By Frank J. Romano We are now seeing the convergence of packaging/converting printing and so-called commercial printing. October 4, 2004 -- There is a subset of the printing world called converting. In it, specialized companies convert paper, plastic, film, foil, or cardboard into finished products which are often related to packaging—boxes, bags, pouches cartons, labels, and other products. By comparison, commercial printers are generalists that convert blank paper into brochures, magazines, catalogs, books, forms, etc. But, most commercial printers also produce some types of packaging, even if it is only labels. Over the years, packaging printers have been segregated from commercial printers because packaging printers are considered converters. Yet, we are now seeing the convergence of packaging/converting printing and so-called commercial printing. A new Heidelberg press, for instance, integrates inline die-cutting with the ability to handle heavier stocks. A commercial printer could print a brochure in one run and then switch to a folding carton in another run. Such presses, and other production capabilities, put commercial printers squarely in certain packaging markets. Converters are becoming more vertically integrated to provide products that do not require outsourcing. Converters convert raw material into formed products. The term is most often associated with corrugated and carton manufacturers who convert rolls of paper, board, and plastic stock into diecut and folded items. Printing is the number one value-added process used by converters of flexible packaging. A panel of experts was asked what new technologies are now available that allow converters to differentiate their products from the multitudes of other packaging products—a carton is only a carton, right? The difference is that converters are becoming more vertically integrated and utilizing advances in laminating, converting (e.g. pouches), and other processes (e.g. prepress integration) to provide products that do not require outsourcing. This is not only an attempt by converters to bring other value-added processes to the mix, but also to expand the level of in-house flexibility and quality control required for today's packaging market. Think of a business environment where the converter is the most valuable partner to the consumer product company, one central to the project management of the entire packaging supply chain. Beginning at creative design, combining the structure and graphic elements, converting materials, printing the package, and seeing the package all the way through distribution. All of this plus the ability to manage the digital assets. That also sounds a lot like a commercial printer. Such as provider also becomes the trusted partner of their customers and are now more involved in distribution. Commercial printers may not get involved in corrugated cartons, but they certainly will be involved in cartons, labels, and even specialized plastic packaging--especially if there is critical color involved. This what commercial printers do best, and packaging is a natural extension.