The delights of digital

2 March 2019

Ask printing or packaging experts to tell you one word that sums up the latest trend in their industry and you’re likely to hear ‘digital’ time and time again. While it essentially means slightly different things to different parts of each industry, the basic truth remains the same – machine trumps human. Why? Emma-Jane Batey asks industry professionals across the packaging sector to find out more.

Digital printers are faster, cheaper and of markedly better quality than more antiquated methods. Fans of digital printing – and there are many – find it too easy to share its numerous benefits. With so many industries facing disruption from digital, printing is no exception. Fewer man hours and less human intervention means fewer issues, but what about the oftenrepeated issue of digital being unable to handle longer print runs? Or the expense of constantly upgrading equipment that’s outdated as quickly as your new phone?

Packaging & Converting Intelligence asked Gary White, managing director at, to share his views. With his Milton Keynes-based company entirely focused on the advantages of digital printing, he is in no doubt that this solution delivers. White says, “We love digital printing. That’s why it is all we do. We have over 20 years’ experience of digital printing. We use the latest technology and we print everything on highresolution HP Indigo digital presses for top-quality print and stunning colour reproduction.”

As a resolutely digital company, digitalprinting. is almost entirely automated – albeit with a very strong, technically experienced customer service team that is available to give ‘ear-to-ear’ advice on the phone. White adds, “We have a simple-to-use online ordering system with automated production processes, which means we can pass cost savings directly onto our customers. Customers just have to send us a PDF of their artwork, choose or repeat a few clear options online and then within 24 hours their job arrives. We have an excellent team of digital print fanatics, our production manager, our pre-press team who make sure there are no artwork errors and then there are the guys who run the HP Indigo presses. It has to be perfect. We’re quick and totally accurate. Digital affords you that.”

It is certainly known that digital printing is perfect for short runs and special offers, with the alacrity, accuracy and cost of digitally printed labels, wraps and packaging being perfect for brands of all sizes. Take Retrocorn, a fast-growing popcorn brand. This Essex-based natural brand is gaining the attention of buyers as quickly as it is winning new fans of its delicious popcorn, flavoured with crushed retro-favourite sweets, such as cola cubes and cherry pips, with its latest range introducing savoury flavours.

Brand growth and flexibility

Retrocorn founder Greg Taylor explains how digital printing is helping him grow his brand. “We’ve just launched our new smaller 17.5g bag to join our bigger sharing bags, which have been a huge success. These smaller bags are aimed at the airline industry – but we have also had a lot of parents saying how perfect they are for lunchboxes. The new bags are being digitally printed. We chose to go digital because when launching a new product, or a different weight or concept of the same product, it removes the need to buy expensive printing plates. Although you pay slightly more for each impression the overall cost is significantly less.”

Taylor adds, “Printing digitally allows us to also see which products sell better, as we can look to stagger flavours into printed options as each flavour becomes more popular. We get customer feedback, which spreads the cost of buying the plates. We use SPP to print our bags.”

Digital printing suits brands across sectors. Who doesn’t want faster, cheaper and reliable quality products? For fast-growing baby and toddler organic snack brand Heavenly Tasty Organics, founded by Shona Blair in 2004 and now sold across the UK and exported to 18 countries worldwide, packaging is a visual representation of the products. James Blair, operations director at Heavenly Tasty Organics, says, “Our packaging is usually the first thing our consumers see when they are looking for snacks for their children. So it is vitally important that it is appealing to the consumer both from an attractive artwork view but also in terms of ease of use. Consumers want to engage with a brand and have it look appealing to them, but parents and toddlers also need to be able to use the product.”

Heavenly Tasty Organics’ introduction of a new Heavenly Kids range, to join its well-established Heavenly Baby offer, has seen fun artwork based around the theme of exploring. With the brand longdedicated to its certified Sugarwise promise – not only are the products no-added sugar, they also have very low levels of natural sugars – digital printing suits its evolving portfolio. Blair expands, “Our new range is aimed at parents and toddlers alike. The theme of exploring is about textures and flavours as well as getting outside and being adventurous. We wanted to focus on the toddler and what they want, while also saying to parents that we are a healthy brand to take away a little of the ‘parental guilt’ of using snacks. Our brief was to include brighter colours from our Baby range and place appealing animals on the packaging rather than babies or toddler figures. Digital is ideal for this process as you can amend and develop the design before quickly approving the final version before it goes to print.”

Demand for customisation

The design element of digital printing is certainly a major consideration for brands, particularly those that like to offer flash variations or use their packaging for marketing campaigns. For London-based international branding design agency Stormbrands, digital printing goes hand in hand with an increased demand for customisation – which shows no sign of slowing down.

Ben Cattley, operations manager at Stormbrands, says, “Digital has virtually cornered the market for POS brochures and other short-run print. Currently, however, I don’t think we are quite there with digital print for packaging, though I do believe we are approaching a tipping point. All printing processes have their pros and cons, and digital is no different, but compared to more traditional printing processes digital is evolving at a faster rate while bringing unique features. I think that as digital presses improve to really challenge litho for speed and quality, this will open up more opportunities to use features, such as personalisation that will drive more adoption of digital. As brands find more interesting ways to use this personalisation to appeal to consumers the more digital will be used.”

What does it mean for flexographic printing?

Flexographic printing, usually shortened to flexo, is a type of printing that uses a flexible relief plate to print on almost any type of substrate. Quick to operate and delivering an excellent quality of print, flexo has been popular for decades, particularly for long print runs. However, with its digital little brother growing up and casting a hefty shadow, is there room for them both?

Flint Group, global supplier to the printing and packaging industry, believes the two technologies balance each other, offering solutions to suit its customers in both flexo and digital. With its unmatched product portfolio, spanning printing inks, digital printing presses, flexographic plates and sleeves, consumables and colourants, Flint is very active in the sector – with a ball in each court. Ozan Oeztuerk, global marketing communications manager at Flint, says, “We offer an unmatched product line for the packaging industry. This ranges from nyloflex and nyloprint printing plates and equipment, rotec sleeves and adapters to products for the offset market.

“From a market perspective, all products and services are key elements of transferring an image onto a substrate and enable us to create a portfolio of highperformance materials to be used in pre-press and printing operations, providing consistent quality and technology to help our customers create value in their markets.”

Oeztuerk explains how Flint Group is dedicated to staying one step ahead of the changing trends in the world of flexo. He says, “Key trends we are noticing include the change to inherently flat top dot technology versus the process of converting round top dot plates to flat top dot plates by means of a special process or particular piece of equipment. We’re also seeing that flat top dot plates can now be provided directly from plate manufacturers. We believe that inherent flat top dot plates will project the most future growth and will represent over half of the overall flexographic plate uses by 2020 across market segments.”

Oeztuerk explains why he predicts this specific growth area: “Inherent flat top dot plates provide the benefits of flat top dot geometry without adding steps to the workflow, as well as providing a significant reduction in complexity and increased efficiency in the pre-press and plate-making process – all while offering the highest print quality. Flint is well prepared to meet these market demands in flexo through continuous improvement of our product portfolio and our plate-making technologies.”

While changes in the printing industry highlight how small runs are increasingly demanded by start-up companies and brands of all sizes offering limited editions or exclusive products, it is clear there is room for both flexo and digital as long as the technology and the price is right.

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