As package printers are well aware, the packaging segment of the printing industry is one of consistent growth. Meanwhile, many commercial printers that have either found their growth at a plateau, or even on a decline, have caught onto this trend and are looking into adding packaging services to their repertoires.

Shown is part of the digital print area within OTC Group’s facility.

According to Kevin Karstedt, CEO of Karstedt Partners, the folding carton market is a good place to start for commercial printers because it relies mostly on sheetfed offset printing. But before a printer can go ahead and start printing packaging jobs on an offset press, Karstedt says it’s important for them to assess whether their current equipment is up to the challenge.

“If a commercial printer only has a four-color press, they’re going to be challenged for producing packaging, unless they can produce work that is CMYK oriented, and there are no special or corporate colors,” Karstedt says. “Some older sheetfed presses also don’t handle paperboard very well, so they’re not going to be able to produce folding cartons.”

Karstedt adds that commercial printers should determine if their diecutting equipment can be used for folding cartons, and if they have the prepress capabilities in-house to be able to do prepress for packaging. “If printers don’t have these capabilities, they should look to outsource that work to local companies and establish a relationship,” Karstedt explains. “Work like diecutting, folding and gluing, embossing and foil stamping, if not completed in-house, can be outsourced.”

As part of his consulting work, Karstedt says he holds “voice of the customer” meetings, in which he talks to commercial printers interested in packaging to learn first hand about their interest in the label or folding carton markets.

He explains that the two main drivers for commercial printers to seek out opportunities in packaging are that it can provide an additional source of revenue and, if they already serve small or boutique brands, it can serve as an opportunity to enter the market. If a printer is doing commercial work for a client in need of packaging, adding these capabilities can help them bring that work in-house.

“Commercial printers are looking for ways to strengthen their product offerings and their bottom lines; packaging may be a way to do that,” he explains. “Another reason to consider packaging is the growth in small business, such as the recent surge of microbreweries and small wineries.”

Short-Run Packaging Specialist

One example of a commercial printer that has added a substantial portion of packaging to its mix of services is The OTC Group, headquartered in London, Ontario. According to Adam Egan, VP of high-performance packaging, entering the packaging segment seemed like the next logical move to help fill in work on its press during the slower periods. Today, short-run packaging accounts for about 30% of the print jobs that the company produces.

Kevin Karstedt, CEO of Karstedt Partners, shares what commercial printers should consider right away when deciding to branch out into the package printing market.

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The OTC Group outputs highly serialized and highly variable packaging for the pharmaceutical industry, and produces both consumer packaged goods and food products. In addition, the company prints labels for a number of markets, including small wineries and pharmaceutical companies.

Additionally, with its short-run capabilities, Egan says The OTC Group has partnered with traditional folding carton print shops that are not as well-positioned for short runs. “We’ve worked a lot with other folding carton manufacturers producing short-run orders for them,” he says. “By developing these relationships, we were able to take on a lot of their short-run work that was costing them money to produce.”

The vast majority of the packaging work The OTC Group produces is printed on its five Xerox iGen digital presses and Egan says the company plans to add more printing capacity. Additionally, the company has two coating machines, three gluers and two diecutters.

When entering the packaging market from the commercial world, The OTC Group did encounter some challenges, ranging from substrate issues to catching print errors. “You’re not printing on paper anymore; you’re printing on box board,” he says. “So there’s the whole finishing element, which is different. I wouldn’t say it’s harder, but it’s different than [traditional] bindery services. Mistakes can also be costly. If there’s an error in running a job, and it makes its way through the plant, it will cost a lot more than what would have happened in the same sort of scenario in the commercial printing world.”

Exploring New Market Opportunities

Color Ink, a Sussex, Wis.-based commercial printer, along with FunDeco, its consumer products division, added packaging capabilities after seeking out new ways to utilize its existing equipment and enter new markets with minimal investment.

When first considering the package printing market, Todd Meissner, president of Color Ink, says the company needed to learn what was needed to design a package and the infrastructure that would be required to accomplish that.

“We asked ourselves how we could design a folding carton from a structural standpoint to get the best yield on paper,” he recalls. “And how we could automate every part of the process — to be able to print efficiently, diecut and then scrap, fold and glue that carton efficiently. We also needed to invest in training our people in the structural and graphic aspect of package design.”

Color Ink and FunDeco now produce litho labels, direct-to-corrugated, clamshell inserts and sample runs of prototype folding cartons. It utilizes both offset and digital printing presses, running longer-run jobs on its six-color, 40˝ Komori Lithrone press configured with UV printing and coating capabilities. Shorter runs are produced on a Fujifilm J Press 720S cut-sheet inkjet press, along with a five-color Ryobi 755 press with UV coater.

“We’re seeing that digital printing processes are really being used much more than they were before, at least with our customers,” Meissner says. “For short-run cartons, it’s very cost-effective to be able to print digitally, so we’re printing a lot of packaging digitally.”

Acquiring Expertise Proved Challenging

While many commercial printers have actively sought out opportunities in packaging, Asheville, N.C.-based BP Solutions Group entered the packaging space in 2005 at the request of one of its commercial customers. Packaging now comprises 35% of its product mix, and VP Scott Cotten expects to see that number increase.

This package was made using 15 mil clear PETG and 18-pt. C1S SBS, printed digitally on an Inca Onset Q40i wide-format press. Image courtesy of Color Ink.

This package was made using 15 mil clear PETG and 18-pt. C1S SBS, printed digitally on an Inca Onset Q40i wide-format press. Image courtesy of Color Ink.

Cotten reveals that one of the biggest challenges the company faced initally was finding packaging expertise to bring in-house. Coming from the commercial world, BP Solutions Group did not anticipate the additional knowledge required to produce packaging.

“The cost of the equipment was the first thing we considered when looking for equipment but, looking back, the first thing we should have considered was the knowledge and experience needed to produce the packaging,” he recalls. “There’s an awful lot of knowledge and experience that goes into diecutting and folding and gluing that is not immediately apparent to a commercial printer when you’re getting into the business.”

At first, heid was using a standard commercial press for packaging but, as it took on additional packaging work, the company found that the press was prone to marking when printing heavy-weight board stocks. So the company installed a Heidelberg Speedmaster CD 74 press that’s designed to run heavy-weight paper board. A Xerox iGen 4 digital press is used to create prototypes.

Cotten advises that when first entering the packaging market, try to network with companies that are already experienced in the space. As long as they’re not competing directly, many package printers will be happy to spread their knowledge to the commercial world.

“The easiest way I’ve found to do that the past couple years is to attend the annual Digital Packaging Summit in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla.,” Cotten says. “I’ve made friends with several printers from across the U.S. who would never compete with us. They’ve even asked if I would like to visit their facilities to learn how they handle package printing production.”

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