owners and designers are beginning to rediscover the power of paper, despite talk about the virtual world taking over.
“There’s an emotional connection and power in being able to touch and feel a package,” she said.
“By leaving a printed trace, designers are giving respect back to paper, giving it the place it deserves with high-value applications. They are creating an emotional connection and a memorable experience that isn’t immediately thrown away.”
One of the biggest challenges with digital printing for packages is to change the mindset, added Sunnberg.
“We are making inroads, but we still have a conservative approach to packaging, viewing it in terms of high volumes.”
The problem today is many people think digital printing compromises on quality. “Quality is reaching high levels in different digital technologies,” said Jason Oliver, head of business area digital, Heidelberger Druckmaschinen.
“Compared to offset, the limitation mainly is performance.”
Another misconception is digital printing is too expensive. “Overall, the price-performance ration in digital print has improved a lot,” added Oliver.
“Weymans added the technique is especially attractive at lower volumes. “It’s only too expensive if you plan on using it to print 30 million pieces,” he said. “But, that is not the intention of digital printing. That is where offset excels today, but for short and medium runs, digital printing is more cost-effective.”
Offset printing is not headed for the grave
Despite digital printing’s flexibility, offset printing is not headed for the grave.
Yogev Barak, director of business management, HP Indigo said digital printing enables companies to print short runs of different versions of the same product, adapting the packaging information for a special need or region. For example, a package can de designed to meet a seasonal demand with a Christmas, Valentine’s Day or Halloween version. A special limited design can be selected for a sports event or a local campaign.
“I think we will see offset printing living side by side with digital technology, and each will cater to its sweet spot,” said Barak.
“Offset will be the choice for long runs and digital will excel for shorter, more sophisticated applications. This balance makes the most sense economically.
“We have seen this happening in the commercial world where people have both technologies and are leveraging the benefits of both.
“The cost of doing a shorter run may be more expensive, but the return on investment is clearly worth it,” said Barak.