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Prototypes and Packaging

(May 2011) posted on Wed May 11, 2011

Bringing wide-format options to the short-run experience.

click an image below to view slideshow

By Mike Antoniak

The digital printer “gives us a 4-color process that runs the full gamut of any colors our customers want,” he notes. “They get to see a prototype that looks just like the finished packaging or P-O-P display. In some cases, digital delivers even better quality. And our range is virtually unlimited: we can provide them with anything from a single small, folded carton to a large assembled display, loaded with packaging.”

Such prototypes are critical tools for determining what works, and what won’t work on the sales floor: “It always helps to get the touch and feel of how something will actually appear, especially when you’re not sure how the sizing and graphics will impact the actual presentation of a product,” says Mormile.

In fact, demand for those short run services has proven so strong that Digital Impact is about to expand its capabilities with installation of a Durst Rho 900 flatbed. “The Durst will allow us to increase our speed, capacity and quality,” says Mormile. “We’d eventually like to be able to offer short runs of as many as 5000 pieces.”

J.L. Clark: Taking the initiative to seed demand
For most suppliers of prototype and mockup services, projects begin with a customer who wants a look at the impact of new packaging before deciding it warrants a full production run. J.L. Clark ( in Rockford, Illinois, taps the capabilities of its Inx Digital MD660 UV flatbed press to take the initiative, and introduce new packaging concepts to customers and prospects as a way of seeding demand for its offset lithography printing services.

“We try to look at their current packaging and show them what they can do, including some things they may not have thought of before,” says Michael Matus, vice president for sales and marketing.

J.L. Clark produces custom metal and plastic containers and packaging for major national brands across the board in the food, confectionary, and personal-care industries. Two years ago, it added the Inx system in a strategic move to tap the advantages of digital printing direct-to-metal sheets for itself and its customers. The system can print directly to aluminum, metal, and plastic sheets which are then cut, scored and assembled into colorful tins and containers.

“Because we do offset lithography, there wasn’t an economical way for us to produce short runs or limited quantities before,” notes Matus. “Now, there are no plates, no blankets – we can print whatever we want, in whatever quantity we need, right away.”

The company has actually built a successful program around these capabilities, something Matus refers to as “Innovation Days.” At these events, held throughout the year, decision makers and existing clients or prospects are invited to J.L. Clark headquarters. At these meetings, they’re presented a range of one-of-a-kind containers and trays printed on the MD660 and assembled as finished products. These prototypes feature brand artwork in samples developed by the company’s graphics department.

“Sometimes they have no idea what’s coming, and we’re able to show them packaging designs and concepts they may not have thought of before,” reports Matus. “It’s been a very successful program for attracting new business.”

As clients learn of these digital capabilities, they’re tapping the digital services to test their packaging ideas, and produce specialty packaging that in quantities once considered impractical because of setup costs. “We can take a company that never thought about putting its product in a metal container and give them a beautifully decorated tin,” he says. “It’s a cost-effective alternative to conventional lithography for test marketing, commemorative or collectible packaging. They can even vary the packaging from market to market, and produce several short runs.”

In fact, Matus believes that variable-printing capabilities – such as found on the MD660 – hold strong potential. “One thing no one seems to have capitalized on yet is the ability to literally customize each tin with a photograph or text,” he says. “When you can offer the power of personalization to consumers, I think there’s going to be some real benefits there for our customers.”