By Melissa Donovan
Direct printing on pre-manufactured objects continues to entice manufacturers from all verticals. Quick turnarounds, small runs, and personalization—which are strengths of digital printing—are trends seen on everything from water bottles to hand towels.
With the holiday season upon us, toys including games/puzzles, action figures, cars/trucks, building blocks, and dolls is one vertical worth spotlighting in relation to digital printing. Many manufacturers in this space recently upped their game by partnering with well-known brands to offer licensed products with the likenesses of popular characters from movies, television, and books. In addition, businesses look to leverage digital print in order to cater to the increased demand for product personalization.
The toy vertical benefits from digital printing for a number reasons. With trends like capsule collections, limited editions, wooden toys, and others currently occurring, digital printing is a great option for decoration.
Within the greater toy sector, Michael Perrelli, marketing and sales director, Innovative Digital Systems, sees customization and short runs like limited editions or commemorative series growing in popularity.
“We’ve seen our UV flatbed customers use printers to add player names or ‘skins’ to miniature figures, limited edition graphics or numbers to remote control cars and truck bodies, years or seasonal graphics to train cars, and personalized photos on pre-built building brick sets. All are examples of digital printing adding an element that brings extra value in the retail and collector arenas,” shares Perrelli.
Wood is ideal for digital decoration, and according to Evan Reutling, application specialist, LogoJET, there is a significant uptick in wooden toys for children including puzzles, blocks, and learning tools.
Whether implementing digital printing technologies in house or outsourcing to a supplier, toy manufacturers benefit from digital printing.
“The more customizable an item is, the more in demand it will be. Digital printing opens the door for nearly endless decoration options, which leads to higher value selling. Digital decoration is also quick and inexpensive per unit,” adds Reutling.
Many realize how advanced digital decoration has become. “Years ago, it was the ability to decorate items with more than one color that was impressive. Now, it’s the ability to customize in full color. Plus, pretreatment processes allow manufacturers to print on more materials,” explains Perrelli.
It can be challenging to adapt a new technology. And this is the case whether the equipment is implemented in house or a manufacturer undertakes the process of securing its own printer.
Toy manufacturers should be aware of the ink used in the print process. With toys, children are apt to handle and depending on the age place in their mouths. The ink needs to pass specific certifications and standards.
Printing with UV inks creates a challenge, in that they are not food safe, notes Reutling.
Durability is another element to consider. Toys may undergo sanitation processes more frequently, in addition to constant handling. The ink needs to be rated for this.
Designing a graphic and where it is placed is also cause for concern. “Shapes and the expectation of the decoration area is something to be cognizant of. A good example of that is the RC car body market. Fans of this love limited run or customized bodies for any of the trucks and cars they own. However, digitally printing the full car body—after it has been formed—can be a challenge. That’s where we have seen customers add commemorative logos and numbers to the sides and tops of solid color bodies,” states Perrelli.
In or Out
As aforementioned, toy manufacturers utilize digital print in house as well as by outsourcing.
Reutling believes more manufacturers are bringing these types of jobs in house because it is more efficient to digitally decorate inline. “It is easier to produce digital prints during the manufacturing process due to the quick printing process and integration into the manufacturing workflow.”
Perrelli agrees that toy manufacturers continue to use digital print on their production floors because of the diverse options offered, as well as flexibility and versatility. However, he cites an additional category of businesses printing to toys.
“We can’t forget that there are print shops and companies of all sizes who build their business on buying the finished toy, adding customization or decoration to it, and then offering it in a resale type of environment. It doesn’t mean those toy manufacturers are outsourcing to those print shops, it’s two different streams,” comments Perrelli.
While many companies offer digital printers that are applicable to printing on toys, we asked both of the vendors quoted in this piece to share a bit about their products targeting this segment of the market.
Innovative Digital Systems offers a curated line of UV LED printers and complimentary auxiliary equipment designed to provide quality and versatility. The machinery is on the cutting edge of digital print technology and provides decoration solutions to customers for industrial, promotional, and commercial applications.
LogoJET direct to object UV printers bring in-house customization to life. This includes the LogoJET UVx40R-SE (speed-enhanced) direct to object printer, which combines industrial-strength components with three extended-wear printheads to bring a reliable, versatile, and efficient solution for in-house product customization.
A Joyful Future
Toys are a fun product, with a focus on whimsy, pretend, and color. Digital printing can bring pre-manufactured objects such as dolls, cars/trucks, games/puzzles, and more to life—and its use will only expand from here.
“It will continue to grow from where it is now. As companies look into areas of growth, the ability of their customers to customize the product online or chase limited edition collectibles could be a factor in that growth,” predicts Perrelli.
Dec2023, Digital Output