Bold new digital world


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In the past, digital printing was met with scepticism. Would it really be possible to match the high quality of analogue offset printing? Today, people are realising that it can. In fact, digital printing can do much of what offset can, faster and more flexibly. And with a personal feel.

With the world going digital, it is only natural that the printing industry should move in the same direction. Conventional offset printing requires a number of time-consuming mechanical steps, including making colour proofs and plates. D0e options available, from personalised printing to special effects, inline finishing and printing on a variety of substrates and formats. With some of the newer presses today, there are no technology limitations – it’s just up to your imagination to see where you can go.

The sky’s the limit also when it comes to what we can print on – packaging boxes, tiles, synthetics, glass, name tags, golf balls – all sorts of coated or uncoated substrates in various textures. Some of the newest presses are capable of printing on materials that couldn’t be printed on just a few years ago.

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. Viewers 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.

“You can do everything today with Indigo digital printing,” says Yogev Barak, director of business management, hp Indigo Division. “Every colour – solid, radiant, special colours like silver – plus white ink or applications such as raised print – there are endless possibilities with digital print packaging. Challenge your converter and printer and be as creative as you can.”

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 be 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.

“The cost of doing a shorter run may be more expensive, but the return on investment is clearly worth it,” Barak points out.

“Digital printing enables this brand reinvention by creating new opportunities that were not possible before. This is a key enabler to elevate the brand. Just try to imagine what a very creative brand can do when the packages don’t have to look exactly alike.”

In the challenge to find new ways to reach customers, such flexibility is necessary. “We’re in an era when packaging has to trigger emotions, and there are numerous examples where social media together with personalisation can be used to do this,” says Filip Weymans, business development manager, Xeikon.

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 11 million,” says 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.”

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, says Ulf Sunnberg, chairman of GrafKom, a Nordic network for the graphics industry. “A lot of people are looking at digital and offset and deciding where to print based on the cost rather than considering value. Instead of simply buying print communication, they should be talking to their customers about what they are trying to achieve.” 

Sunnberg, who meets many designers and design students, acknowledges that the printing industry has become more complex as the trend moves towards increasing personalisation and variable data. “It’s what Google is saying – it’s all about personalisation – and it’s happening in printing as well.”

Despite predictions that we are heading towards a paperless society, social media is actually generating print. “Six hundred and fifty million pieces of different content are uploaded every year to social media, and many of these images are being printed,” says Sunnberg, pointing to Postify postcards printed from Facebook. 

“People are starting to realise that paper has its own value. It’s tactile, and people feel more engaged with physical media than with a screen.”

Carmit Poleg, market development manager, hp Indigo, believes that more and 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 says. “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, says Sunnberg. “We are making inroads, but we still have a conservative approach to packaging, viewing it in terms of high volumes.”

Still today, many people believe that digital print compromises on quality. “Quality has reached high levels in different digital technologies,” says Jason Oliver, head of Business Area Digital at Heidelberger Druckmaschinen ag. “Compared to offset, the limitation mainly is performance.”

Another misconception is that digital printing is too expensive. “Overall, the price-performance ratio in digital print has improved a lot,” says Oliver. And Weymans points out that 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 says, “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.”

Consequently, despite digital printing’s flexibility, offset printing is not headed for the grave. “I think we will see offset printing living nicely side by side with digital technology, and each will cater to its sweet spot,” says 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 too. We have seen this happening in the commercial world, where people have both technologies and are leveraging the benefits of both.”

Read more: Digital print



Forget the box,” says Ulf Sunnberg, chairman of the board at GrafKom. “Remember that most things have never been done before. Ask how you can integrate and be more relevant with more personalised targeted content. Print is not as sexy as the Internet but it is also evolving with new materials, new ideas and printing closer to customers.”
Sunnberg suggests asking questions that go beyond the special effects – questions about how to integrate shipping, design and ordering processes with digital print, for example. “Printers today can do more than put colour on paper. How you can integrate and measure the effects of paper should be a part of the discussion when you talk to printing companies.”


Did you know that digital presses can handle hundreds of different substrates, from paperboard to shoes?

According to Smithers Pira’s report “The Future of Digital Print for Packaging to 2018”, the digital print market for packaging is forecast to more than double from an estimated USD 7.3 billion in 2013 to USD 15.3 billion by 2018. 

The total value of all digital print in 2013 was USD 130.9 billion, a volume the equivalent of 1,131 billion A4 prints. Source: Smithers Pira.

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 percent in terms of value and 5.9 percent by volume. Source: Smithers Pira


Inspire contact

Charlotte Lagerwald
Iggesund Paperboard
Mobile: +46 73 077 05 59


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