Neil says…

Neil says…

Neil Farmer explores the future of digital printing in the packaging industry…


Over the last 3-4 years I have written many reports, spoken at conferences and seminars about the bright future for digital print in the packaging industry. Growth has undoubtedly been achieved but not at the rates that some might have expected.

Whilst digitally printed packaging in labelling applications accounts for over 50% of the worldwide market, at a value of over £2billion, in other sectors the numbers are much lower; in flexible packaging digital applications are less than 10%.

Digital Print poised for Growth


Based on recent research and talking to key industry players, this is about to change. Flexible packaging and cartons are both going to experience growth in usage of digital print. The FMCG market is more and more about speed of response, shorter production runs, special brand promotions, brand extensions and more varieties of pack. High quality digital print is poised to play a greater part in all of this. When wishing to create a mock-up or visualise a new product prior to its launch, digital print has no equals.

I attended a Digital Media Group Roundtable event at Stationers` Hall in London earlier in the summer, to hear Francois Martin of Hewlett-Packard speak about the worldwide digital print market and his company`s involvement in it. As one of the industry`s leading players his information and presentation was impressive. Francois maintained that packaging represented one of the most exciting opportunities for his company`s products. He used a great phrase, which I think is very appropriate to our industry: “empowering packaging converters to provide high-quality innovative solutions for brand owners.” This quote is illustrated by the following story, which involved HP Indigo presses.

Share a Coke Campaign


The Share a Coke campaign was rolled out all over Europe, earlier in the year. Thanks to digital technology, the top first names from countries all over Europe were printed on the labels of bottles of Coke, Diet Coke and Coke Zero. The whole project, which started in Australia, had a complex logistical, commercial and printing supply chain involving a myriad of bottling lines, equipment and label suppliers. In an interactive, digital media age, if you rushed into a store to buy a bottle and your name wasn`t there, you simply went online and created a virtual one. The project was reported to be the single biggest Coca-Cola campaign in the world.

As a person who has worked in many leading companies and sectors of the packaging and print industry, I can fully understand the excitement and the challenges this project generated. It says to me that digital print is at the forefront of the thoughts of brand owners and marketers and is seen as a tool which is versatile, efficient and, to use Francois Martin`s word, “empowering”.

The barriers to entry are getting lower


Of course digital print is not going to fulfil every need in the packaging market. There will always be the sectors and applications where only the highest quality litho print will suffice. However the barriers to entry are reducing and there are markets where the two technologies can complement each other.

The Future


The evidence elsewhere is also impressive. It was reported earlier in the year that over 1,500 digital label presses had been installed in the labelling industry since 2010. Reflex Labels, of course, announced the world`s first order for the Landa Nanographic Digital Press at Drupa last year. Firstan became the first carton printer in the UK to order a Landa Nanographic press after buying a B1-format machine, also at Drupa. Over the coming months more investment decisions involving digital technology will be announced in the packaging sector, involving labels, flexible packaging and cartons. These are indeed exciting times for the industry.

Stephanie Cornwall
Stephanie Cornwall