Putting the Digital in Packaging: Concepts
The last installment in our look at print providers-turned-package printers.
Concepts is the digital-printing spinoff of York, Pennsylvania-based York Container, a packaging specialist since 1954. Relying on three-color flexographic presses, York had no trouble supplying the corrugated-box market. But early in this decade, the owners decided to go after the high-graphics market as well, and with that in mind the company invested in a multicolor press that could do inline printing, varnishing, and die-cutting.
At the same time, York made the decision to invest in digital printing and spin off a new company, Concepts. The idea, says Concepts general manager Diane Wolf, was to use the digital printer to prototype the high-graphics packages that could now be printed at York, but also to leverage it to offer customers shorter runs, regionalization, and other capabilities that would differentiate York from its competitors.
Concepts was launched in 2004 with an EFI Vutek PressVu 180 printer. But it’s not simply an adjunct to York Container. “We’re not located at York Container, we’re located half a mile away in a separate building,” says Wolf. “We worried that if we put the operation at York Container, the world would think we only print on corrugated material. We chose the printer because of its versatility to do other things in the marketplace.”
Now with three full-time employees (York has 240), Concepts gets only about 30 percent of its business from York projects—the remaining 70 percent are Concepts-specific customers. The PressVu can print on roll-to-roll as well as flat media, enabling the company to produce banners, posters, wallpaper, and other “standard” wide-format products as well as packaging. Concepts accepts files in most standard formats, performs color correction and preflight, and then sends EPS files to the printer through a Colorburst RIP.
Wolf explains that the point at which it makes sense to print a package or display at Concepts rather than York depends on quantity and size. “If somebody just wants 100 floor displays, especially if they have a lot of graphics or photos on them, it probably doesn’t make sense to use York,” she says. “Just making the printing plates for something like that could cost thousands of dollars. I could run that for them much more cost-effectively.
“Then when you get to a higher quantity,” she continues, “the size comes into play. As a rule, a run of 1000 doesn’t make sense here. But if a customer wants 1000 riser cards, we can print 30 on a sheet, and that’d make sense for us.”
Wolf warns that working on packaging requires different knowledge and skills than other wide-format printing projects. “You have to understand the layouts of boxes and how they fold; the creases and allowances, that kind of thing. At York, we have five structural designers, and that’s all they do.
“Then applying the graphics properly takes some understanding as well. A lot of times customers offer to put the graphics on the boxes, but we just tell them to send them to us. More often than not, they’ll put them on upside down or inside out.”
Being a general wide-format print shop that also happens to have expertise in packaging enables Concepts to guide its customers through unfamiliar territory. One such customer is the local Atlantic League baseball team, the York Revolution.
“We do what I would call typical digital work for them—posters, banners, those kinds of projects,” says Wolf. “All of sudden they needed a way to distribute tickets to their season ticket holders, and said, ‘Diane, you make boxes, right? Can you design us a box?’”
The boxes were designed to hold a season’s worth of tickets for the stadium’s skyboxes and luxury suites. “The suites might hold 18 people per game, times 60 games—that’s a bunch of stacks of tickets,” explains Wolf. “So what we made were folded, corrugated tote boxes.
“I think we produced about 65 or 75 of them each year for the past three years,” Wolf continues. “It’s the perfect little packaging run. At York, for it to be a reasonable price, they would have had to buy hundreds and wouldn’t be able to change them every year. We can do 65 at a time and make them match whatever graphic theme we’re doing for the ballpark that year.”