The Wide World of Packaging Prototypes
Even with its robust commercial printing background and a new burgeoning wide-format department, Springdale, Ark.-based Just-Us Printers recognized that expanding into the packaging industry could take the third-generation family-owned business to new heights.
According to president Brett Justus, his company’s strong background as a commercial printing with offset machinery made it a natural fit to add folding cartons to its repertoire, as it represents the packaging segment most aligned with sheetfed offset printing. As the packaging side of the business grew however, Justus realized yet another opportunity. With wide-format equipment it already had in-house, Justus could expand into prototyping. Justus says his customers benefit from being able to prototype and print production-length runs of folding cartons, all under one roof.
“Every customer we’ve contacted and dealt with has been very excited about that because they know within 24 hours they can have a prototype,” he says. “They can come to our shop and we can talk through it. We can bring them over a sample and from start to finish, it’s in one shop. There’s no guessing.”
The Importance of Accuracy
While it’s always important to strive for high-quality output no matter what is being printed, a potential pitfall in prototyping can occur when a packaging sample is not a true representative of what can feasibly be produced on a production press. For example, Marek Skrzynski, technical director of Ludlow, Mass.-based CSW Inc., says if a printer does not produce an accurate prototype, a brand owner may get excited about the quality and color, only to be disappointed when the production run of the package doesn’t match.
Skrzynski explains that CSW, a packaging premedia and 3D visualization company, has placed a strong emphasis on color management, using a highly calibrated prototyping system that utilizes GMG OpenColor software in order to predict and control output based on customers’ press profiles. This leads to accurate prototyping on CSW’s SureColor S80600, a new addition to Epson’s lineup of wide-format inkjet printers.
“We print by numbers, including the white ink opacity and when we do our prototypes and mockups, we try to mimic the finished product as close to reality as possible,” Skrzynski says. “If you don’t, then you’re creating false expectations and that’s probably the biggest mistake, considering the fact that people get excited about what you put in front of them.”
In addition to the ability to replicate the printing condition of a production level press on a wide-format inkjet machine, Skrzynski explains it’s also essential for printers to have a good understanding of the converting process before attempting to produce packaging prototypes.
For example, CSW produces prototypes for every packaging segment, particularly in the flexible packaging and shrink sleeve markets, two-dimensional printing and graphics can become distorted during the converting process. Skrzynski explains that in order to create accurate prototypes for this market, CSW invested in Creative Edge Software’s iC3D solutions that can apply pre-distortion to graphics in advance so the prototype will appear accurately after the shrink sleeve or flexible package is formed.
“By having access to predictable digital devices, specialized visualization software and a variety of lab-size converting equipment, now you can experiment with the output and have instant feedback in the office before you even go on those expensive million dollar presses to see what’s going to happen,” he says. “Not just in terms of color, but when it comes to flexible packaging or shrink, how does the whole three-dimensional package perform, including its response to the pre-distortion we’ve applied?”
Where to Start
As with the addition of any new product line, one of the challenges with bringing package prototyping into a wide-format operation is locating customers with a need for packaging. However, just because packaging prototypes may be new for a wide-format printing company, it doesn’t necessarily mean the company has to find new customers to serve.
In fact, according to Phil Edwards, the founder and president of PrintSure, an Elk Grove Village, Ill.-based company specializing in digitally-printed packaging prototypes, the best place to seek new prototyping business is often with a company’s existing client base.
“I’ve always felt the easiest way to increase your sales is with your own customers to see what else they need, versus just what you’re doing for them now,” Edwards says.
Additionally, since the economy has rebounded in recent years, Edwards says he’s seen an influx of startup companies, which are a natural fit for prototyping and short run digital packaging.
Another potential avenue for acquiring prototyping business is through partnering with existing packaging manufacturers that may not have prototyping capabilities in-house, as their core business is producing production-length runs of packaging. Just-Us Printers, for example, has been able to utilize its wide-format printing and Colex digital cutting machine to help corrugated manufacturers avoid the expense of steel-rule dies during the prototyping process.
“It really helps because their dies are very expensive and they just want to make sure it goes together and the box is right,” Justus says. “We can print direct to it if we need to or we can just cut it out of corrugate. There have been a lot of new opportunities and it continues to grow.”
While acquiring prototyping business is an obvious starting point, there are also essential packaging skills needed for a company to add prototyping services.
According to Ken Madsen, founder and chief marketing technologist of NYC-based Mad Creative Production Agency, adding packaging prototypes to a company’s repertoire often requires obtaining new skillsets, depending on the level to which a company wants to take its capabilities.