This is the outlook put forward in A Bright Future for Colour Inkjet Digital Printing in Global Labels & Packaging Markets, a major new report from packaging/printing industry market research consultancy Vandagraf International.
Already seeing double-digit growth in 2018, inkjet digital printing is experiencing high levels of interest from printers and converters around the world, from Europe and North America, and across Asia, particularly for label printing. However, opportunities in the packaging arena will in the end be much greater than labels, although they will take longer to realize.
High R&D spend is moving the technology and consumables involved forward to deliver the next generation of colour inkjet digital printing solutions, which will satisfy the previously unmet needs of packaging related applications in particular. This will include wider web inkjet presses for mid to large size packaging applications, corrugated board colour inkjet digital presses, and systems for inkjet printing direct to 3D cylindrical packaging profiles (cans, plastic bottles, glass bottles, tubes and small diameter closures).
Next-generation technology ensures precision during the multiple converting steps, from tight registration up and down the line to pinpoint ink droplet placement for production of high-resolution graphics at increasingly higher speeds. Modern machines are also capable of integrating a number of pre- and post-press converting and embellishment processes, from flexo modules for white and spot colours, to laminating, cold/hot foiling and diecutting.
Alongside advances in press integration, printheads and web transport, consumables (substrates and inks) will also play an integral part in making the growth of industrial-scale colour inkjet digital printing a reality. This will see new surfaces introduced and formulations developed to suit the higher speeds and applications involved in next-generation labels and packaging converting. Substrate constructions and paper grades that run satisfactorily with different printhead systems and deliver optimal results will need to be developed. They will also need to support the various finishing and converting processes available.
The range of substrates with which an ink is compatible determines what applications the press, digital or otherwise, can cope with. The type of ink carrier used is central to substrate material selection and compatibility, whether UV or water-based inkjet. Both offer opportunities relative to speed, capital investment and format flexibility, without compromising print quality. Solvent inks provide desired durable printing results but are not commonly used for label applications because of their high environmental impact.
Hybrid digital/flexo printing must also be considered as this technology trend requires products suitable for both conventional and digital printing, such as substrates that support both colour inkjet digital and analogue printing on the same print surface.
Such developments will allow economies of scale to be achieved as standard consumables adapted for different systems prove desirable.
Conversely, converters are confronted with an increasingly wide array of choices in terms of presses while the rate of evolution of the industry will likely sees digital presses become obsolete much faster than analogue presses that in some case continue in use for decades. Converters may also not be looking for a digital press to satisfy the requirements of existing customers but be interested to explore new markets and opportunities beyond their current printing capabilities
Over the last decade this multi-facetted and complex industry has transformed dramatically with major advances in colour inkjet digital press design and printhead technology, as well as developments in substrates and ink formulations.
It is Vandagraf’s view that growth of colour inkjet digital printing across the labels and packaging industries, already seeing double-digit growth, will actually speed up through to 2023 and beyond, driven by the relentless roll-out of colour inkjet printing of labels and packaging, particularly for very fast emerging industrial-scale high-volume color inkjet.
In the not too distant future digital printing capability will become a given for labels and packaging converters. Those companies that still do not offer digital printing capabilities will risk being left behind.
As the demand for mass versioning and customisation of labels and packaging continues to grow, colour digital printing is becoming an increasingly vital component of converter’s capabilities. Big volume demand will soon dwarf demand for very short run prototyping, versioning and the like, especially in terms of demand for consumables.”
There is much debate about the cost effectiveness of digital printing for labels and packaging, but in Vandagraf’s view, judging digital printing versus analogue processes on cost alone can be to misread the true dynamics of the industry. This is because digital printing can offer an array of exciting benefits, not viable with analogue printing processes, that resonate with the demands of packaging of branded products today.”
About the author: James Bevan, founder and director of Vandagraf International