Past the finishing post
How any packaging is finished is critical to its success. The form factor chosen, substrate processing and the final finishing are a focus for the converting industry. As brand partners continuously push the limits of what is possible, Dave Howell assesses the importance of finishing and how converters are forging ahead with innovation.
The finishing that any packaging undergoes is not simply the end of its production process but an integral component of the success that it will have in the marketplace.
For converters, offering a diverse range of finishes is vital to their businesses. What has become clear is that investments must take place for converters to remain relevant to their clients. Qualvis Print & Packaging for instance, has recently installed a Xerox iGen 4 sheet-fed digital printer side by side with an iGen5 automated line. Both presses include inline TRESU Pinta coating units and a KAMA DC 76 cut and crease line, offering the same finishing effects and varnish levels as Qualvis’ larger-format litho print process.
Qualvis managing director Jason Short says: “We spent 18 months researching the best match for our needs and the two Xerox digital presses are ideal. As a leading print and packaging business, we are seeing diminishing run lengths and increasing demand for innovation from our customers, including personalisation and localisation. Brands and retailers are looking for variety, and having the ability to produce quick-to-market packaging is essential.”
Another converter that has recently upgraded its finishing capability is Master Rótulo. The Madrid-based print specialist is now using a Kongsberg C64 cutting table supplied by Esko. Vicente Adán, Master Rótulo manager, states: “We needed a digital cutter to produce random shapes in order to support different market demands. We have three digital Rho printing machines from Durst, and needed a solution that could flexibly and efficiently address our finishing needs.”
Sun Chemical is also working closely with HP to develop the range of coatings it offers for packaging finishing. “Digital printing in the packaging market offers brand-owners a wide range of differentiation possibilities, making packaging more meaningful and an instrumental means of communication with customers,” explains Felipe Mellado, chief marketing officer at Sun Chemical.
“Printers and converters have already invested in digital presses, and need specialist coatings and varnishes that would enable packaging applications to be printed digitally, according to market requirements and standards. Sun Chemical brings a wealth of experience, insight and knowledge of the packaging industry, and will work closely with HP Indigo to ensure the optimal performance of the digital coatings solutions,” he concludes.
HP is also at the centre of a new service from Pixartprinting. Called ‘Catalyst’, the digital production line is aimed at short runs that need specialised paperboard-based packaging. Using the HP Indigo 30000, the CYMK print can be finished with UV varnishes. The addition of a Tecnomac Evolution 3 system lamination system offers brands the ability to give printed areas a tactile feel.
Paolo Roatta, managing director of Pixartprinting, says: “We analysed the needs of the market and realised that packaging is a fast-growing segment with strong potential. When honing Catalyst, we set ourselves two objectives: to offer our customers a new tool to grow their business and to attract new users who, because of the way packaging has been offered up until now, have not previously had access to this type of product.”
These investments speak volumes about how finishing is increasingly moving towards a digital-only future. Converters looking for efficiency, cost reductions and the ability to offer a range of finishes want digital end-to-end, which is fast becoming a reality.
In the past, the finishing that was typically applied to any substrate would be to enhance its form factor or the underlying print. Today, brands and their converting partners are looking for new ways to enhance the experiences of consumers.
One method is with touch. Breit Technologies has recently announced a new finishing process that adds texture to packaging. Using the company’s cast and cure technology, and proprietary casting films, the effect can be applied as a spot or flood finish. The texture is impressed on to the varnish surface, which is then cured with EB, UV or LED.
Having a surface texture can radically alter how consumers react to a brand. For converters, this kind of technology enables them to expand and extend their ranges of finishing options, which designers can take advantage of. This year, for instance, NEENAH Packaging has expanded its BELLA Label Papers line.
“The uncoated natural feel of BELLA provides an authentic, handcrafted look, which helps brands create a distinct and compelling presence on shelf,” explains Ellen Bliske, senior brand manager for NEENAH Packaging. “The reliability of its performance assures a strong delivery of the brand message throughout the consumer’s engagement with the brand.”
Developing new packaging technologies is, of course, only one component of a truly comprehensive service that converters need to deliver. Steve Bunkle, group operations colour and ink specialist with Graphics Packaging International (GPI), says: “Aside from the graphics, the final finish can ‘sell’ the product on shelf or online. From a handling point of view, it’s an important interface with the consumer. For example, the consumer is likely to perceive a pack with soft-touch coating as being of higher quality when handled alongside a pack with a less tactile finish.
“At GPI, high-quality finishing is a core skillset. So, the question we must then ask is how can we best innovate to add value?” he continues. “One way is to look at how our finishing methods can be used to novel effect. When applied to a traditionally unprinted surface, such as the inside of a pack, a high-quality finish can elevate the overall design and drive sales.”
Whether finishing is applied directly to the substrate in use or through a label, converters are clearly leveraging the technologies available today. A clear trend is to rationalise their working processes to ensure they are streamlined yet still flexible enough to meet client demands. These demands are increasingly for novel finishes that allow brands to differentiate their products in what can be a crowded marketplace.
GPI’s Steve Bunkle adds: “As the popularity of idea cataloguing platforms such as Pinterest has grown, we’ve seen the cross-pollination of trends across a wider range of sectors. UK retailers have recognised this and, in recent years, packaging finishes have reflected trends in interior design. The fashion for matt, satin and very flat, non-glossy finishes, for example, has emerged.
“In addition, the trend for sustainable and natural-look finishes is showing no sign of slowing. In response to this, our customers are increasingly looking for practical solutions that provide consistency of finish across whole ranges on a variety of substrates. As an example, the Foddr range, a recent GPI collaboration with 2 Sisters Food Group (2SFG) for online retailer Amazon, incorporates a rustic kraft-effect print with a dual-finish varnish and specially created spot colours to ensure strong, clean branding. The .cxf data was shared with our flexible print partner to ensure consistency across the range of 62 products.”
Clearly visible across converting is the steady move towards digital output. Currently, converters have hybrid installations that enable them to service a wide range of clients. In future, converters may eventually become full digital services, as more advanced finishing equipment comes on to the market and expands the capabilities of their digital presses.
New from Purple Patch
Finishing can include many processes to deliver the packaging that a brand demands. Converters need to be flexible and able to interpret their clients’ precise needs. This was certainly the case when Purple Patch Cereals relaunched its range with striking new packaging.
Emma Mack, Purple Patch Cereals’ co-founder and owner, remarks: “We are thrilled with our finished packs. Qualvis has worked with us from the outset to ensure we could realise our packaging ambitions. We faced some challenges with potentially tricky creases, but Qualvis prepared mock-ups that helped us choose the right format.
“Purple Patch Cereals is a high-end brand and we wanted to reflect this while also creating packaging that would stand out in a crowded market space – the soft-touch lacquer has been a great addition to the overall premium effect. It is this expertise in print and packaging, as well as their proactive support that makes Qualvis our go-to packaging provider.”
Qualvis creative director Richard Pacey also comments: “The A-frame structure with a reverse-oriented flap closure and distinctive shaping around the brand graphics gives an interesting appearance and easy-open functionality for the consumer. It has been a great project to work on and we are very happy with the outcome.”