Digital Printing Technologies Start to Emerge in Packaging

By David Savastano, Editor | 05.01.14

The emergence of inkjet printing is a major success story for the printing and ink industries. We have seen the major printing shows move away from the conventional offset exhibits to digital press displays – drupa has become increasingly oriented to digital printing, and as European editor Sean Milmo reports from Ipex this month, starting on page 16, the UK-based show is trying to cope with the evolution of the printing market.  

The packaging ink market remains the strongest conventional printing segment, growing even as the publishing and commercial segments remain flat. The National Association of Printing Ink Manufacturers’ (NAPIM) 2014 State of the Industry Report reflects these changes, as can be seen in my NAPIM Convention review beginning on 36. In terms of ink, NAPIM reported $3.1 billion in ink sales in 2013, with 1.4 billion pounds of ink sold, not including screen, textile, digital or non-impact inks, a slight improvement from 2012.

Offset inks suffered a decline once again, with sales falling 2.3%. Meanwhile, packaging ink sales were up 1.3%, and NAPIM estimates that more than $1 billion in liquid packaging inks were sold in 2013. Profitability also rose in 2013, with earnings before interest and taxes (EBIT) increasing to 3.2% from 1.2% in 2012.
What is really interesting to me is the growing intersection between the traditional packaging processes and inkjet printing. In “The Inkjet Ink Report,” which begins on page 28, the inkjet ink industry executives I spoke with brought up the potential for inkjet to make gains in the packaging printing field.
Inkjet already has made headway in the narrow web and label segment, but now interest is being generated in corrugated and folding cartons as well. This can come in the form of hybrid printing, where printheads add customizable features such as variable data or localized graphics to the packaging. Digital printing also offers brand owners the opportunity to print short-run packages.
The digital printing market offers opportunities for brand owners and consumer packaging goods producers to tailor their message to smaller groups, and inkjet ink manufacturers see this as one of the key growth areas for inks going forward.