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Packaging: which printing technology, which inks? When digital and when inkjet? Print E-mail

Packaging is such a diverse concept: flexible, folding, etc, that a varied range of printing processes are involved: flexography, gravure in a few cases; other printing processes elsewhere. The question is, where does digital printing in general and inkjet printing in particular enter the world of packaging?

Proofing and test packages are the obvious and immediate answer, and then short-run production, especially if variable data is wished or required.

Another question is, if inkjet is preferable, what are the pros and cons of wide-format inkjet compared with narrow-format inkjet (anything under 24” inches wide).

FLAAR is offering personalized consulting at each trade show. You can walk-the-floor with the Senior Editor of FLAAR and get his comments on any and all printers, inks, RIP software, color management, substrates, applications, etc.

So if you wish to learn about the difference between combo, hybrid, and dedicated UV printers, how latex ink compares, about textile printers, etc. contact FLAAR to obtain consulting.

You can also get consulting before ISA or FESPA anywhere in the world: Dubai, India, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, China, Korea, London and more.

FLAAR background in packaging prototyping and short-run testing of package design

At DRUPA 2000, DRUPA 2004, and another fourteen days of DRUPA 2008, I have inspected every imagineable kind of printing press. When you walk through the over 20 giant exhibit halls of DRUPA sooner or later you run into a printer that is specialized for packaging.

At VISCOM Milano, in 2005 or 2006, I was taken to the installation of a Scitex Vision CORjet at a large successful printshop an hour from Milano (this was before HP bought Scitex Vision).

I have subsequently inspected the CORjet and HP Scitex FB6700 at countless trade shows in the US and Europe, especially at FESPA events. So our experience with wide-format inkjet printers for packaging goes back several years.

During 2008 one of the many companies that hired FLAAR as a consultant was a company that specialized in prototyping flexible packaging. Since I am under NDA as to their name, location, clients, and what materials they print on, I have to refer to the several other packaging companies that I have visited where I was not under NDA.

Plus circa 2006 I have inspected and evaluated the Sun FastJet, a page-array UV-curable inkjet printer that is funded by Sun Chemical (through the German office of this multi-national ink company in) with engineering by Inca Digital in Cambridge, UK (the company that makes the Inca Onset, Inca Spyder 320, and Inca Columbia Turbo, etc.). And in 2007 I was invited to lecture (by Canon Middle East) at the Dubai print and packaging trade show in the United Arab Emirates.

On two occasions I have also been guest of Mimaki USA in their main demo room, where one of their Mimaki UJF-605CII and especially their UJF-605R roll to roll printers is used as a proofer for flexible packaging prototypes. But does this mean that your company should by either of these Mimaki UJF-605 printers? What are the pros and cons of this printer (what are the real benefits, and what are the downsides that understandably you will not be told about by any manufacturer). Though Mimaki is one of the more honest of the inkjet printer manufacturers, there are still bits of information that it is best to obtain from an outside resource such as the FLAAR Reports.

In 2008 and 2009 by coincidence I landed in several commercial printshops with large offset presses. On other trips to Germany I landed in two different screen printing companies, each of which had just added a UV-cured flatbed printer. I routinely visit printshops around the world so I can find out which UV-curable inkjet printers. So I decided that for 2009 I would add to this large-format inkjet printer web site an introduction to each major classification of kind of printshop, based on markets reached or applications or kind of printer.

Brief list of all the different kinds of printshops that ask about wide-format inkjet

Everyone in the industry makes different classifications, but our classification for the major kinds of printing companies (that are interested in wide-format inkjet printers) are:

  • Screen printing companies
  • Offset printing companies (commercial printers)
  • flexographic
  • Packaging: both prototyping & production
  • Digital printing companies
  • Label printing companies (mainly narrow format, not as much wide-format)
  • Franchise sign shops
  • Family owned and operated sign shops (Mom and Pop sign shops)
  • Reprographic printshops (CAD, etc)
  • Quick Print shops
  • Photo labs
  • Giclee ateliers
  • Décor, interior decoration, textiles, wallpaper
  • Graphic arts (advertising, proofing, etc)
  • In-plant and in-house printing departments

We have longer lists of wide-format inkjet markets and applications (since we write and consult on these categories worldwide). But for a web page the above list is a start.

Flexible packaging film

There are a thousand and one different materials you can print on, but packaging can be informally divided into folding paper-related materials and flexible packaging (candy wrappers, plastic bags for spinach, and the transparent plastic containers for hundreds of household products).

Just a few flexible packaging films would be OPP plastic films ( Oriented PP (PolyPropylene)) , polyolefin shrink films, Polyethylene PE films ( LDPE (Low Density Polyethylene) or HDPE (High Density Polyethylene)) , polypropylene, untreated plastic materials like PET (polyester) and polycarbonate (some PET-G prints heavenly with inkjet printers) , thin metal foil and countless other materials are all possible materials for inkjet printing of packaging prototypes.

The market opportunities are endless: snacks (nuts to potato chips to junk food candy), produce (bags of spinach or salad greens), granola bar wraps, containers for milk, yogurt and other dairy products. Pet food alone consumes tons of printing packaging.

The Mimaki UJF-605RII Flatbed UV Inkjet Proofer and the Mimaki UJF-605CII Roll-to-Roll UV printer are both aimed, in part, at the packaging and labels prototyping and proofing markets. There are also some solvent printers nowadays whose resolution is high enough to allow them to print high quality, but solvent inks are not always good on some materials.

Printing on paperboard packaging and corrugated material of all kinds

Every time you go into a supermarket or any large chain store early in the morning or really late at night, you see all the employees with shipping cartons piled in every aisle. All these boxes are printed on; some are attractive graphic designs. Other boxes are purely utilitarian (to protect the merchandise en route). Other cartons are veritable advertising devices in themselves.

And of course many warehouse type stores display many of the products remaining inside their shipping carton: so these boxes need to be mini-billboards.

So there are tons of shipping and display cartons that need to be printed on, usually of some kind of corrugated fiberboard.

Cut-out displays are also popular at supermarkets, hardware stores, and Home Depot. The beer section usually has some Nazcar race driver touting some beer. So it helps to have a printer that can decorate more than just boxes and cartons: you need to decorate displays for POS and POP inside the store. Many of these are not paperboard but rather foamcore (foam board) or Dibond or other signage rather than packaging materials.

In past decades the materials for packaging were printed on with giant printing presses, including flexography, gravure, and other processes. But today the prototypes and short run packaging are increasingly being accomplished on inkjet printers. Labels are being done on digital printers (usually a euphenism for a printer using toner (dry toner or liquid toner, such as HP Indigo). Inkjet is a separate category; they are obviously fully digital, but in jargon are distinct from a “digital printer.”

Obviously this inkjet printer needs to have flatbed capability, to handle box materials, cartons, containers, corrugated cardboard, converting, paperboard and everything else. Consumables such as cosmetics alone use up plenty of packaging of the kind that needs top quality graphic design.

And what about corrugated plastic (CoroPlast being only one of many). What if your company saw a great UV printer, buys it, and only when it is installed do you learn that this printer can't print directly on untreated CoroPlast!

Now you see why FLAAR is called to every continent and to countries around the world to serve as an expert consultant.

There are many reasons why the wrong printer are selected. Some printshop owners are tempted to buy the biggest most impressive machine, for the ultimate Macho Machine. This would be the HP Scitex FB6700 (Scitex Vision CORjet). Frankly I would love to have this machine in my office. But it would be about as practical as a Ford F350 pickup truck to drive me to the grocery store (actually I prefer to walk, it is only 2 miles downhill and 2 miles uphill to the nearest grocery store). I saw the Ford F350 truck pulling in. Very impressive. But overkill.

On more than one occasion I have suggested to clients that they consider the HP Scitex FB6700, but my job as consultant is to suggest a diverse list of several different options: a short list. It is not appropriate for me to say “buy the CORjet” because the HP Scitex FB6700 may not be the most appropriate printer.

Indeed one client (in packaging) came to me to ask what $150,000 printer to buy, and the one that turned out to be best for his immediate needs cost less than $32,000. So the small consulting fee was peanuts compared to what he saved. Of course we do not guarantee we will save you money. And I have seen some clients ignore my advice and buy the wrong machine that a very impactful sales rep and simply sweet-talked them into. But the fact is that with a consultant you get an independent outside opinion.

But for most packaging and comparable serious production printing, you will tend to have correspondingly serious printers on your list, and these definitely do not cost in the $32,000 range. Plus there is no FLAAR Report on the CORjet, in part because one printshop owner said it was not high enough quality for his needs. Plus we have never had the time and opportunity to inspect a printer as large as the HP Scitex FB6700 (other than at trade shows, but we need to test it ourselves in a demo room). But we have an appointment later in 2009 to check on a newer packaging printer.

Fluorescent inks for packaging

An Italian company that I saw at a 2008 trade show in Milano is advertising a fluorescent ink, but the last fluorescent inks that I remember for wide-format were back in the 1990's and fizzling out perhaps by 2001 or 2003. These inks could be used in an Encad NovaJet printer of those years, but not really in most other printers (since HP had proprietary ink system). DayGlo was one of the manufacturers that I remember. DayGlo Color Corp still exists, but I have not seen them at trade shows for years.

Metallic Effects Inks for packaging

At least once at every tradeshow someone asks me about the past, present, and furture of metallic effects inks for wide-format inkjet printers. This is definitely a subject I am interested in. It is ironic that one of my hobbies is raising butterflies, and the cocoon of the Monarch butterfly (andother species) has a pseudo metallic effect around the outside of the cocoon. It looks like pure gold, like actual metal.

I have seen Durst Theta photo printers produce outstanding images on silver metallic materials (I assume from Kodak, but am not sure).

Durst Theta 76HS printer reviews
Durst Theta 76HS showing some samples printed on silver metallic materials at Photokina 2008.

Consultants for packaging printing

FLAAR consults on all aspects of inkjet printing for packaging, though we are specialized in wide-format. But what about the extreme heat of mercury arc UV curing lamps? This can melt some packaging films and distort others. But we can suggest cool-curing as an alternative. So there is a lot to learn from a professional consultant in the world of inkjet printers.

Dr Hellmuth travels an average of 400,000 km, every year, either lecturing, consulting, or inspecting applications in printshops, or simply being his inquisitive self inside the R&D labs of some ink, media, printhead, or inkjet manufacturing plant or world headquarters. He speaks Deutsch, espanol, and of course English, and understands Italian, some French, and basic Portuguese.

And while on the subject of packaging that is so beautiful that it can also be used for display, with some UV printers and certain UV inks you can print embossed-like images, raised 3D images, and thermo-formed raised images.

Label printers are narrow format inkjet

Label printing is an entirely different world unto itself. Both inkjet and UV-cured inkjet are present. But these are narrow-format and include non-inkjet such as variable data short run digital presses.

Dr Hellmuth has been a guest of Xerox at their factory in Rochester to inspect the Xerox iGen3 in its day (today in 2009 it would be the iGen4). Nicholas has been a guest of HP Indigo in their factory in Israel as well as in the factory for electric ink for the Indigo (also in Israel).

FLAAR has inspected the Xeikon at DRUAP 2004 and 2008, and a number of the innovative new Oce presses at DRUPA 208.

But our world is primarily wide-format, and primarily inkjet. We do offer consulting the includes narrow format, but this only rarely.


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First posted January 26, 2009.



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