Just back from Chicago and GraphExpo 2012. Print is dead you say? Au contraire! Print just will not die – it will adapt and work well with other communication methods. Trends in print and packaging were talked about and seen on the show floor this week. Here’s what I heard the most as it relates to packaging:

  1. Shorter Runs
  2. Regionalization of sku’s
  3. Variable Data
  4. Printed electronics, augmented reality
  5. Expanded business model (co-pack, fulfillment)

A lot of those trends pave the way for digital output of packaging such as folding cartons. Digital presses were in a lot of booths on the show floor as they have been at several recent events. Let’s face it, it’s the brightest spot in the print industry, but digital may be a little muddled still for packaging. There isn’t one machine that will be the one press to buy for us . . . just yet.

Shorter runs are becoming more popular. I see it all the time with start ups, of course. But larger brands have  regionalization and versioning that goes on. As brands go to new markets and expand business, the ability to enter new markets at small quantities is a lifesaver.

An example is a moisturizer that is being sold to the US/Canada market now will branch out and try to permeate the Asia market. US/CA may need 75,000 but Asia is new so my customer only needs 2000. If we can get the digital print to look as good as the offset, we can print the large quantity on our large offset press and the small on the digital. The Brand Owner doesn’t need to “over order” just to get a price point either. It’s almost a green bonus as well with no potentially unwanted, extra inventory being produced.

Another idea of regionalization is beer packaging. For example, co-branded 12 pack carriers with the San Francisco 49ers sold in the Bay Area and the same beer packaging sold in Wisconsin has the Green Bay Packers brand on it. Not just a sticker with the team on it, the whole carrier is printed with team colors and logo.

Digital is great for the shortest run of all: the one off! I am a complete sucker for individualized, customizable printing. One of my favorites is the custom Kleenex oval tissue box you can produce at Here’s the preview of my PackagingChic oval tissue box! Ok, needs some work but you get the idea.

As the technology and equipment evolves, new partnerships will continue to form between OEM’s. I’m thinking that before the folding carton manufacturers take on digital equipment there will need to be discussions around workflow, cost centers, staffing, quality expectations and all the nitty-gritty!

As far as printed electronics and augmented reality, this super high tech printing is on its way to us in packaging! Not just QR codes but beyond! Using your smart phone to scan an image on a package could reveal a 3D image of the product being used. Or a schematic of how the part that you’re buying fits into place when assembled. A recent issue of Metropolis magazine had the front cover with the augmented reality. The printed cover has a photograph but when you use your smartphone you see a 3 dimensional map of a downtown city. If you go to the link above you can read more in detail, download the app and use it on the Metropolis blog to see what I’m talking about! It’s better with the actual magazine, of course, but you’ll get the idea.

Since this show is dedicated to printing in general as an industry, many segments are represented. Commercial printers are looking for ways to survive and are turning to fulfillment, packaging, co-packing and anything that will keep the dream alive!

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