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The Future of Package Printing

Packaging must answer to many masters, including product manufacturers, retail outlets, consumers, and government agencies. As such, it is constantly changing to meet new demands. It is not surprising, then, that the Graphic Arts Marketing Information Service organization (GAMIS) commissioned State Street Consultants, Boston, MA, to update GAMIS's 1994 report on the package printing market. The result: Package Printing 2001-2005.

The study looks at corrugated, flexible packaging, and folding cartons for the US and Canada, including packaging markets, trends, and forecasts for 2005. Listed objectives are as follows:

  • Identify opportunities for printing industry suppliers to better serve package printers.

  • Provide package printers with a qualitative analysis of important industry issues.

  • Identify key trends for suppliers and senior management in the packaging industry.

  • Quantify and update the demographics of the varied packaging segments.

The study estimates the total US and Canadian market for packaging materials is between US $110 billion and $125 billion in annual shipments (see the pie chart on this page).

Package Printing Technologies

This section of the study covers flexo, offset, and gravure (see chart on p. 39). Each technology is covered in detail, including statistics on purchase plans, purchase timing, press features, issues, trends, and more.

“Flexography is the primary printing method used overall in the packaging industry,” the study concludes. The value of flexo printing currently is almost $15 billion; it is projected to increase to $18 billion-$22 billion by 2005.

Regarding flexo and folding cartons: “Increase of flexo in folding cartons has been slower than was predicted even a few years ago, perhaps due to the slow growth of the folding carton market. Research indicates flexo will continue to take share away from offset and gravure in the folding carton segment, albeit at a slow pace. Flexo will increase its share of the other packaging segments as well.”

On the subject of run lengths (the study defines run lengths as number of impressions, not packages), “respondents do not expect to see much change overall in flexo run lengths during the next five years,” adding there is a slight shift to shorter run lengths. “Many feel that flexo run lengths have already gotten shorter and have not stabilized,” notes the report.

Flexo trends covered include quality improvements; the FIRST initiative; gearless presses; faster plate processing; and the use of ultraviolet inks.

Sheet-fed offset printing, used mainly for folding cartons and labels, faces its most significant threat from flexo presses in the folding carton and label segments, according to the report. Offset press manufacturers are trying to combat this threat by raising press performance; increasing speeds, and adding productivity features.

Gravure's share of the packaging market has been decreasing, notes the study. Press manufacturers are making a number of improvements to combat this trend, including features that allow shorter runs and faster makeready.

“Adoption of color digital presses in the packaging market is still low,” says the study, listing barriers as slow speed, cost, color consistency, and other quality issues. The report adds, however, that the marketplace is changing, and with customers focusing on shorter run lengths, just-in-time delivery, and more test marketing, there likely will be an increasing — but still limited — need for color digital presses.

Reportedly, the brightest outlook for adoption of digital printing in the converting industry is in combination with conventional printing technologies.

And More

The study also identifies and discusses trends and issues for corrugated, flexible packaging, folding cartons, and labels.

The section on end-user segments notes a growing trend toward private-label products. A changing retail environment that includes trends toward mega-mergers and fewer retail outlets is expected to lead to greater competition for shelf space. This means products must grab the attention of shoppers even more quickly than in the past. Going along with this, the trend in graphics is toward more specialty colors, more process color, and more sophisticated design.

When product manufacturers were asked by questioners how industry suppliers could better serve them, their answers included lower costs; quicker turnaround; lower quantity minimums; warehousing of packaging; and faster delivery.

This 500+ p. report was circulated to all GAMIS members in the fall of 2001. It will be available for sale to interested parties January 31. Price is $2,500 for PIA members and $5,000 for non-PIA members. For information about membership in GAMIS or to purchase the study, contact Jamie Erdman at 703/519-8144. A table of contents and order form are available at

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