In recent years, the corrugated industry has seen a surge in demand for short and medium runs of high-impact packaging, fuelled by growth in sectors such as the flourishing craft beer market, where new product development generates an almost constant stream of box design variations.

As converters consider investing in digital printing equipment to meet demand and drive business growth, there are often misunderstandings about the economics and practicalities of running a digital printing process for corrugated packaging – viewed through the lens of the conventional technologies converters are familiar with today.

Ben Ginesi, European Sales Manager – Digital Corrugated Packaging at Domino, aims to dispel some common misconceptions about digital corrugated printing.

Debunking Myths About Digital Corrugated Printing

Myth #1: Digital is More Complex Than Traditional Printing Methods

Why does this myth exist? It primarily stems from the beliefs held by converters who have experience and confidence in working with traditional printing methods and processes. Flexographic printing (flexo) is effective for high-volume, uncomplicated prints across a range of substrates, while lithographic printing (litho) has mainly been used for high-quality prints with complex details. Converters have printed in the same way in the corrugated industry for decades and are well-versed in these processes, leading to the belief that the transition to digital will be difficult and burdensome. This apprehension is understandable when moving away from the familiar to embrace a completely different process, but it is not necessarily the case.

In theory, the digital printing process is simpler and shorter than both flexo and litho: you take the digital artwork, send it to the machine, and the machine prints it – if everything is set up correctly, it is both easier and more efficient than traditional processes with printing plates that require time-consuming mechanical setup. However, just like any other piece of equipment, you need the right processes and fully-trained people to operate it.

Myth #2: Digital Printing Consumables are Too Expensive

It is true that ink for digital presses can be more expensive than consumables for flexo or litho print, and many converters believe the cost of ink per litre should be below a certain threshold to run a viable process. However, the cost of ink per litre can be a misleading indicator of the total running cost of digital printing equipment.

Ink that may seem expensive at first glance often proves better value overall, as better coverage of the substrate reduces ink consumption, lowering the cost per square metre of print. The need for primer as a consumable also affects the running cost, and inks that do not require pre-coating can deliver considerable savings.

Once digital press users realise this, they can move from short and medium runs to longer runs, increasing the use of the press and further enhancing the return on investment.

Myth #3: Digital Presses Have a Large Footprint and Require a Specialised Space

Corrugated converters researching digital printing presses often worry about the size of the equipment and whether they have the space and resources to create an environment suitable for running a corrugated printing press.

Some digital corrugated presses do have a larger footprint than their flexographic counterparts, and building a cleanroom to create the controlled environment needed to accommodate a digital press can require additional space and investment. However, there are corrugated digital inkjet presses on the market that use fast-drying inks, which only require compact drying modules, greatly reducing the overall footprint. Moreover, some presses feature internal environmental controls for temperature and dust extraction, eliminating the need for a cleanroom – allowing you to place the press alongside traditional presses in your facility.

Myth #4: Finding a Digital Press Operator is Difficult

In recent years, the skills and knowledge gap in the print industry, which has widened as experienced professionals retire, has often been cited as a key challenge for converters. From this perspective, recruiting a press operator might seem daunting.

However, once converters realise that a digital press operator requires a completely different set of skills than a traditional printing professional, finding the right person becomes much easier. No specific technical know-how related to the printing industry is required to run a digital press, allowing converters to tap into a much wider pool of potential candidates than they would when recruiting for a flexo press operator.

An operator with decades of experience running a flexo or litho printing press, with all the associated mechanical setup, will likely need time and specific training to adapt to the digital process – which is expected from someone accustomed to doing things a certain way. Nevertheless, the general ease of using a digital press means that controlling, setting up, and optimising the digital printing process via a touchscreen interface will soon become second nature.

Given the predominance of digital devices in everyday life, even someone without prior experience in the printing industry might find it easy to adapt to operating a digital press.

Myth #5: The ROI for any Digital Printing Process is the Same

While the general benefits of digital printing versus traditional printing methods are well known and apply to any digital printing process – more flexibility for shorter runs of variable designs and faster turnaround – the same cannot be said for the return on investment (ROI). Converters should pay particular attention to the total cost of ownership, as running costs can vary greatly across the equipment available in the market.

There is a connection between how effectively the digital and mechanical elements of a press work together that translates to the ROI. Many people don’t realise that it’s not a one-size-fits-all approach across brands and digital press models.

Digital presses combine various, often proprietary, technologies that all factor into the ROI. How much – or how little – of a contribution they make can vary greatly. Some fast-drying ink formulations proactively contribute to lower energy consumption thanks to reduced drying time; printheads and ink sets that provide excellent coverage in a single pass can reduce overall ink consumption, lowering the cost per printed board; environmental controls on-board a press eliminate the need – and cost – for maintaining a controlled environment in a larger space, such as a custom-built cleanroom – not to mention the cost of installing the cleanroom in the first place.

Debunking Myths About Digital Corrugated Printing

Conclusion

There are many misconceptions when it comes to investing in digital corrugated printing equipment, and converters are often surprised when they discover the reality of running a digital printing process – from staffing and consumables to the all-important return on investment.

Converters should look beyond the myths and partner with a trusted digital printing provider for a genuine appraisal of the ROI for their corrugated print application. A strong partner will support them as they take their first steps into the digital printing landscape – from providing valuable insights into the ideal profile for a digital press operator to identifying profitable business opportunities and new applications.

 

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