- According to InfoTrends’ 2018 North American Software Investment research, 50% of print service providers (PSPs) now own digital wide format printing equipment.
- Commercial printers should focus on the advantages and unique capabilities of small batch, digital packaging, which often adds versioning and customization.
- Commercial printers that are already proficient in producing a high number of small jobs are well suited, possibly even better suited, to capture the small-batch packaging opportunity.
By Ryan McAbee
Where’s the Packaging Opportunity for Commercial Printers?
The plight of commercial printers has been a challenging one since the late 2000s. Internet adoption, the proliferation of connected devices, and the ability to track user behavior and data are a boon to digital communications and marketing, but not to most printing companies. The challenge is electronic displacement. Commercial print applications that businesses use to communicate or advertise now have competition that continues to capture a healthy share of the marketing budget.
Commercial printers have sought to differentiate their products and services partly due to this digital displacement. Some have settled on fulfillment services as the remedy, while others have added sign and display graphics applications produced on wide-format equipment. According to InfoTrends’ 2018 North American Software Investment research, 50% of print service providers (PSPs) now own digital wide-format printing equipment.
Unfortunately, the increased adoption and proliferation of wide-format printing technology translates into more competition and pricing pressure. Once again, commercial printers must go back to the application drawing board to find a new growth path. The emerging digital printing application for commercial printers is digitally-printed packaging. Packaging is more resistant to market fluctuations than document-based printing applications. More specifically, packaged goods are not susceptible to digital displacement and delivery.
Not All Types of Packaging Are Equal
Some packaging applications, most notably corrugated and flexible packaging, require more specialized knowledge outside the expertise of most commercial printers. These applications are also the two segments of packaging that have the least amount produced digitally today, which further limits their attractiveness. Folding carton and label printing are two packaging applications that are a more natural fit for the production know-how of commercial printers. Labels require printing and cutting, which are routine for commercial PSPs. Folding carton adds a few more processes to the file preparation (structural CAD files) and finishing (die-cutting, folding, gluing). But, depending upon the customer requirements, the additional finishing and converting steps may not be necessary, or can increasingly be done using digital finishing equipment.
The Ecosystem for Small-Batch Packaging is Here
The industrial packaging industry, using analog printing to produce large quantities in a complex supply chain, is inaccessible for most commercial printers. Instead, commercial printers should focus on the advantages and unique capabilities of small batch, digital packaging, which often adds versioning and customization.Fortunately, the ecosystem of software and hardware to effectively offer small-batch packaging has arrived.
Small-Batch Packaging Ecosystem
- E-commerce and Online Design: The ability to customize and purchase packaging online is an ideal ordering process for the business-to-consumer market and for smaller businesses in the B2B market. Many commercial printers already have established web-to-print solutions where online design tools for packaging can be added.
- Digital Printing and Finishing: The capabilities of mid-level production digital printers continues to expand, making the printers faster and capable of printing on thicker stocks with colors beyond CMYK. More digital printers can now support label and folding carton applications with eye-catching colors which is ideal for consumers and small brands. Likewise, there is more digital finishing equipment entering the market to add embellishments, coatings, in addition to creasing and laser die cutting.
- Shipping and Logistics: The last mile of production is to deliver the small batch packaging into the customer’s hands. Commercial printers are already adept at warehousing and getting the product to the client across a multitude of shipping providers. Integrating the front-end ordering system to supply the shipping details, similarly to how online photobook printers have done, is critical to managing the higher number of low quantity packaging orders in this type of workflow.
The Bottom Line
Commercial printers that are already proficient in producing a high number of small jobs are well suited, possibly even better suited, to capture the small-batch packaging opportunity over traditional packaging converters. Success still requires a shift in certain business model processes, along with creativity and determination, to find and onboard new clients. PSPs willing to leap into small-batch packaging could find it is their next high growth revenue stream.
Ryan McAbee is a Director for Keypoint Intelligence – InfoTrends' Production Workflow Consulting Service, which focuses on providing technology, business, and market insights to clients in the Digital Marketing & Media and Production Workflow markets. In this role, he is responsible for conducting market research, market analysis and forecasting, content development, industry training, and consulting with print service providers.