Laurel Brunner: Digital Printing for Packaging

The job of a package is manifold and yet very simple. A package must protect contents from damage, and provide a barrier between what’s inside and what’s not inside. The contents must stay in the package at all costs and must not become corrupted or otherwise spoiled within it. Ideally the package should extend the shelf life of its contents and maintain its own integrity in terms of structure and appearance over time. The materials from which it is made, should also be recyclable or biodegradeable. And it must also be possible to print on packaging surfaces in a way that minimises waste in the supply chain.

Clearly for printers considering a move into the digitally printed packaging business, there is much to think about besides which digital press to buy. The format and type of packaging product will determine where to start with the investment process, for instance if the printed material is for flexible or rigid plastic packaging, for folding cartons, corrugated materials or containers printed direct to shape. Whatever the print product, environmental considerations should also be part of the investment planning. For digital printing technology there are plenty of reasons to go with this short run option, but success depends on getting the business plan right.

Environmental considerations begin with the materials and inks, and their recyclability or potential for reuse. Fortunately the packaging materials suppliers have been focusing on improving the environmental impact of their products for years. Digital press manufacturers are working hard to make sure they can print these materials and that their inks and toners perform to spec.

The massive jump in the use of digital printing technology for packaging has also encouraged some very creative thinking in packaging applications, particularly for specialised and short-run work. The environmental benefits are substantial for this type of application, because digital processes dramatically cut supply chain complexity. Digitally printing packages close to their point of use means that only what is required for a particular store, shopping complex, town or geography gets produced. This cuts waste and transportation costs, and shortens time to market.

Besides the environmental benefits of such a model, brand owners benefit from fast turnarounds and product customisation. Digital printing gives brands the flexibility to run new product trials more frequently. If they get their workflows right, they also have the advantage of personalised packaging design variations. Innovative combinations of labels, packaging, signage and brochures help reinforce brands and products across media channels. It’s a commercial and an environmental conversation, and workflow is where the narrative begins.

Laurel Brunner




This article was produced by the Verdigris project, an industry initiative intended to raise awareness of print’s positive environmental impact. This weekly commentary helps printing companies keep up to date with environmental standards, and how environmentally friendly business management can help improve their bottom lines. Verdigris is supported by the following companies: Agfa Graphics, EFI, Epson, Fespa, HP, Kodak, Kornit, Ricoh, Spindrift, Splash PR, Unity Publishing and Xeikon.


Laurel Brunner

Laurel specialises in digital prepress, digital production and digital printing and is managing director Digital Dots ( She provides international editorial, consulting and educational services to a wide cross section of publishers, manufacturers and industry associations. Laurel also participates several ISO working groups developing standards for the graphics industry and convenes a group responsible for standards relating to the environmental impact of graphics technology, including print media.

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