Grafisk Maskinen, and with design and workflow software
supplier Esko Artwork and others, to establish full print
solutions. The upshot in the last few years has been that
folding carton printing has become a side application for a
small but growing number of label converters, and a main
application for a small band of specialist converters.
Finding a Sweet Spot
What does that color digital printing look like? The output
is almost all small boxes for primary packaging, printed in
full process color onto coated SBS board or similar media.
Makers of drugs, cosmetics, software, and some specialty
foods and dry goods have been customers. For the converters, the “sweet spot” is to have key brand owner clients who
have a regular need for short runs, or for printing that is
“variable,” such as personalized boxes.
Odyssey Digital Print, Tulsa, Okla., which uses a Xeikon
color digital press, is well known as the printer of golf ball
cartons for Titleist. With Odyssey’s help, Titleist sells boxes of
golf balls customized with a photo of the customer’s golf course
or with text particular to an event, individual or company. Mediaware in Ireland uses Xerox iGen to print folding cartons for
many customers; its biggest is Microsoft, for which it prints software packaging in multiple languages for shipment to dozens of
countries. While Odyssey and Mediaware are digital-only print
shops, there are many conventionally equipped label converters
that now print folding cartons for their own brand owner customers, offering them the same convenience of short-run printing for folding cartons that they value already for label printing.
What about the future? While there is no game-changing
color digital press in the offering, there are plenty of signs
that color digital printing will gain more folding carton
business. The most important sign is that brand owners
want short-run printing, whether for target marketing or
tests or just to achieve lean manufacturing.
Another sign is that the digital press vendors are committed
and are moving ahead. Xeikon, for instance, achieved the widest
single pass color electrophotographic print web of 20. 5 inches
with its Xeikon 3500 by inventing a new toner application
method, one that could be used for still wider webs. Meanwhile
Xerox, a top supplier of color digital printers to commercial
Odyssey Digital Print, Tulsa, Okla., prints customized golf ball
cartons for Titleist on a color digital press.
There are plenty of signs that
color digital printing will gain
more folding carton business.
3500 is one
printing companies, has joined the fray. Since 2009 the company has offered converters a complete folding carton solution
built around its famous Xerox iGen 4 sheetfed press and finishing equipment from a technology division of Stora Enso.
A last note about technology ahead concerns inkjet. Color
inkjet presses are much rarer than toner-based systems, especially for folding cartons, because the technology is younger
and most often is narrower than toner-based equipment.
There is one key exception in terms of inkjet press width,
though, and that is the Agfa Dotrix, a hybrid press with both
inkjet and flexo stations that has the largest print width of all
color digital presses, at 25. 5 inches. Inkjet color presses in
general commercial printing can already go much wider still,
and also much faster: the HP T300, used so far for book and
document printing, has a 42-inch print width and prints in
full process color at up to 300 feet per minute.
Many companies besides Agfa and HP are working to make
inkjet better and more relevant to industrial applications such as
folding cartons. Among these companies are makers of inkjet
print heads such as Konica Minolta, Memjet, and Xaar that are
packing more inkjet nozzles per inch into the heads, increasing
reliability and resolution and cutting costs.
Given all these considerations – the success of color digital in
printing prime labels, the commitment of key vendors, and the
desire of brand owners for short-run printing – Info Trends believes that color digital, both electrophotographic and inkjet, will
increasingly share in the job of printing folding cartons. PBP
Leahey reports on and forecasts the market for color digital presses
used for printing and packaging for the consulting firm Info Trends.
Info Trends, like Paperboard Packaging, is owned by Questex Media.