Digital Printing

Digital Printing for corrugated gets more robust I

n 2007, I got my first iPhone. It was shiny, flashy… and sort of slow, and more than a bit clunky. It was an eye-

catching, conceptually amazing piece of technology that, when put into day-to- day operation, leſt a lot to be desired. More than ten years and nearly as many

iPhone iterations later, the high-powered computers in our pockets are light years ahead of their not-so-ancient ancestors. Love ‘em or loathe ‘em, smartphones showcase the breathtakingly fast evolution of perhaps the most significant tech innovation of the 21st Century to date. For printers, a direct correlation can be

drawn to digital presses. When it first debuted, digital printing was a potential game changer that, according to critics, wasn’t quite ready for game day. Most glaringly, digital printing was too slow and could not match colors closely enough when compared to traditional flexographic presses. Of course, the upsides were promising.

The prospect of automatic setup had the potential to significantly diminish downtimes, and introduced the prospect of producing runs with versioned or even customized per-item prints – for example, mosaic printing. Simply put, digital was more flexible than flexo but needed to gain ground in other critical areas. Today, though that ground may not have been completely covered, enough progress has been made that, for corrugated printers, digital presses offer far more robust possibilities than they once did.

SUTHERLAND’S INVESTMENTS Some context: My company, Sutherland Packaging of Andover, NJ, recently invested in an HP Scitex 15500, a six-colour digital corrugated press. The machine is designed specifically for corrugated converters that produce temporary and permanent point of purchase displays, retail ready packaging and other short-run corrugated applications. Like any digital press, the biggest benefit

is versatility and drastically reduced make- ready, the latter trait being conducive for fast turnaround between jobs. But unlike its not-so-distant predecessors, its graphics are strikingly close to litho flexo quality, and it can print up to 650m² per hour with dimensions of 160x320cm (63”x126”). From an output standpoint, a key aspect of this new digital technology is that it is multipliable. The press features a multi-load option that allows printers to divvy up the 120in bed into four sections to produce, for example, four 17in x 28in posters simultaneously. At 100 beds an hour, that’s 400 posters ready for die-cutting – not too shabby at all. This is just one example of technological advancements that, for digital printing, has

Most notably is the advent of Expanded Gamut Printing for digital presses. Incorporating up to seven colors, the exacting process adds orange, violet and green to the original CMYK (cyan, magenta, yellow, and key/black) color set. The additional hues allow printers to match upwards of 97 per cent of Pantone colors to the naked eye.

DIGITAL COLOUR MATCHING That’s a high mark – especially when grading on recent history’s sloped curve with regards to digital color matching. It’s also important given the noted challenges of direct-to-corrugated printing, such as blurriness and banding. Corrugated printing is challenging enough without compounding longstanding obstacles with additional deficiencies. And of course, digital’s original benefits

elevated the ceiling for profitable production. For example, in the above example we’re finding that we can produce as many as 7,500 items before it starts to make more economic sense to use traditional flexo equipment. That’s a big jump from previous numbers – and an ample amount of items given we’re generally making large-format items like snack towers, case wraps and pallet skirts.

COLOUR MATCHING Colour matching also has dramatically improved from the days of digital infancy.

are still both viable and valuable. Minimal make-ready means you can run only what is needed, greatly diminishing the amount of inventory waiting in warehouses. Seasonal graphic changes and impromptu special promotions are a snap, and the time from concept to start of run can be decreased dramatically. But I would argue that nowhere are the benefits of digital printing more profound – and profitable – than in the explosion of e-commerce onto the corrugated packaging scene.

BRAND IN A BOX As companies look for ways to deliver “brand in a box” experiences aimed at turning first-time buyers into repeat customers, versioning and customisation are being relied upon to tailor products to purchasers like never before. There are two reasons for this. First is the

nature of e-commerce itself – i.e. a sale from someone’s home as opposed to a brick and mortar store. Second is the personal data online retailers are privy to, which often lead to metrics-driven “You might also like…” upsells. Each demand that printing be capable of capitalising on this newfound hyper- profiling. Fortunately, digital printing has made great strides toward fulfilling its promises of 21st Century packaging, marketing and brand stewardship. Manny De Barros is sales manager for Sutherland Packaging, a leader in corrugated point-of-purchase (POP) displays and packaging for retail locations and club stores. The company’s specialties include custom packaging, structural and graphic design, full- color direct-print point-of-purchase displays, precision litho printing, fulfillment, and on-box marketing. April 2019 29

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