The future of digital printing is now

Digital printing is enabling ongoing innovation in the packaging sector.

Johannesburg, 12 Sep 2019
Read time 5min 30sec
Wendy McLoughlin, Business Development Executive, Kemtek
Wendy McLoughlin, Business Development Executive, Kemtek

People want to interact with the brands that they buy in the same way that they interact with technology. It must be convenient, it must be personalised and it must keep evolving. Digital printing enables that.

Katinka Pretorius, managing director of Sunshinegun, says digital printing enables agencies to design packs that will do just that. It enables personalised campaigns – such as beverage cans with people’s names printed on them – as well as short-run campaigns, based around a specific event. “However, the main thing about innovation is that it requires prototyping and the printing of samples for testing, not to mention the new and different types of media – such as foiling – that can be printed on using digital.”

She poses the question, are new possibilities in packaging being enabled by digital printing –or is demand for increasingly innovative packaging, driving innovation in digital printing?Wendy McLoughlin, Business Development Executive at Kemtek, says: “As the world changes, and people become increasingly focused on themselves (the ‘me’ generation Z), we find ourselves in an era of tech-savvy individuals who are driven to achieve their goals. Brands have to consider how they can best interact with people like this and fulfil the needs of a generation that’s difficult to inspire and connect with. How do you know what they want?”

This generation uses social media to express themselves instantly, which is great for a brand that’s doing well, not so good for a brand that isn’t.

How does packaging fit into this scenario? McLoughlin explains, the structure of packaging is simple – it wraps a product, showcases the brand, informs, influences and even sells that product. Which presents endless opportunities for digital printing.

She goes on to say that globalisation provides enormous opportunities for digital printing. “Digital print allows brands to address people in their language of choice and in ways that are relevant to them. So you can have different campaigns in different languages in different countries.

“We’re seeing the rise of customisation to speak directly to the ‘me generation’. They want to align themselves with brands that acknowledge things that impact them, such as local sporting events, for example. Brands need the flexibility to address go-to-market opportunities as and when they arise.”

A trend highlighted by McLoughlin is that personalisation of an item increases the value of the product. People buy and keep items that have their names on them.

“Technology is transforming the world we live in, everything is moving to the cloud, we live our lives on social media, using mobile devices, all of which generate big data. This opens up enormous personalisation opportunities because we have access to all of this information, we just need to use it smartly to connect with people.”

Trends such as wearables, augmented reality, content marketing, Internet of things and 3D printing offer many opportunities to differentiate your brand by creating innovative print applications.

Another trend is an increasing need for brand protection. This is a global challenge, with businesses losing $600 billion per annum – and 200 000 jobs a year – owing to counterfeiting. Digital printing is able to do QR codes, barcodes, micro text and various special printing techniques for brand protection to assure consumers that they’re purchasing an authentic product.

As packaging becomes increasingly regarded as a form of media in that it delivers personalised and relevant messaging to customers, the packaging almost becomes more relevant than the contents thereof, according to Rob Mackinson, CEO of Midcomp.

He says: “In today’s packaging industry, the number of print jobs run on a daily basis is increasing, while the run length is decreasing. Planning complexity is increasing, but turnaround time is decreasing. This poses a supply chain challenge for brands as they evolve from mass production of an item, to versioned packaging, to variable data, personalised data and even today’s connected packaging.”

Digital printing is able to assist with these challenges as it enables a faster turnaround on new designs and shorter print runs, which reduces the stockholding required and enables brands to get new campaigns onto shelves faster. New packaging designs can be launched in smaller quantities to test the market, and then larger quantities can be produced based on customer demand. It also means less wastage as older packaging designs become obsolete.

He refers to the Internet of all things, which enables useful functionalities such as track and trace labelling for packaging.

McLoughlin adds to this: “With digital printing we can optimise the supply chain using serialisation, revision control, small and frequent order management, mass customisation, warehousing, distribution, response to the market and inventory obsolescence.”

Companies need to change the discussion around how they measure value because of digital printing. So quality and accelerated time to market; the ability to make last-minute changes; rapid response to consumer demand; just in time manufacturing; zero, reduced or even exact inventory; versioning and personalisation; event, cause and regional marketing; lower total system cost; and market share growth are all benefits brought to the packaging industry when a digital approach is enabled.

Brands need to constantly reinvent and change their packaging if they want to stand out on the shelf – and time to market is critical. With digital printing companies can do a different label for every day of a campaign, if they so wish. Digital is enabling brands to delight their customers – think beverage cans with names on them, or chocolate bars with personal messages, or holiday-themed packaging in December. The more personalised the packaging, the more people want to engage with it, regardless of what’s inside.

However, the opportunities extend beyond improved shelf appeal, allowing consumers to order personalised items online, such as a special bottle of wine with the recipient’s name on the label, or a short run of chocolate bars with personalised messaging on the wrappers. Digital is opening up a whole new world of possibilities on the packaging front, with the innovative possibilities only limited by the imagination.    

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