This is not more evident than in design, where there is a melding of responsibility between design expertise and production knowledge – the ability not only to design exceptional packaging but the experience to know how to design for the best printed result. The consequence is that it has allowed the label design process to be accelerated, with eye-catching labels that are pre-tested in terms of production viability before even a single mock-up is made.
Most packaging designers use Adobe Illustrator to design labels and packaging – so much so that other developers have created additional production and design tools that can operate within the familiar Adobe Illustrator environment. This makes it easier for the designer, or the premedia department, to accept more responsibility during the design and production stage. And, with the introduction of 3D tools, the ramifications of design decisions are immediately evident.
3D design software lets designers work from a 3D view of a package rather than a two-dimensional flat. Labels can be placed virtually on a container and spun around to give an overall idea of what the design will look like; even before a physical prototype is made. 3D packaging design software can turn ideas into 3D images, for a designer’s inspiration or to impress an important client. Why work in a flat world if packaging isn’t?
The benefit of having a design and editing application that can reconcile both the structure and graphics is that a streamlined design process is developed, which is extremely efficient from the creation of the package design to the production. It minimizes the risk of potentially unseen errors.
3D software changes the way packaging and label development are handled. For example, designers can shorten the artwork approval cycle with interactive 3D visuals and save mock-up and studio photography costs. They can increase the success rate of product launches by seeing up-front how the brand will look in the store next to its competition. Designers can virtually hold the pack in their hands. They can work faster and more creatively. And the packaging artwork that is delivered is technically more correct, so the design does not get compromised during production.
Making 3D work
Starting with the artwork of the individual package, it is imperative for the designer to understand the package structure, and this is where specialist software kicks in. The editing tool must have the ability to import structural designs and interact with full-featured graphics. It should be able to easily interpret a 2D flat and transform that into a 3D visualization of the product. This is important because the designer needs to know if the graphics fit properly within the package layout.
But what about ornate packaging decisions? Software can now test complicated challenges that are common with, for example, luxury product packaging. The real-time images in design software are now ultra-realistic, thanks to sophisticated modeling technology. An extraordinary array of effects can be seen virtually. These include, but are not limited to, types of substrate, inks, spot varnishes, embossing and debossing, and foils, including holographs.
Software can simulate the printing and finishing operations one by one, in the correct order, and on the right substrate, even for complicated luxury packaging. So, not only can designers evaluate the aesthetics, they can also confirm that they are technically feasible. Designers can check for mistakes before making printing plates, embossing dies or varnish blankets.
A good 3D visualization tool lets the designer – as well as anyone else in the supply chain – almost immediately see a complete package. There is no expense or time delay with shipping. Technology has advanced to the point that 3D images can be seen and “held” almost anywhere.
Once a 3D mockup has been created, a desktop app can let anyone view realistic renderings of the pack, whether a can, bottle, carton, shrink wrap or any multitude of pack formats. People can also look at 3D mock-ups on their mobile devices – iOS or Android – and spin them around with simple finger gestures. With collaboration software, no one in the supply chain is left without an opportunity to review a new concept.
These images can then be repurposed for online e-commerce sales; an important growing distribution channel for the majority of brands and retailers. The consumer now has the opportunity to see, and “handle,” a realistic version of the product prior to purchase. These same 3D images can be used for promotional efforts, both in print and video.
Taking the opportunity to the next level, working with augmented reality, 3D mock-ups can be immediately seen in the context of the environment in which it will be placed. A product manager can visit a store, open up the virtual proof, place it on a shelf next to a competitive product and see how the brand fares.
To go one step further, some visualization software will allow packaging to be pictured on the shelves of a simulated store. Designers can create virtual stores on their own, with competitive products already on the shelves. Product managers can see their new designs next to the competition and experiment with different versions, moving shelf displays to optimize the merchandizing. When complete, they can even provide a complete virtual product launch in 3D, providing sales staff and retailers with detailed “plan-o-grams.”
The challenge of shrink sleeve labels: delivery without the distortion
Packaging comes in many unique shapes, most of which require labels. According to a report by MarketsandMarkets, a market research firm, the global market for stretch sleeves and shrink sleeves will climb to $13.2 billion by the year 2020. This figure represents a compounded annual growth rate of 5.5% from 2015.
Shrink sleeves provide a fantastic 360-degree opportunity for branding; much more than a traditional label. The challenge for the designers is that they need to anticipate possible distortion of their artwork in certain areas. Without 3D software, designers will typically avoid such areas in the first place and therefore not use the possibilities of shrink labels to their full extent. It is an extremely tedious task when done manually. It requires many trial and error measurements and attempts to assure the artwork is correct after the shrink process.
Fortunately, software can eliminate the time-consuming process of making many physical prototypes to assure that the label artwork will fit correctly on a shrink sleeve. You can not only preview the level of distortion the artwork undergoes in the shrink tunnel, but also compensate for that distortion and make full use of the entire real estate the shrink label provides. The software can adjust artwork for shrink sleeves, allowing designers and prepress professionals to quickly create, test, analyze, communicate and produce designs with 3D visuals, without the need to conduct physical test runs. This results in the repro department avoiding several sets of test prints and measurements, saving operator time.
The software is basically a virtual shrink tunnel. The designer creates, scans or imports the container shape into the software from a CAD file, enters the material characteristics of the shrink film, and the software digitally shrinks the sleeve around the container. In the three-dimensional visuals, the artwork shrinks and distorts in the same way it would in the shrink tunnel. These 3D visuals can then be shared as 3D PDF files as images for package shots or movies.
This pre-distortion is non-destructive: the artwork can be edited at any time. Thus, when the pre-distorted design is printed and applied to the container, the result will be much more representative of what the designer and brand owner had in mind. Designers can instantly see what artwork elements suffer from distortion, producing great-looking 3D PDF files and avoiding the costly trial-and-error process. And, by sending a 3D PDF file to brand managers, they understand why a design needs to be changed.
The overall quality and design interaction of shrink sleeve labeling software is exceptional. While many companies often create one final prototype to be safe, considerable time is still saved.
Taking out the guesswork, saving time
In summary, today’s 3D design tools allow designers to import a 3D structural file and add labels anywhere on a container – flat, conical or irregularly shaped. With color management and special effects, they can experiment with striking results.
3D images that accurately predict the end result – including layers with special finishing – can be used to approve designs faster and more cheaply. It allows the creation of virtual mockups for labels on bottles to show packaging early in the design’s development, when it is easier to review a variety of alternatives and to avoid errors. Brand owners are also able to see the end result before they spend money and resources on the development of mock-ups or short runs. They can see how changes will appear on the shelf.
The software avoids errors and job rework caused by unexpected material behavior in production. Less experienced trade-shops or converters can enter the sleeve label market more easily because designers aren’t working blindly in 2D. It also eliminates much of the carbon footprint of label printing, because everyone can see the virtual proof rather than relying on creating hard copies and sending them overnight back and forth to several different locations nationally or even internationally.
Are new labels attractive and appealing to consumers? With 3D design and color management software and the ability to share results to the entire supply chain, it’s much easier to find out, and much sooner.
About the Author: Jan De Roeck is marketing director – Industry Relations & Strategy for Esko.