Outsourcing short runs to digital printing specialists can help flexible packaging printers more efficiently meet the needs of their customers. The reality is that conventional printing equipment is simply not set up to print 1,000 labels, for example, and thus allow for very fast delivery. Flexo printers need to be aware that there is an alternative to tying up all of their resources: farming out small projects to digital printing specialists. It’s a win-win solution for flexo printers and their customers – saving dollars, time, and aggravation.

Delivering quality and quantity - as few as one

Flexible packaging printers can look to short-run digital specialists when their customers need full production run quality for package and label sales samples, prototypes, and comps. Gone are the days when manufacturers’ only option was to print thousands or more of new or test product packages or labels by conventional means. Digital printing technology gives flexo printers the power of offering a more viable option: printing not only the quality they demand, but the quantity they really need – even one – when they need it, a type of “insurance” as opposed to having a warehouse full of obsolete products, should test marketing fail.

Taking it one step further, consider the case of when manufacturers are faced with the challenge of showing different versions of the same product to a number of retailers. Again, digital printing offers the advantage of allowing manufacturers to build products to meet the needs of customers – as opposed to building products and hoping end-users will buy them. By having a digital printer on board as an extension to the existing team, flexo printers can more efficiently arm their customers with a new product in hand (one that looks and feels like it was pulled right off the shelf), and allows them to tweak it based on the requests of each individual retailer.

For example, manufacturers might have a request from one retailer to add the word “new” to the package, and another retailer might ask for some additional copy to be added. Digital printing can accomplish these slight modifications with ease – and with customer-driven turnaround times.

Depending on two sets of numbers, quantity of labels or packaging, and colors, outsourcing to digital can cost up to half as much as conventional printing. Digital is achieved without plates – direct from computer to press, so the exact same process is required whether the manufacturer needs a two-color or four-color label. This can be another differentiating factor, since the manufacturer does not have to choose two-color, therefore possibly compromising on quality or complexity of the design, to save money.

On the two-color label example, the cost to the manufacturer when conventional press runs are being set up is $200 (approximately $100 per plate/color), in addition to the cost of the run itself. With digital, flexo printers can save their customers the $200 right off the bat – and should the customer come back with two more rounds of changes, the savings can be realized exponentially to a savings of $600 alone in plate costs.

What should flexo printers look for in a short-run specialist? For their food manufacturing customers, look for digital printers that are approved to pack food and carry GMP-certification (Good Manufacturing Practices, awarded by the American Sanitation Institute or ASI), which means they are approved for primary and secondary food packaging. Most can also form, gusset, fill with product, seal bags and stand-up pouches, and ship anywhere – providing a one-stop total packaging solution.

Moving Manufacturers Into Niche Markets

Flexo printers can also help manufacturers more easily move into highly specialized markets once too cost-prohibitive. Manufacturers can now work with specialty coffee houses, for example, and market the idea of offering a signature line of candy, chocolates, or mints.

Digital printers can also help manufacturers serve the market quite efficiently by “batching” the orders, for example, – so that manufacturers can sell 500 digitally customized packages to one coffeehouse and 1,000 to another.

Partnering with a digital specialist allows flexible packaging printers the opportunity to take advantage of the growth trend inherent in digital technology without bringing the equipment cost in-house.

Bob Scherer, president of CL&D Digital, is a 25-year veteran in the printing and packaging industries whose areas of expertise include new product packaging, label printing, personalized packaging, and digital printing. He can be reached at (262) 569-6732 or bscherer@clddigital.com