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The Benefits of Digital Printing for Packaging

Digital printing expands available packaging options to include fast turnaround times, data variable printing, great flexibility, and excellent print quality.

June 24, 2021     3 minute read

Brand owners regularly look for ways to innovate, including how they produce their packaging. With recent technological developments, digital printing has become a powerful addition to more traditional printing options. Here’s what you need to know.

 

Traditional Printing Methods

Traditional printing methods, such as offset lithography (“offset") and flexography ("flexo"), involve multiple makeready steps to transfer an original image to a substrate. These methods require the production of a series of plates mounted on a cylinder to transfer ink that when combined on a substrate form the desired image. 

Plates, labor, and machine setup when making ready is costly for small runs, but efficient when producing long print runs. These methods also enable you to add intricate decorative touches to your folding cartons and packaging like specialty inks, coatings, and inline cold foil.

 

The Benefits of Digital Printing

In contrast to traditional methods, digital printing has taken off in recent years and continues to expand in capabilities.

Provides for faster turnaround. Bypassing much of the heavy set-up time demanded by traditional printing, the simplified process also enables easy updates. Printers change a digital file in a matter of clicks instead of manufacturing a new plate for offset printing. 

Digital printing is best suited for small to medium print runs, which means it can be a preferred method if you’re introducing new or customized products on a much faster timeline.

Makes the most of variable data printing. Being able to customize packaging through variable data printing has opened up new opportunities for you to engage with your customers in more personalized ways. Digital printing, with fewer moving pieces, is more agile than offset in this regard. You can produce folding cartons to celebrate special occasions, say thank you to loyal customers, or design packaging specific to regions. It’s a way to blend your packaging and marketing strategies. 

Saves on costs for low- and medium-volume runs. Reduced setup time saves money on the front end. And since these are not massive bulk orders, smaller businesses can afford to print without having to meet higher and more expensive print thresholds that attend traditional printing. 

Implements anti-counterfeiting. Digital printing helps protect your brand against counterfeiting by incorporating overt and covert solutions on your packaging. Digital inks can produce unique marks or microtext that are quite impossible to replicate. 

 

Digital Printing in Action

While digital printing is a viable option for most short-run print jobs—special occasions, prototyping, or other considerations—its modern capabilities really show in fast turnarounds. 

Consider Titleist, one of the leading golf brands in the world. They planned to produce a commemorative package of golf balls to celebrate the winner of the 2016 World Series. They worked with Boutwell (now a part of Oliver Inc.) to create these boxes, with digital files available for a Cleveland or Chicago Cubs victory. As it happened, the series ended in extra innings in Game 7, and the Cubs celebrated their first championship since 1908, the digital presses went into action. The first-off production from an introductory short run was available the next afternoon. No inventory was wasted.

The digital printing made the entire project possible and resulted in Titleist providing Cubs fans with a piece of memorabilia worthy of the moment. 

 

Approaching the Digital Printing Process

So while eleventh-hour printing is a huge benefit, digital may not always be the best method for you. For example, offset printing has the advantage of cost-effectiveness with large print runs, especially those with advanced decorative effects and specialty coatings. 

This is why it’s important to collaborate with an experienced printer who can navigate you through the various printing options. They might advise you on the following: 

Manage expectations. They’ll recommend digital printing when it’s appropriate for your brand, but won’t force your company into using or abandoning traditional methods. Try digital out in its most effective ways, such as in a short-run test or personalized print job.

Faster isn’t always cheaper. Digital printing’s true strength is speed and getting new products to market. While time efficiency can save on costs, it isn’t necessarily a less expensive option. A knowledgeable printer will help you determine the most cost-effective printing method for you.

Simplify the workflow. Your printer should set out a clear plan, ensuring you understand which traditional steps are no longer relevant and how automation integrates with the remaining manual steps to avoid bottlenecks. 

Examine all price factors. Your printer should compare prices between running the same job through a digital printer versus an offset printer, accounting for total expenses, including all the tools of machinery for both platforms. That will help reveal a more comprehensive comparison, ensuring your company makes the smartest decision. 

While offset printing retains its primary role in packaging, digital expands the available options with added benefits, including fast turnarounds, simplified workflows, variable data printing, flexibility, and excellent print quality. 

Just be certain your company gives careful consideration to everything that goes into a comprehensive comparison between digital and offset printing. What works for one job may not work for another. 


Oliver leverages leading-edge equipment in printing systems to produce packaging, marketing collateral, and labels with perfection, every time. Our pressrooms are populated with a selection of press formats, including flexography, digital, and offset printing. With Oliver’s specialized capabilities we’ll deliver a final product you’ll be proud of. Contact us today to learn more.

Topics
printing, folding cartons

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