What’s the current state of digitally printed packaging? “Digital Packaging: The Time Is Now!” from Napco Research, gives us key insights. While the growth of digital packaging is a common topic of discussion in our industry, it was interesting to get a deeper look at this growing category. While much of the Napco data centered around products and production-related issues, such as run lengths, turnarounds, and application types, the data of most interest to me related to how packaging is being used to support marketing.

Here are some highlights from the report:

  • 79% of brand owners agreed that packaging is a key marketing tool for their company.
  • 60% of brand owners reported that customizing or personalizing packaging had a positive effect on sales.
  • Packaging is seen as an important part of a brand’s marketing strategy and in many respects the fifth “P” of the marketing mix.
  • 40% of brand owners cited “designing packaging that influences purchasing” as a top priority.
  • 80% of brand owners prefer print providers that offer digital printing capabilities as an option.

These data are consistent with other “Digital Packaging” data showing technology limitations no longer being a major obstacle in adoption. From my experience, “technology limitations” refers primarily to things like format size, substrates, color gamut, and print quality.  Certainly, challenges in these areas still exist, but production issues are no longer a primary factor holding it back. This is seen as the case even among printers/converters not producing digital packaging. “Customer resistance” was not cited as a significant barrier to printing packaging digitally either.

When asked to identify the top obstacles for printing packaging (and labels, specifically), the top response among printers/converters was matching colors across digital and conventional equipment, with 52% citing this as a top obstacle (although in the interviews, the use of color management practices, operator training, and technological innovations were seen to have lessened this difficulty).

But while cross-process color matching remains a challenge, it does not appear to be a limiting factor in adoption. Indeed, among those who don’t offer digital printing, only 11% cited cross-process color match as one of the reasons they have not made this investment. Likewise, only 5% cited “can’t print white well enough” and 3% cited “resolution or imagine quality is not high enough.”

Although there are still some sticking points (such as substrate limitations, with 30% of digital packaging printers/converters still citing this as a concern), overall, hesitance in adding this capability doesn’t seem to be technology. Rather, the top reason for not having made this investment is that it doesn’t fit the printer or converter’s product mix, with 32% of non-digital printer/converters giving this answer. The next most popular reason for not investing in digital packaging was that they were perfectly happy to outsource it, at 16%.

From a brand perspective, we see the similar lack of emphasis on technology as a limiting factor. When it comes to barriers to adoption, developing the right applications and managing customization and personalization are at the top of the list. These are really issues of framing and redirecting. Brands also cited complying with regulations, meeting environmental standards, and adding security features as continued challenges, all of which are classic packaging challenges, just being met in a new environment.

All of this is great news for commercial printers looking to get into packaging or expand their packaging business. Brand owners see packaging not just as pretty, eye-catching containers, but as extensions of their marketing strategies. This creates real opportunities for the use of customization, print-to-mobile strategies, personalization, and other marketing tools that are squarely in the wheelhouse of marketing-oriented print providers.