As general commercial printing, newspapers and magazines suffer declines—at least in the developed Western markets—packaging and labels is emerging as a beacon of growth and revenue.
In its report Packaging Printing Markets, respected research organization Markets and Markets predicts that the global market for packaging printing is projected to grow at a CAGR of 6.26% from 2015 to 2020, to reach USD $587.19 billion by 2020. Within this sector, digitally printed packaging, although currently only a small 1.9% of total packaging, will experience a CAGR of 16.2% globally, according to another report by Smitherspira.
The growth in digitally printed packaging is largely in the label sector but the recent drupa 2016 expo introduced many new technologies for digital flexible packaging, folding cartons and corrugated board. Fujifilm and its partners were at the forefront of these innovations, primarily with inkjet printheads, UV and rapid coagulation inks and presses, not all of which are yet available in the Australian market.
Flexo and Offset Dominate
Whether for labels or flexible packaging, the process that leads the volume stakes in packaging is flexographic printing, which enjoys a 3% CAGR in its own right (smiterspira). Even in the digital world, flexo is creating growth with the introduction of hybrid flexo-digital presses, such as the Heidelberg-Gallus Labelfire 340 powered by Fujifilm Dimatix inkjet printheads.
With the rising popularity of large-format offset presses capable of printing on thicker substrates, offset also presents opportunities for printers to ride on packaging’s growth in the folding carton and POP fields. Sydney’s Centrum Printing is one such example, having moved into new large premises and installed a KBA Rapida 162a six-colour plus coater press that receives its huge 1260mm x 1630mm Fujifilm Superia plates from an all-Fujifilm supplied prepress CtP environment using XMF workflow.
Centrum has been so successful in this area that it ordered a second KBA Rapida, a 145 six-colour with UV coater, at drupa 2016 which is due for installation during November. Owner Percy Vij says that, as a printer who supplies only to resellers, profitability is much better than general commercial offset due to the specialized niche areas in which Centrum operates.
On the flexo side, Fujifilm’s Flenex FN water wash-out plates continue to push flexo’s quality up to levels where it can compete with gravure. Offering screen rulings up to 175 lpi or higher, Flenex plates are ready in under 45 minutes, are safe to handle and last longer on-press. For both narrow web (label) presses or wider webs, Flenex plates can be conventionally or digitally imaged.
Growth in multi-colour packaging also means growth in inks and Fujifilm’s Specialty Inks Division (Sericol) is very active in this area with high-opacity UVivid flexo JD inks and also Sericol rotary-screen UV inks for labels. A range of varnishes and adhesives under the Sericol brand is also offered. The label printing market also extends to in-mould labels, shrink sleeves and wrap-arounds —all of which are addressed in Fujifilm’s narrow web ink range.
While digital print appears best suited for short-run packaging work, it should not be overlooked that plate change speeds on both offset and flexo presses have been drastically reduced in recent times, enabling cost-effective short-run printing using conventional methods. Using sleeve-mounted flexo plates, jobs can be made ready in just a few minutes. Offset has advanced to the point where, at drupa 2016, Heidelberg ran live demonstrations on an eight-colour B1 press where three different short-run jobs were made ready and printed in just eight minutes.
The benefits to marketers, FMCG brand managers and advertising agencies are apparent. They can create tailored packaging to respond to market and competitive demands at short notice, addressing demographic characteristics and cultural tastes.
Micro-runs of Packaging and Labels
One other print production method that is gaining traction in short-run labels and packaging is the use of flatbed wide-format inkjet UV devices. While primarily designed for signage and display production, many customers are fulfilling demand for micro runs of folding cartons, corrugated boxes and labels using their existing flatbed UV. Because of the demands of the signage and POP industry for top quality, the look of the graphics can be superb and many different materials—even metallic coated—can be printed.
For cartons, jobs are finished on computer-controlled cutting tables from companies such as Zünd, Esko Kongsberg, Aristo and Elitron. This ability to produce micro-runs is particularly appealing for test marketing and prototyping. Fujifilm offers flatbed UV printers from entry-level Acuity models all the way up to the world’s most productive—the Inca Digital range.
Another trend seen at June’s drupa 2016 expo was the introduction of very fast inkjet devices for corrugated board sheet. These were either dedicated devices—such as the Durst Rho 130SPC, which can print sheets at an astonishing 9,350 square metres per hour—or inline inkjet add-ins to corrugated sheet production lines such as the Screen-BHS Corrugated project, which can colour print corrugated at manufacturing speeds of up to 300 linear metres per minute. Both of the above-mentioned examples use Fujifilm Dimatix Samba printhead arrays.
Wherever the future of packaging and labels is headed—and it looks like a bright future—Fujifilm is leading the way either directly or in partnership with established manufacturers.