Print is Not Only Here to Stay – It’s Growing Exponentially

When you stop to look at the products on any store shelf these days, you’ll notice they feature an amazing array of colorful, eye-catching and highly detailed packaging and labels with high production values. What you may not realize is these are now often printed using new digital devices and computer-driven technologies that offer an extensive range of capabilities — and brand owners are taking notice.

Some marketers downplay print with the huge rise in social media use (hello, TikTok) and other platforms that companies are leveraging to sell their products. They might say that print isn’t as effective as it used to be. Sure, online ads and those quick embedded videos can help sell products, but that type of engagement is more fleeting. Print can absolutely be more persuasive and effective. And not just on store shelves, but in people’s hands, whether it’s a  label package, mail piece or brochure.

In truth, print has never gone away. In fact, it’s better than ever, thanks to new advances in digital technologies. While offset lithography is still the most prominent technique in producing packaging, digital is gaining ground in this area. In fact, Smithers Future of Packaging Long-Term Strategic Forecast to 2030 states that packaging is currently 40% of the global print market and is forecast to jump to 60% by the year 2030.

Digital printing offers customization, versatility and cost-effective go-to-market strategies

Digital production is now one of the most versatile printing methods for packaging solutions – from labels to corrugated boxes, folding cartons, product prototypes, and food-safe packaging, such as stand-up pouches. The range of materials used for digital packaging has also expanded in recent years, making digital printing a compelling choice for brand owners who offer product variations. Because customizing is faster and easier, it is possible to cut turnaround time and get products to market at a more competitive cost. Toner-based systems allow printing on a wide range of materials and substrates, while advances in technology have created far better consistency in the output these devices achieve.

There’s also a wide variety of finishing options and software available to use at scale — and for short runs — so the digital production print industry can offer finished output from a manufacturing perspective. All the finishing is automated in line with the printed product. With the software that printers can use today, high-end packaging and labels are moving from one-size-fits-all to customization and personalization. Appealing to the right customer with a specific product means more than ever in today’s marketplace.

The many ways packaging and labels stand out via digital printing

Creative designers are raising the bar for brand owners and printers alike – and new production technologies are making striking results possible. The high resolution required to produce intricate, finely detailed labels and lettering is no longer an issue, with clear, sharp results via digital machines and methods. 

Color choices are practically infinite, even fluorescent colors, and advances in printing solid white – historically difficult to achieve – are giving designers new creative latitude. Recent product evolutions have made solid white printing possible, delivering solid ground color that can be overprinted with text or graphics, expanding product packaging and business opportunities for brand owners. 

Digital embossing is another capability for packaging and labels, giving products a high-end finish and high-touch feel to attract consumer sales. Embossed packaging and labeling are becoming increasingly popular in a wide range of categories including beverage, cosmetics, home goods and even toys. Aesthetic printing and packaging solutions are growing especially fast in end-use industries beyond food and beverage categories. Pharmaceutical packaging is one example. 

Other embellishments that are growing in popularity include laser die-cutting, foil stamping and digital varnishing, in addition to QR codes that make packages interactive. Brand owners are increasingly making use of these techniques because studies show that packaging with specialty printing and enhancement delivers a 46% increase in quality perception. 

It’s not just packaging and labels giving digital printing a boost

Print is also getting revived attention from brand owners who are realizing that the huge amount of online advertising consumers see creates an incredible amount of clutter, making it tough for brands to stand out and establish a connection with buyers. 

With inboxes overflowing with email, more brands are leaning into offline advertising and collateral pieces to engage and inform their target customers. When you consider the amount of research and data available to help companies pinpoint the right customers to approach at the right time in their sales funnels, print materials often do a more effective job than online clutter to help brands get the attention they want.

One target group in particular stands out in this scenario. A study by the United States Postal Service found that 62% of millennials tend to read through the advertising mail they receive, versus tossing it before reading. People in this group are so used to being on email lists or on social media, it feels novel to get an actual printed piece in the mail.

Direct mail is getting new attention from brands

A recent Morning Brew article reported on Belardi Wong, an agency that specializes in direct marketing and catalogs, that said the agency is experiencing “a huge resurgence in mail that’s definitely being led by the millennial consumer.” More than 90% percent of their 400 clients are direct-to-customer companies, many of which are millennial-focused, and the agency will help more than 80 brands work on their first direct-mail campaigns this year.

A big part of the success in direct mail is due to the personalization that’s so doable with digital printing. While email can be hyper-targeted, it’s not always personalized. And while variable data printing has been around for quite a while, it’s advanced well beyond outer envelope teasers and offers. Now graphics, photos and copy for specific target groups are interchangeable with a few clicks on a screen, and the digital presses that deliver the finished output rival any offset product.

The bottom line: digital print is growing in popularity and profitability

The ability to create digital embellishment, in addition to automating those embellishments for short or longer runs and do things like wide-format printing, interactive labels and packaging – all completely inline and with stunning results – saves time and expense for converters, commercial printers and brand owners alike. 

Another plus: the world’s leading production print companies are focused on reducing CO2 targets. So they’re focused on creating packaging that’s lighter in weight and using recyclable materials. There are major initiatives in the industry to reduce waste, even on machine setups, because this waste also includes wasted prints and all the chemicals used in production printing.

According to a 2021 Markets and Markets report, the global packaging printing market is expected to grow from USD $352.1B in 2020 to USD $433.4B by 2025 – a CAGR of 4.2 percent in a five-year span. We predict a future that’s brighter than ever for print for many years to come. 

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Dino Pagliarello is Senior Vice President, Product Management and Planning, for Konica Minolta. He is responsible for Konica Minolta’s portfolio of industry award-winning office and graphic communications technology within the U.S. He leads a team of product planning and marketing experts that bring new products to market, from multi-functional printers for the office to high-end industrial printing equipment, overseeing the complete life-cycle of these devices.