By Melissa Donovan
Smaller businesses and craft enthusiasts commonly take everyday items and personalize them, whether using hand painted techniques, etching, sublimation, or cut vinyl application. There is an increasing demand for customization on this level, however the quality and durability expectations are heightened when corporate brands look for these same products to promote their businesses and broadcast their marketing messages out into the world.
One of the more popular items to be personalized is drinkware. This includes glasses given out as favors at weddings to water bottles displayed as giveaways at trade shows. These goods are often purchased and customized through a third-party print provider or promotional print house and not directly from the drinkware manufacturer.
However, as digital printing makes headway into multiple segments, more manufacturers recognize the benefits of bringing the technology into their manufacturing facilities and offering personalization at the manufacturing level. This allows for more control over the entire process, end to end. One such company is Petaluma, CA-based CamelBak.
Founded in 1989, CamelBak is a global leader in personal hydration gear. According to company legend, bicycle enthusiast Michael Eidson was competing in a 100 mile road race in TX and water bottle refill locations were limited. An emergency medical technician by trade, Eidson invented hands-free hydration with an IV bag filled with water, slipped into a white tube sock, and then stuffed into the back of his bike jersey. To enhance the invention further, a thin hose was clamped with a clothespin and attached to the bag, allowing him to drink while he pedaled his bike.
With a grass roots following, the company continued to grow but it really flourished when competitive cyclist Jeff Wemmer started selling the hands-free hydration packs at bike races. A fan of the product himself, he was hired by CamelBak in 1993 and undertook a road trip across the U.S. selling it to bike shops. Today, CamelBak continues its mission to reinvent and change the way people hydrate and perform by offering a mix of everything from technical hydration packs to reusable bottles. One way its reusable bottles have met that goal is through the creation of the company’s custom bottle program.
Adding in Digital
Roughly two years ago CamelBak started exploring digital printing capabilities. With the technology it hoped to provide a solution that would allow customers to personalize water bottles through direct to consumer channels. Another goal in implementing digital printing into its production facility was to provide unlimited color capabilities to its current retailers.
The company works with a proprietary digital printing device in house, which is used to customize existing products for both direct to consumer and wholesale clients. “Digital printing allows us to provide customers with lower minimum order quantities and a quick production turnaround. We successfully transitioned customers to digital print and gained new customers along the way,” shares Hannah Koresky, senior business manager – custom, CamelBak.
Sometimes digital printing is used for customers that require a lot of samples in the beginning stages of production. Digital printing allows for economical testing of the graphics prior to sending the final image overseas to factories where screen printing, heat transfer, or laser etching occurs.
With successes come challenges. Koresky admits to three in particular. The learning curve in regards to dependable ink adhesion on multiple substrates, color matching for color critical customers, and changing the minds of customers accustomed to screen printing.
While digitally printed bottles are a small portion of CamelBak’s products—the majority of which are sold without personalization—Koresky hopes to see this number grow year over year. Currently, digital printing is preferred if an order quantity is below factory minimums, timing is tight, or a wide number of colors are used in the graphic’s design.
CamelBak offers its custom bottle program via an ecommerce site. Consumers can upload a design of their choosing and personalize over 24 different varieties of CamelBak products from its flagship Eddy bottle design to the Hot Cap travel mug and enhanced Podium collection. The system allows for unlimited color prints or laser etching with no minimums.
Powered by digital print, the results are endless and allow consumers to upload images of their loved ones, personal artwork, or a company logo—ideal for gifts, sports teams, or organizations. All of this done in runs as low as one and delivered to the customer within 18 to 21 days after the order is placed. “The benefits of digital print are shorter lead times, unlimited color options, and not having a minimum order quantity,” explains Koresky.
A user-intuitive design program and ordering system supports the site. The design studio is broken down into four primary elements—navigation tabs, click through to discover the primary ways to customize a bottle; work area, where modifications to the design are made like changing the bottle color or adding images and text; canvas, changes made in the work area are shown here in addition to the ability to scale images and text by clicking and dragging as well selecting between the front and back areas of the bottle for customization; and order controls, which show progress, order subtotal, and the number of bottles being ordered.
New Levels of Quality
Implementing digital printing in house allows CamelBak to control its customization capabilities and offer both direct to consumer and wholesale customers a new level of high-quality personal hydration gear. Its current successes inspire the company to adopt digital decoration on new products as they become available in the custom bottle program. IPM
Jun2020, Industrial Print Magazine