By Melissa Donovan
Flatbed printer operators searching for a chance to leverage their hardware investment often enter into package or prototype printing. It is worth considering specific software solutions that aid in the design of this new application. In particular, three-dimensional (3D) design software assists in achieving an accurate visual of how the package will look and where the graphics will appear, even where the fold lines are on a box. This is not only helpful for the printer, but also the customer, as it serves as a real-life proof.
Above: iC3D software offers a user-friendly, intuitive interface that allows print providers to create packaging and displays with minimal effort.
Another Tool in the Box
It’s an advantageous time to be involved in package printing. “According to recent Smithers’ report, the packaging sector is set to expand almost three percent a year between 2018 and 2028—to over $1.2 trillion. Also, the need for domestic packaging has increased due to the recent disruptions in supply chains. This presents an opportunity for printing houses to expand into packaging,” explains Tsvetelina Nacheva, marketing manager, EngView Systems.
If a print provider already has the equipment in house it’s as simple as acquiring the right design software and training personnel to handle production of boxes and displays, continues Nacheva.
“While flatbed printers are more often used for signs and displays, there are many uses for board and corrugated packaging as well, extending print providers’ product offerings. 3D design software provides flatbed printers with a full view of products, allowing for easy collaboration and project approvals—as well as design or physical corrections, adding a new layer of added value to their services,” adheres Heath Luetkens, director of technical innovation, iC3D Software, part of Hybrid Software Group.
Working with design software specifically tailored to packaging is beneficial to the user. “A printer is ultimately just a tool, it’s only capable of creating the data you provide it with, so without design software, you would be limited to only creating what you can download,” explains Pooria Sohi, product marketing manager, Fusion 360, Autodesk.
“Specialized programs save the vendor a lot in time and resources because they help optimize every aspect of the design and production process,” adds Nacheva.
3D design software solutions are intuitive, with the thought that some users aren’t necessarily well-versed in package design. A number of features are found in this software that really assist a novice packaging producer.
3D visualization is perhaps the most valuable feature, argues Nacheva. “Graphic designers in the printing industry are used to working with two-dimensional designs, but packaging is 3D and the ability to see how the flat design folds into a mockup helps designers visually proof the structure and apply the graphics over the 3D directly in their native environment.”
“Product visualization has become a key aspect of packaging development,” agrees Luetkens. “So, 3D models allow packaging designers to visualize mockups during the design and development stage, while ensuring they are production capable.”
Building on that visualization is the capability of material libraries in the software to replicate material characteristics. “Material libraries can be customized to replicate material characteristics, such as thickness and side textures; facilitating the creation of point of sale (POS) and product displays. Additionally, material effects like embossing, metallic attributes, or even tactile varnishes provide visual accuracy to any product render,” adds Luetkens.
Templates are another important component of the software for print providers. Solutions may include guidelines for packaging as well as point of purchase (POP)/POS displays. Furthermore, these templates are often parametric and can be resized as many times as needed.
“Imagine a multi-part structure like shelf displays seen in stores. They are made of several pieces that fit together. When the designer changes one parameter like the width of the display, every single part of the display is then automatically recalculated to match the changed parameter,” shares Nacheva.
A trend worth noting, according to Sohi, is digital collaboration and simulation in 3D design software. “While not packaging specific, it is likely a continued trend initially sparked by the pandemic where teams will continue to lean more heavily on virtual versus physical testing and creation.”
Sharing beyond colleagues and also with customers and vendors is part of this trend. “Customers review the design in their web browser and do not need any specialized software. Seeing a realistic 3D model of a packaging design saves time and also printer resources for producing samples,” notes Nacheva.
Worth the Investment
Multi-faceted sign shops offer packaging, but often it is a small percentage of its applications and service offerings. Despite this, vendors agree that owning 3D packaging software can be helpful without making an overwhelmingly large investment.
“Buying 3D software is not a big investment since most of the specialized packaging applications are offered as subscriptions. This payment model is suitable for startups or companies wanting to expand their business and grow their team. It is easy for them to scale and acquire more licenses when they hire more personnel, or vice versa, reduce the number of licenses when they need to downsize,” says Nacheva.
Sohi points out that certain solutions are not limited exclusively to packaging. For example, “a common workflow designers use is creating rapid massing models in 3D, taking a screenshot, and then using that as an underlay for sketching over, making ideating concepts quicker.” Depending on the solution you implement, it could be used for other applications as well.
Signs and displays also benefit from 3D design software, adds Luetkens, bringing an additional layer of accuracy to the process, catching structural design flaws and allowing for modifications within minutes.
Whether it’s a package, 3D build, or signage, “full visualization accuracy provides an opportunity to conduct market tests, sharpen product appearance, and test physical functionality. Renderings are available for environmental scenarios—indoors or out. Lighting adjustments can let brand owners look at and promote products before they are even manufactured,” suggests Luetkens.
Nacheva sees the value of 3D design software as two fold. “First, it aids designers in creating packaging with very little effort using predefined templates and filling the correct sizes. It helps designers visualize the 2D design into a 3D model and enable them to apply the design over a mockup and later send it to the customer for approval, eliminating the need for physical samples.”
Beyond visualization benefits, Nacheva believes there is value in 3D design software because it offers a “set of tools for the preparation and optimization of the files for production, like die board design, optimized CAM tool paths, and high-resolution layouts for printing. Optimizations for the design and production process that, at the end of the day, will save time and money.”
Demand for packaging continues to grow. This was forecasted pre-pandemic, and if anything the pandemic has accelerated said demand. “With supply chain vulnerabilities and prices going up, being close to your customers is key, so local printing houses have a good incentive to start producing packaging to serve the domestic market,” advises Nacheva.
Implementing 3D design software if currently operating a flatbed printer in house can help immensely when manufacturing packaging and even POP/POS displays. The solutions available provide many features that aid in optimizing production and minimizing waste.
Oct2022, Digital Output