Digital direction

31 October 2019



The flexibility and speed of digital printing makes it an easy choice for brands big and small; special offers, limited editions and start-ups all appreciate the ease of digital design and printing. Emma-Jane Batey reports.


The digital revolution has impacted on how we all work; from those of us that can remember life before email, digital opportunities have come thick and fast. For the printing and packaging industry, digital has provided huge opportunities throughout the process, from design to ecommerce, there’s almost no part of the chain that hasn’t been affected.

If you’ve seen images of large-scale printing and packaging companies and their rows and rows of machinery and real human operators, you’ll know just how different that workplace landscape is compared with designers sitting at their Macs or digital equipment that’s remotely operated. Digital capabilities are incredible. Harnessed in the right way, packaging designers, converters, packaging manufacturers and everyone else connected to the supply chain can stay in touch in real time, create and produce one-off exclusives and even create customisable packaging that gets customers engaged on social media.

For packaging design agencies, digital creativity is a hugely valuable tool that allows them to come up with ideas that are easy to share in-house and with their clients, and ideas that are changeable quickly depending on the demands of the brief. For Thirst Craft, a specialist drinks packaging design agency based in Glasgow, working with clients from the Caribbean to the US, from Hong Kong to London, digital design means the team is as connected to their clients as if they were at the same work station.

Thirst Craft’s strategy director, Claire Barrett, explains how, from a creative perspective, digital capabilities give ideas freedom. She says, “With the seemingly endless possibilities digital presents, it’s important that brands big and small ensure they use its benefits not to erode their brand. Digital makes it easier for brands to tap into consumer trends such as customisation and transparency. Now, it’s up to brands to think beyond just putting consumers’ name on a product, and consider how customisation can truly add to the experience. Customisation within a framework can maintain a brand’s integrity while delivering a personalised, premium experience.”

Distinct proposition

A uniquely British brand that Thirst Craft has helped to put on a wider stage is Cornish Orchards. A proudly Cornish brand that produces cider and soft drinks from local apples, Cornish Orchards asked Thirst Craft to create a fresh proposition for their soft drinks that would allow it to stand apart from other more traditional cider brands. Barret explains the brief, “Cornish Orchards were more known for their cider rather than their range of delicious soft drinks. With an existing design that looked too close for comfort to their cider cousins, Cornish Orchards needed a redesign to establish a distinct proposition for softs and capitalise on the booming premium softs market. To match their all-natural, great taste, we built a naturally bold design. Rallying against the botanical illustration boom, each product’s simple ingredients are celebrated with fresh, fun and fruity illustrations. Hand-rendered typography adds a natural touch, while vibrant colour splits create striking brand blocking behind bar and on shelf. All in all, it’s a standout new range that brings the freshness of the orchard onto the pack.”

Barrett notes how the ongoing focus on brand experience is perfectly in tune with digital, both from a design perspective and for consumer engagement. She says, “It’s no surprise that brand experience has upped its game in direct parallel to the rise of social media. Innovative retailers have survived by switching from a transaction to a value-based mindset, with brands using immersive storytelling to give consumers something to talk about. Our fresh, exciting work attracts awards, attention and ardour by creating packaging that clients love and consumers covet.”

Barrett also appreciates how digital printing’s rapid development in recent years has enabled it to rival conventional printing, offering a solid and reliable compatibility with digital design. She explains, “Digital printing’s forte has always been in its flexibility, but in recent years we’ve seen it finessing the quality of its finishes to rival more conventional printing. Many of our brands use it for the convention reasons of small runs and creative agility, but we’ve seen huge improvements in recent years of quality and choice of finishes, best illustrated by the colours, quality and tacticity of our latest project.”

Thirst Craft formulated the brief with Cornish Orchard’s team. Based just outside Liskead in Cornwall, Cornish Orchard wanted its packaging rebrand to reflect its key differentiator. General manager Patrick Gardner says, “We are a passionate team of 35 local staff, working hard to create full-offlavour, whole-fruit drinks and award-winning ciders. We take our time and let nature do what she does best, which locks in the flavour and avoids us having to add in nasties to make our products taste good.”

Cornish Orchard was determined that its packaging rebrand would effectively reflect its carefully made, naturally delicious product. Gardner says, “We take every pride in our soft drinks and hand blend them to deliver natural bursts of real fruit flavour, we were determined to make sure we designed new packaging that did the liquid justice. And we believe Thirst Creative answered this brief beautifully.”

Quantifiable results

For Suffolk-based creative agency Spring, The Agency for Change, digital design and print is at the heart of what it offers to brands worldwide. A fantastically positive company that manages to bring life and light to every brand it works with, founder Erika Clegg explains how its team uses digital to keep delivering quantifiable results.

Clegg says, “We help people to deliver impactful communication in times of change. Our track record speaks for itself. We’ve launched a much-loved brewery’s most successful beer, delivered 21,000 meaningful engagements in a week for a utilities business, and created a 6% increase in a whole country’s tourism. Spring’s team believes in strong relationships with clients, and is bound by a clear Ethos – to bring positive energy, know what matters, make excellent work, improve people’s lives and live the agency’s vision as agents for change.”

Appreciating how change – its understanding and its execution – is crucial, Clegg explains, “Change sits at the heart of every project; it’s the driving force for every client. We thrive on change. We’re optimists, we’re inspiring and creative, and working with us can be fun; but Spring is also hugely competent – challenging assumptions, delivering bespoke campaigns and building in measurable ROI to every project. We bring joie de vivre to everything we do. We’re a specialist team that tackles serious challenges in colourful ways. One thing is clear: Spring won’t always do what’s expected, but we will always do what’s effective.”

“With the seemingly endless possibilities digital presents, it’s important that brands big and small ensure they use its benefits not to erode their brand.”
Claire Bennett, Thirst Craft

A recent example of change with an ongoing client is a free-range egg producer, with which Spring has worked for the best part of the past decade. The branded materials including packaging and digital marketing have not only won a bevvy of awards, they have also underpinned strong and sustainable growth.

From the off, the agency’s aim has been to have the birds as heart and soul of the work – as does Spring’s client, with a genuine care for the welfare of their flocks (these now range from chickens to ducks, quail and geese). The brand identity Spring created includes three birds, and the packaging is full of happy hens, as are their vans and other branded items.

Spring photographed a flock of free-range chickens in their photography studio on a white background that allows the designers to crop to the birds. Their character shines out – and so the natural next step for the agency has been to harness digital technology to bring the birds more fully to life for shoppers.

Spring’s studio has created new film and stills content, and is in the process of designing packs that on first sight look similar to the current eggboxes, and through the use of a simple, modified mobile app, ‘spring’ to life. “It’s about brand character – and the great feature of this technology is it unites the best of packaging design with the best of digitally enabled communications to really press home the brand advantage of the chickens’ natural, diverse personalities,” explains Clegg.

Associated opportunities

FEFCO, the European Federation of Corrugated Board Manufacturers, is also positive about the impact of digital printing on its members’ activities. Focusing on how digital technology ‘opens up wide new possibilities for maximising the use of packaging as a platform for communicating directly to consumers’, the association says that high-volume digital printing on corrugated board is increasingly practical and appealing. Angelika Christ, FEFCO’s secretary-general, says, “With digital printing, corrugated board is being transformed from packaging and protection to a new marketing communications medium, thanks to striking print quality, and the possibilities for customisation and creativity in design. It is a real revolution.”

FEFCO’s members include the majority of Europe’s member countries’ national corrugated trade associations, so it regularly deals with global and national players across the packaging and converting industry. It holds regular seminars and events that address and discuss the latest trends that impact on its members, including topics such as how digital printing can support and promote newer technologies such as QR codes and augmented reality in order to boost the consumer experience through smarter packaging.

A recent workshop hosted by FEFCO and featuring digital printing equipment from ESKO, BOBST, Hewlett-Packard and Sun Automation raised the question around the topic of ‘High Volume Digital Printing on Corrugated Board’. The event highlighted how the demand for digital printing primarily comes from the customers, packers and retailers. By illustrating how the need for personalisation, regional marketing, lastminute changes, rapid response to customer demand and faster time to market are the principal factors pushing the industry to move from analogue to digital printing, FEFCO was able to draw attention to the capabilities and advantages of digital printing.

Christ adds, “Until now, the technology for digital printing on corrugated board has been mainly used for display POS and short-run samples. Now, with corrugated packaging, the medium really can become the message. Digital printing on corrugated board is no hype – it is a solution ready for use in everyday production.”

We can see that by harnessing the positive capabilities of digital design and digital printing, brands and manufacturers are able to capture the very latest spirit of the consumer – both what to do and what not to do. Perhaps the real value of digital is that is allows every actor in the packaging value chain to learn quickly from their mistakes, which essentially means that they can afford to take risks and, as we all know, fortune favours the brave. 

Cornish Orchards’ redesign focused on hand-rendered typography to add a natural touch, while vibrant colour splits create striking brand blocking behind the bar and on the shelf.


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