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March 31, 2013


The global packaging market is predicted to reach $820 billion by 2016. Healthcare, food and industrial packaging applications will drive flexible packaging and folding carton sectors. What role will digital packaging play? Today it accounts for a small percentage of the market—just 1.59 percent. It’s expected to grow from $4.77 billion to $12.2 billion by 2016.


When Indigo began promoting flexible packaging printing in the late 1990s, neither the web width nor the print speeds were suited to what was then a pretty much high-volume, static printing market. With the launch of the HP Indigo 10000, 20000 and 30000 larger format presses we’re entering a new era. The HP Indigo 10000 with its 29-inch (75cm)/B2 format yields a higher cross-over point and handles substrates up to 18 pt. (450 microns) without an upgrade, while the HP Indigo 20000 (for flexible packaging) and HP Indigo 30000 (for folding cartons) offer speeds and sizes that address a larger part of the packaging market, creating opportunities for commercial printers and packaging converters alike.


PSPs that are installing HP Indigo 10000 presses primarily for commercial print applications may have extra capacity they could dedicate to new applications. A step from commercial print to folding carton printing is technically much easier than a move into flexible packaging. Moreover, there is great potential for adding value using variable data printing (thereby eliminating the need for imprinting downstream), and cartons can be supplied on a just-in-time basis to reduce logistics costs. This can be a complementary service that PSPs can implement from the start of their digital printing operation.

PSPs should carefully analyze their production capacities to determine if the folding carton business will displace commercial print jobs on the press. Is the operation prepared to handle cutting, creasing, and possibly gluing? How will it train production and sales staff? A clear marketing plan is needed, as well as an objective analysis of the investment required and its ROI.


For commercial printers, the digital flexible packaging market, using a digital press such as the HP Indigo WS4600 or WS6600 to complement a digital commercial operation can appear an attractive proposition: more jobs, similar technologies, good margins, and working for a familiar customer. Evaluating what to print and for whom, however, reveals the possible pitfalls and a very steep learning curve.

Printing flexible packaging for non-food items is the less daunting option. But, since food applications account for 76 percent of flexo packaging, this is a considerably smaller market. With food packaging, legal and product health and safety compliance present time-consuming work in areas beyond the scope of most commercial PSPs.

Finishing flexo packaging presents another potential hurdle. New equipment, unfamiliar substrates and many new skills will have to be brought in requiring heavy investment.


Should commercial printers expand into digital packaging? Every PSP is different; for some, a move into digital folding carton production will be a logical extension of their existing work. Their customer base and in-house capabilities may support this strategy and implementation may be relatively easy. For others, a more detailed evaluation of the benefits may be necessary. 

For those who do make the move, the resources are there. On the technical side, they can count on HP Indigo digital presses, consumables and media as well as HP prepress and finishing partners. On the operations side, resources include the HP Capture program, HP Financial Services and support via the Dscoop user organization.

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