Prepress & Workflow

Digital Printing Can Make Packaging Prototypes Affordable for Everyone

Posted: March 5, 2005 by
Ed McCarron

Creating package prototypes can be costly, but it is a necessary evil. Clients want to see how their brand image will be presented before the final packages are produced.

Recent innovations in digital imaging are helping to save time, labor, and waste in the creation of package design prototypes. Tools are now available to produce high-quality short-run promotional packaging and effective prototypes, which will help move products to market faster. Printing systems are more integrated, and new varieties of flexible media are being developed by companies such as InteliCoat, Agfa, DuPont, and Proofing Technologies.

The packaging market is ready for digital printing, as the industry is currently experiencing a package design revolution. Some examples of this can be found in the fact that traditional cans and boxes are moving to flexible retort packages, while bottle labels are shifting from adhesive to shrink-wrap. With growing competition among consumer products, flexible packaging offers the benefits of more attractive packaging, better flavor, improved logistics, and greater design options.

Digital printing, commonly used today in point-ofpurchase displays, fine art reproductions, outdoor advertising, custom decorative applications, and tradeshow displays, is an emerging technology in the package design and label market. Adoption of digital printing in the package design community is at the point today that it was in the sign industry in the early 1990s. According to a Packaging Strategies study, digital printing for packaging will grow at a compound annual growth rate of 20% through 2007 (“Digital Printing for Packaging,” 2003).

So what exactly does digital printing have to offer the package design market? Enormous cost savings, to start. The typical new package development process includes design review (often times with multiple design concepts), marketing/internal review, consumer/focus group review, and retail and regional test market review. In an average application, using digitally produced prototypes instead of traditionally produced ones can save a small- to medium-size company more than $50,000 (“Digital Printing for Packaging,” 2003).

Digital printing can also save time. Digital printing methods shorten the product development time, which is critical when one considers that “new” retail products can account for a significant portion of a manufacturer’s annual sales. In the promotional advertising market, it is common for a digital print specialist to turn out a client’s job in a two to three day time frame. Just imagine how this speed and efficiency would benefit the package design process.

Digital printing and designing
Package designers are challenged day in and day out to effectively convey brand identities, and a lot rides on arriving at the right design. By using digital printing methods, package design concepts can be easily turned into impressive three-dimensional comps that will drive decisions among brand managers, clients, and focus groups. Digital printing is ideal in the package development process to create package proofs and prototypes that look like the real thing. Digital printing also can be used to create high-quality short-run applications, regional ondemand output, and customized or local messaging.

According to the Packaging Strategies 2003 report, the three packaging segments currently poised to benefit the most from digital printing are folding cartons, soft packaging, and labels.

Folding Cartons. A recent breakthrough for producing folding carton prototypes and mock-ups has been the introduction of a new type of inkjet transfer media that allows users to transfer package designs directly onto board stocks—actual packaging stock, box blanks, publications grade stocks, poster, and corrugated board.


Scitex Vision and Esko-Graphics Combine Forces to Introduce an Integrated Digital Proofing System
Scitex Vision and Esko-Graphics have collaborated to provide packaging and display printers with the first end-to-end solution for producing wide format digital short run packaging and displays. Scitex Vision CORjet Premium customers have the ability to choose an endto- end solution driven by Esko-Graphics’ Scope workflow environment, and where printed output is digitally converted by Esko-Graphics’ Kongsberg converting tables.

The Scitex Vision CORjet Premium industrial digital printer is the leading wide format digital printing solution for corrugated materials, optimized for shortrun packaging and display applications, and optimized for rigid substrates such as corrugated cardboards, foam boards, compressed cardboards and other paper-based liners and on plastics rigid substrates. The 600dpi highresolution, piezoelectric drop-on-demand inkjet press utilizes unique Aprion technology using four or six process colors of fast-drying water-based, abrasion resistant, waterproof-pigmented inks.

Esko-Graphics’ Scope workflow suite is the leading workflow environment for packaging service providers. By fully integrating structural design and graphical design, Scope can seamlessly control the converting of the printed materials on Esko-Graphics’ Kongsberg DCM digital converting system that allows unattended digital cutting and creasing of up to 400 large format sheets.

These types of transfer media consist of an ultra-thin digital ink-receptive, adhesive, and laminate layer built into one coating on a release liner, making it fast and easy to print the package prototypes on wide format inkjet printers. This method can help eliminate the guesswork, messy adhesive, cracked corners, and smudged inks due to repeated handling, and users can print enough identical copies for customers in different locales or easily make modifications on each layout for test marketing.


To begin the process, package designs are mirror-printed directly on the media. The design is then transferred to the substrate that will be used for the offset production printing. Once transferred, it can be converted to a three-dimensional prototype form. Built-in adhesives assure even adhesion to the box substrates, while a built-in laminate allows for the folding of 90º corners without cracking the ink and also provides protection against smudging and the effects of moisture and oxidation. Using this type of media product with wide format inkjet printing enables package designers and printers to make accurate prototype designs quickly, because the media can be transferred onto the actual substrate the finished job will be printed on.

Soft and Flexible Packaging. New cast vinyl films with inkjet-receptive coatings are being used to create realistic soft package prototypes using a wide format inkjet printer. With this special cast vinyl, users can print a package prototype directly on the coated vinyl that is on a release liner (with no adhesive), and then convert it to a finished-looking, three-dimensional soft package prototype simply by heat sealing the edges.

Soft and Flexible Packaging. New cast vinyl films with inkjet-receptive coatings are being used to create realistic soft package prototypes using a wide format inkjet printer. With this special cast vinyl, users can print a package prototype directly on the coated vinyl that is on a release liner (with no adhesive), and then convert it to a finished-looking, three-dimensional soft package prototype simply by heat sealing the edges.

These cast vinyls provide brand marketers, consumer goods package designers and commercial printers an easy and inexpensive way to mock up package prototypes for test marketing and presentations. The cast vinyl is soft and flexible, making this media option well-suited for candy and frozen food package mock-ups.

Labels. Digitally-printed adhesive back vinyls and films offer a good solution for custom label production. Additionally, materials such as inkjetreceptive shrink films for desktop and aqueous wide format printers enable package designers to create shrinkable sleeve labeling comps easily by imaging clear, heatshrinkable polypropylene film on an inkjet printer, placing the film over a container, and heating it to conform to the shape. Self-sticking labels and decals can be created by inkjet imaging a matte paper with adhesive backing or by using a photobase paper with a permanent pressure sensitive adhesive.

Other options for digitally printing label prototypes include using a polyester film with a low tack adhesive for label mock-ups to apply to a variety of smooth surfaces that are easy to print, to remove or reposition, and to re-apply. Adhesive-backed vinyls (in white, clear, or opaque colors) with permanent pressure sensitive adhesives adhere to glass, plastic, metals and painted surfaces. Overlay films for inkjet printers are also used to create overlay proofs and clear package design.

The digital imaging revolution has begun in the package design world. Package designers and graphic producers are beginning to realize that they have the capability to produce short-run, promotional package designs and realistic package prototypes using the same equipment that posters, banners, and P.O.P. displays have been created on for years. New innovations in inkjet technology, along with the emergence of innovative media products like those mentioned above, hold great promise for the package design and label communities. This promise has only just begun to be realized by early adopters, who will lead the way for others.


Ed McCarron is a product manager for InteliCoat Technologies, where he oversees the market development of the company’s line of large and grand format media to the signage, packaging, and decorative markets. Contact Ed at