The Newsletter Read by Graphic Arts Professionals Worldwide

Category: Packaging

Digitization of Packaging: a Great Opportunity at drupa and Beyond

By Dr. Sean Smyth – Analyst & Consultant, Smithers

The drivers of sustainability, automation and workflow as the world continues to digitize dominate most print and packaging operations. Recruiting and retaining skilled staff is increasingly difficult for many businesses as baby boomers retire and the younger digital native generations demand a different approach to their working life.

Digital print developments will be center stage at drupa across all graphics, industrial and packaging and there will be further announcements this year. Digital packaging offers many opportunities for commercial printers looking to move into new sectors as many traditional print applications continue to decline. The same dynamic is encouraging more equipment suppliers to offer digital printing systems for labels, corrugated, cartons, flexible packaging, rigid plastics, glass and metal packaging.

The figures below show how the suppliers of digital print equipment for labels and packaging have developed since this technology map was first produced in 2019. There has been a steady stream of new entrants, from established analog print equipment suppliers and new providers offering their digital print expertise. 

Digital printing systems for packaging and labels in 2019

Digital printing systems for packaging and labels in 2023

In addition to these there are digital overprint systems and sophisticated bespoke integrations, some operating as a part of manufacturing and filling lines. While there has been consolidation on the supply side, it is striking there have been few exits from the sector, the high number of players now competing in the wide range of packaging applications, offering new capabilities and functionalities, with steadily increasing productivity and lower costs.

Well, the good news for us print techies is this diagram (above) will get even more crowded this year. Smithers tracks the developments in this sector, publishing reports and running conferences on digitally printed packaging. The European, American, and Asian events bring together hundreds of brands, retailers, packer/fillers, converters, agencies and designers together with equipment, substrate and ink/toner suppliers, with workflow and logistics companies also involved.These are excellent forums and over the years the discussion moved from technology issues into tangible benefits and improved business processes from adopting digital printing, and increasingly digital finishing. Today quality, reliability and productivity are no longer issues for inkjet and electrophotography packaging presses.

At drupa there will be sheetfed inkjet machines offering the equivalent of process color sheetfed litho at speeds of 11,000 B1 sheets per hour and web presses offering speeds in excess of 400 mpm up to 2.8 m wide. These are mainstream alternatives to litho, flexo, and gravure alternatives.

The print head and press manufacturers are developing methods to eliminate inkjet artifacts, compensating for nozzle outs and deviations in real time that extend the life of the heads and machine uptime.

Inkjet will be the real winner, with faster machines being shown, particularly in flexible packaging. Ink technology is improving, with UV and water-based inks being employed for specific applications.

There will be more highly pigmented formulations helping reduce the ink film thickness while lowering the total cost of ownership further boosting the share of digital print.

It is not just printing. Some vendors will show single pass, highly automated systems to print and finish corrugated boxes, cartons and flexibles in a single pass. The enabler is the combination of digital print with digital finishing. These will feature automated control systems that drive the press, measure and check the print then track through finishing which may be coating, laminating, cutting, creasing, folding and gluing, together with a wide variety of embellishments.

The digital front end controllers are becoming increasingly powerful, automating and driving the digital print unit while at the same time measuring and controlling quality and then to set and drive the finishing technology. This approach helps replaces the traditional skills of press minders and finishing journeymen operators – important as skilled labor resources become scarcer.

While new digital presses are the shiny and sexy headline grabbers, even more important is the enabling workflow software. The only way of making money from a digital press is to produce saleable output and powerful workflow is vital to prepare the artwork files and keep the print queue well stocked. output and powerful workflow is vital to prepare the artwork files and keep the print queue well stocked.

This reality can be a barrier for packaging converters entering the sector as many do not have the necessary prepress and data handling skills. This year’s drupa will see many companies providing solutions with integrated management information systems to automate the administration needed to handle many short run jobs.

Workflow will become increasingly collaborative, with new designs produced and approved, then loaded into job queues for automated color management and imposition with no manual involvement at the converter. The MIS is linked, ordering substrates and planning the production on printer and finishing to meet the customer requirements and optimize capacity at the converter.

Digital workflow can be daunting for packaging converters accustomed to handling only a few large jobs but it is the way of the world. At drupa this year companies can explore solutions at drupa to simplify supply chains key to
future success supplying packaging and labels.

The market leaders offer a broad variety of creative software. They will show new methods to automate the repetitive processes involved with packaging design, approvals and prepress taking time and cost out of the process. Other players will offer specific solutions for integration and to optimize color management, imposition and providing variable data capability.

All these packaging developments are ultimately driven by end-customer expectations, or rather, demands. In the increasingly connected world these demands and expectations are changing, with more engagement and interaction to improve the consumer experience of the brand. Digital printing allows brands to make content decisions later in the supply chain. These additional functions move packaging beyond the traditional containment and protection functions, with information and promotion. A unique digital print product can be connected to the cyber world, opening new opportunities of logistical efficiency and greater consumer engagement.

This year’s drupa is an important print show because the exhibitors (and all the important ones will be there) will be showcasing what they have, while using the event to showcase what they are working on to gain feedback. And, digital packaging print (plus finishing) will very much be on the agenda.

There will be more machines for labels; corrugated – post and preprint, replacements for litholam; for folding cartons; for flexible packaging; for metal and there will be direct-to-shape machines doing interesting things on cans, aerosols, plastic and glass. Established players will show improvements to quality, speed and formats, with new inks and toners broadening the types of packaging they can produce.

In addition, I am really looking forward to seeing the newcomers who have already announced developments they will be showing off. I know of several potential developments sadly under NDA I am not allowed to mention until the show which is the bane of a technology correspondent. That will change when drupa opens. So, roll on May 2024!

Reducing the Environmental Impact of Printing Inks

By Fabrice Peltier, Designer and Eco-design Consultant

drupa Essentials of Print Article No. 13, December 2023

The common factor in many graphic creations, especially in packaging design, is they are usually printed in large quantities to meet consumer demands. However, amid the focus on reducing packaging material consumption, one crucial aspect seems to have been overlooked: the environmental impact of printing inks. Often deemed insignificant, the inks used in graphic creations play a more substantial role than we might realize, both in terms of their ecological implications and economic considerations.

Understanding the composition of ink reveals its complex nature, which consists of several components. The pigments, or colorants, provide the vibrant hues that capture attention and differentiate brands. The vehicle, or binder, acts as the carrier, enabling the ink to adhere to various surfaces effectively. Additionally, adjuvants are used to enhance ink properties, ensuring quick drying times or improved resistance to wear and tear.

Each graphic element, typographic character, shape, and color thoughtfully chosen to convey the intended message represents a specific quantity of ink required for reproduction. Embracing an eco-friendly approach known as eco-inking (Ink Saving Process), designers can craft top-quality graphic designs while concurrently managing ink consumption during the printing process.

The eco-inking approach is best incorporated during the initial stages of design development, providing an intermediary step based on a well-conceived graphic proposal. However, forward-thinking designers may also consider eco-inking as an integral part of the entire design process, even at the conception of a brand’s graphic identity and guidelines.

The core objective of eco-inking is to optimize ink consumption without compromising the quality and visual impact of the creations. It seeks to achieve a harmonious balance between resource efficiency and creativity. Although changes made to ink usage might not be immediately apparent to consumers or readers, successful eco-inking initiatives have demonstrated their potential to bolster a brand’s environmental credibility and resonate positively with the intended target audience.

Moreover, adopting an eco-design philosophy in graphics goes beyond reducing ink consumption; it encompasses a holistic approach to environmental stewardship. By implementing eco-friendly practices in materials selection and production processes, designers can significantly reduce the environmental footprint of their work.

Notably, eco-inking also presents a compelling advantage when it comes to recycling. Graphic papers, extensively used for packaging and marketing materials, undergo a de-inking process during recycling to ensure the purity of the resulting paper. By minimizing the quantities of ink used in printing, eco-inked papers facilitate the de-inking process, reducing the consumption of chemicals and energy required to remove inks from the recycled material. This, in turn, minimizes waste production and contributes to a more sustainable circular economy.

For brand owners aiming to reduce costs, eco inking offers a potential source of savings. Using fewer inks directly impacts expenses, and opting for CMYK – or even CMY – printing can deliver outstanding results at even lower costs and with a reduced environmental impact.

The efficiency of the eco-inking approach has been proven by its practical application. Developed over a decade ago, this innovative technique has been meticulously tested on more than 250 consumer product packages in France. The results have been nothing short of remarkable, consistently achieving an average reduction of ink consumption by 20% to 25% while preserving the visual appeal and message impact of the original creations.

As a passionate advocate for sustainability and ecological responsibility in design, I firmly believe in sharing knowledge and expertise for the collective betterment of our environment. In this spirit, I have chosen to disseminate the eco-inking technique as an open source resource through comprehensive guides and training materials.

I encourage fellow designers, manufacturers, and businesses to embrace eco-inking and unlock the potential for positive change in our creative industries. Feel free to reach out and while you visit drupa, not only assume new substrates, new machinery and new technologies will help you to reduce the environmental impact of packaging – also consider new ways to conceive and produce packaging.

In conclusion, embracing eco-inking is not only a means to enhance the environmental sustainability of graphic creations but also an opportunity for designers to stand as pioneers of change in the ever-evolving landscape of design and consumer consciousness. Together, we can make a meaningful contribution to safeguarding our planet’s resources and ensuring a greener, more promising future for generations to come.

About the Author

Fabrice Peltier is recognized as an expert in packaging design, a pioneer in eco-design, working towards more environmentally responsible packaging solutions. He serves as a consultant and a catalyst for creativity in eco-design for the entire packaging industry, including packaging manufacturers, market players, and eco-organization

He regularly gives conferences and writes for multiple professional journals, including Emballages, a major French publication, where he has been conducting packaging analyses for more than 20 years. Additionally, he is the author of several books including La Révolution de l’emballage première et deuxième période and Pourquoi et comment entrer dans la Révolution.

Beyond his professional work, Fabrice Peltier is an elected local official in his village of Combloux, responsible for waste management, and a member of the SITOM office from Mont Blanc Valley – recycling company.

Peltier can be reached at or on LinkedIn.

How the Graphic Arts Industry Should React to QR Code Mis-use

In early December 2023 the United States Federal Trade Commission issued a statement (see below for the full text) regarding the use and mis-use of QR codes. The Seybold Report first started writing about the incorporation of QR codes in print and digital projects nearly 20 years ago, and today the graphic arts industry routinely uses them and advises customers to use them. We have some suggestions for how the industry (including printers, publishers, and graphic artists) should react to the growing use of QR codes for illegal and nefarious purposes.

  • We would like to see the industry become proactive in this issue, rather than reacting to whatever is happening. In other words, get out in front and do something to help rather than following behind muttering and sputtering about it. Technology can be used to help make QR code user safer. Let’s do that.
  • We would also like to see the industry be open about the possibilities for mis-use, which opens up the door to then talking about what the industry is doing to prevent or mitigate the potential for mis-use. For example, something as simple as making sure customers who use QR codes get a copy of the statement below along with a letter reassuring them how they can prevent such issues.

For example, underneath the QR code on a printed document there could be an image of the website which should appear when the document is scanned and the correct URL. Or, the document could say, “We will never send you an email containing a QR code. If you get such an email, do not click on the code or any links in the email and contact us immediately.”

In other words:

  • acknowledge the threats,
  • educate customers,
  • work with others in your industry and the technology industry to combat QR code mis-use, and
  • develop and employ effective counter-measures.

If your company is involved in any of these activities including educating customers and employing counter-measures, we would like to hear about what you are doing and how you are doing it. We would very much like to write about these efforts in the Seybold Report.

QR codes seem to be everywhere. You may have scanned one to see the menu at a restaurant or pay for public parking. And, you may have used one on your phone to get into a concert or sporting event, or to board a flight. There are countless other ways to use them, which explains their popularity. Unfortunately, scammers hide harmful links in QR codes to steal personal information. Here’s what to know.

  • they lie and say they couldn’t deliver your package and you need to contact them to reschedule;
  • they pretend like there’s a problem with your account and you need to confirm your information; and
  • they lie, saying they noticed suspicious activity on your account, and you need to change your password.

These are all lies they tell you to create a sense of urgency. They want you to scan the QR code and open the URL without thinking about it.

A scammer’s QR code could take you to a spoofed site that looks real but isn’t. And, if you log in to the spoofed site, the scammers could steal any information you enter. Or, the QR code could install malware that steals your information before you realize it.

So how can you protect yourself?

  • If you see a QR code in an unexpected place, inspect the URL before you open it. If it looks like a URL you recognize, make sure it’s not spoofed — look for misspellings or a switched letter.
  • Don’t scan a QR code in an email or text message you weren’t expecting — especially if it urges you to act immediately. If you think the message is legitimate, use a phone number or website you know is real to contact the company.
  • Protect your phone and accounts. Update your phone’s OS to protect against hackers and protect your online accounts with strong passwords and multi-factor authentication.
United states federal trade commission statement, december 6, 2023

Plastic Losing Luster as Packaging Material?

Today came the news the state of Massachusetts is getting tough on the use of plastic packaging. The Environment and Energy Leader website’s article says, “Massachusetts Gov. Maura Healey said this week she will sign an executive order prohibiting state agencies from buying single-use plastic bottles. Massachusetts is expected to be the first state in the country to achieve a law-enforced ban on purchasing plastic bottles. In recent years, legislators have attempted to make similar bans without success. Healey made the announcement on Sept. 18, 2023, at the Clinton Global Initiative in New York City before a panel on ocean conservation practices.”

The article and the news reminded me of an August 2023 article from Duomedia blog entitled Why Paper is Sending Plastic Packing. This article talks about how some major food and beverage manufacturers have decided the world is a better place with less plastic floating around.

Unilever’s pledge to become the first major consumer goods company to commit to reducing plastic across its portfolio has led to numerous developments including recyclable paper based ice cream tubs and Pot Noodle containers.

Heineken UK created Green Grip, a plastic free and recyclable cardboard topper for multipacks aimed at eliminating all consumer facing secondary plastic from packaged beers and ciders.

Nestle switched all the packaging globally for its Smarties range to recyclable paper as part of its commitment to making 100% of its packaging recyclable or reusable by 2025. KitKat is now trialing the approach.

Why paper is sending plastic packing

Thanks to Naja Bertolt Jensen on Unsplash for making it possible to use a photograph in this post.

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