Digitally printed packaging is an emerging application that is in an early adopter phase. First movers can still gain powerful advantages in a worldwide market that is expected to grow from $580 million in 2005 to $6 billion by 2015, according to Pira International.

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Digital printing delivers a nice set of competitive, cost and environmental advantages when compared to traditional package printing technologies, and it’s surprisingly well suited to many packaging applications. Digital print production can use the just-in-time, print-on-demand approach; and with shortened setup requirements and automated makeready, short runs are typically less expensive on digital presses. And variable data printing can bring new value through personalization and customization for regional versioning, novelty items and for meeting pharmaceutical and healthcare needs for individual and custom-made packaging.

Environmental advantages
Packaging accounts for as much as one-third of solid waste in U.S. municipal landfills, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, making it a visible target of green activism. Today’s environmentally preferred packaging uses minimal materials, which are recycled or made in environmentally responsible ways, and which are biodegradable and easily recycled or reused so they aren’t dumped in landfills. Digitally printed packaging plays well with green packaging strategies to meet growing demand.

Among its environmentally sustainable qualities are these:

On-demand production—Orders can be placed in the precise quantities needed, eliminating or reducing warehousing and associated cost, energy requirements and waste from obsolescence.

Electronic job ordering and submission, paperless workflow, and soft proofing— These processes reduce paper usage and associated costs while boosting efficiency.Packaging2

Green paper choices—Offer recycled paper or paper with chain-of-custody certification designating it has been produced in a supply chain that promotes responsible forestry practices from harvesting to packaging. Some customers are willing to pay extra for green paper and board.

Eliminate varnish—Varnish is required for offset printing and adds cost and, in the case of UV varnish, an environmental hazard, small amounts of ozone that need to be ventilated. Offset ink takes 24 hours to dry and harden, so it needs a coat of varnish for mechanical handling and to seal the surface of the inks, preventing bleeding and smear onto the back side of the next sheet in the stack. In contrast, digitally printed pieces have a dry and hard surface immediately, with low risk of scratching and color setoff, making varnish necessary only to achieve visual effects.

Non-toxic glues—These are available for most binding techniques, eliminating the need for ventilation of toxic fumes and waste management issues.

Distribute-then-print—Minimize environmental impact by distributing electronically to your print center or partner nearest the customer for printing and the fastest, least environmentally disruptive delivery.

As stated in a previous post related to sustainability, there are several applications that can deliver profit and growth opportunities for print providers, cost savings, improved business results for their customers, and environmental advantages as well. Packaging printed using digital press technology easily inherits the environmental advantages digital printing already brings to the table.