By Olivia Cahoon
The latest advancements in inkjet technology enable direct printing to a variety of substrates and three-dimensional (3D) objects, including cylindrical shapes. Cylindrical direct to object printing benefits several industries—notably the craft brewing space—with the ability to offer high-quality designed cans, short runs, and low costs depending on run size.
Brewers taking advantage of this technology can stay up-to-date on the latest trends while transforming their business model.
Above: The Revolution 360° T is a UV LED curable inkjet printer from Innovative Digital Systems.
Craft Brewers Advance
Craft breweries that adapt cylindrical direct to object printing into their canning and labeling processes benefit from high-quality graphics, short runs, low costs, short lead times, and recyclability capabilities.
By incorporating cylindrical direct to object printing into brewing production, craft breweries can create high-quality graphics on demand and take advantage of new business opportunities. Simultaneously, they gain complete control of the supply chain by bringing everything in house, as well as adopting a more sustainable practice, shares Jessica Makrinos, marketing manager, Inkcups.
According to Nielsen’s Craft Beer Category Design Audit, 71 percent of consumers state they would most likely try a beer that has a graphic that stands out. “Considering what a high percentage that is, graphics are without a doubt one of the most important elements of a craft beer package,” offers Makrinos.
Cylindrical direct to object printing offers full-color, high-quality, consistent graphics while also enabling the use of design elements that alternative methods cannot achieve. In addition to eye-catching imaging, Makrinos believes direct to object printing makes it possible to produce much smaller runs. “Limited-edition brews are more frequently added to the product mix, as well as customized branding for a particular brew for a seasonal release, music festival, wedding, or other special event.”
Generally, craft breweries produce batches from 1,000 to 30,000 cans. “They’re an innovative bunch and produce a continual flow of new beer styles, seasonal specials, and can design variations, including unique barcodes that identify each individual can,” shares Rob Day, CEO, Tonejet Ltd., a TTP Group company. With digital direct to object printing, breweries print cans in any run length, down to one, unlike alternative technologies like traditional analog, which typically requires runs of at least 100,000. Even labels and shrink sleeves are better suited for minimum orders around 4,000.
The ability to offer short runs also enables low costs by eliminating printing plates, tooling, and other special setup. According to Day, this means that digital direct to object printing is more affordable than traditional offset technology for print runs of less than 30,000 to 50,000. Additionally, the cost per can when printing direct is less than 20 percent of the cost of a commercial printed label or shrink sleeve.Not only will the use of cylindrical direct to object printing lower costs and minimum run lengths, but it also shortens lead times. Traditional can printing requires plate production, which can take anywhere from two to four months, including the production of proofs and final artwork approval. If craft brewers use labels or sleeves, there is typically a printing lead time, added to which there is the application of the label or sleeve. “Typically, craft brewers use third-party packaging companies to supply them with pre-labeled cans, and the packaging company outsources the label printing,” says Day. This results in a minimum one month lead time.
With the ability to print direct to can in house, craft breweries can decorate cans as soon as the artwork is received. According to Day, proof samples are printed the same day and overall lead time is cut to days.
Lastly, the use of cylindrical direct to printing technology allows craft breweries to benefit from full recyclability capabilities. “Aluminum cans are 100 percent recyclable—unless you use a plastic sleeve or label to decorate them,” adds Day. With direct printing technology, nothing is added to the can but color pigment and overvarnish, which is also typically recyclable. “This is not true of the majority of shrink sleeve and label materials, which to resist staining during can filling and processing tend to be PVC or PET based substrates.” This is a large concern for craft breweries that don’t wish to create recycling challenges for customers.
Transforming the Model
Most brewing companies are familiar with digital print or transfer capabilities. Direct to object printing can change their business model by enabling complete control over the supply chain, offering the use of textured effects, and lowering overall costs in production.
First and foremost, direct to object printing changes the business model for the better because it allows craft breweries to have complete control over the supply chain. “Bringing printing in house and utilizing digital cylinder printing reduces the stress of long lead times that can at times exceed six months,” says Makrinos. It also completely eliminates minimum order quantities, which can be 12 pallets or 100,000 cans. “Companies are improving inventory inefficiencies because they are in control.”
Aside from the supply chain, companies are able to differentiate themselves in a competitive marketplace. According to the Nielsen’s Craft Beer Category Design Audit, 66 percent of American craft beer buyers say that a beer’s packaging is very or extremely important in capturing a consumer’s attention. Makrinos believes this number justifies the idea of bringing labeling in house to quickly adjust, customize limited edition brews, and even test markets with different graphics.
“Breweries can showcase their uniqueness with custom UV digitally printed graphics,” agrees Craig Smith, president, Innovative Digital Systems. Unlike transfer printing, UV digitally printed varnish can be layered to create textured effects, which include mirrored-image printing where artwork is visible from the inside of the drinkware. It also enables two-tone printing that emulates a laser engraved etched image, as well as spot clear coating that creates 3D effects. “These are just a few examples of how creativity in print effects can add value to an imprint through direct to object printing that would not be possible through the use of a transfer,” adds Smith.
In addition to added texture and visual aesthetics, the ability to run small and micro batches brings obvious cost advantages. While the cost of digital is linear and per piece more expensive, the overall project cost in most cases is less because of the process metrics associated with digital versus traditional print, shares Clay Oliff, president/CEO, Polytype America Corp. “Many steps are eliminated with digital. This also has a direct impact on the time-to-market equation.”
Craft brewers take advantage of cylindrical direct to object printing by incorporating new trends in the craft brewery space. These trends include value-added personalization and the use of cans instead of glass bottles.
Because craft beer is typically linked to local territories, craft brewers look for deep personalization to stand out. “The decoration is a must for selling the product, so special attention is put on developing eye-catching and attractive artwork,” comments Paolo Venturelli, GM, Technopack s.r.l./Martinenghi.
This trend is accelerated by variable data features. According to Venturelli, this means the possibility of changing a portion of or the whole artwork on each printed piece. For example, sequential numbering of the pieces, quick response codes for multimedia messages, or anti-counterfeit codes. “Today, forms of customization that were once unthinkable are achieved; a can carrying the logo or the colors of the favorite football team, but also 11 photo-realistic images of the champions and in the background, the stadium where the last match was won.”
There is also a general trend in most territories—but especially in the U.S.—for craft brewers to move away from using glass bottles to aluminum cans. Several reasons for this shift include cheaper shipping, better shelf life, more presence, and improved recyclability. “This trend will not reverse—the reasons for it are too compelling,” states Day.
Outside of beer, craft beverages like hard seltzers, Kombucha, and cannabis-based blends are gaining popularity and creating a movement toward slimmer and sleeker can formats. “The can manufacturers we talk to think this is cyclical and will re-balance,” reveals Day. “All of this encourages direct to object printing of cans because it requires supply chains and packaging systems to be more flexible and responsive to change.”
Cylindrical direct to object printers are often poised to handle small and medium run sizes. This is due to the nature of the craft brewing industry and offset technology’s ability to cost-effectively handle large runs.
Generally speaking, there are two different types of cylindrical direct to object printing systems in today’s market. First, there are high-end cylindrical inkjet printers that can be expensive and complex, says Makrinos. Only a few producers are targets for this equipment, including companies that print very high volumes.
There are also small- to medium-volume cylindrical inkjet printers, which are ideal for companies producing 200 to 400 parts per hour at price points ranging from $200,000 to $300,000. Makrinos believes these devices are ideally suited to environments where the bulk of the work is small- to medium-length runs and the graphics change frequently.
Some craft brewers struggle with the idea of small- or even medium-run lengths. Often times, craft breweries have constructed their business models on long runs or the same image—decreasing the price per piece as run lengths increase. “This is required because the changeover and setup cost that does not exist with digital needs to be buried in the overall cost,” explains Oliff.
As a result, companies have built large manufacturing facilities with huge appetites for volume and are resistant to change, especially change that requires capital investment in new technologies and processes. “They simply tell microbreweries, ‘this is our minimum, sorry,’” adds Oliff.
Direct to object printers currently operate at a much lower throughput speed than traditional dry offset can decoration systems. Day says this means that runs of over 100,000, where lead times permit, will continue to be produced using traditional offset printing processes. “Anything smaller than this will be printed on digital direct to can technology once the installed base of printing systems grows sufficiently to support it.”
While cylindrical direct to object printers bring a host of benefits to craft brewers, alternative technologies are available to get the job done. This includes offset printing technology and the use of labels and shrink sleeves.
Cylindrical direct to object printers give brewers great flexibility in production and provide the ability to handle small runs with customization. However, the use of labels is another option for craft brewers. According to Keira Lee, chief of marketing department, GCC, label printing is faster but it requires a minimum order. “Not to mention that the labeling process includes applying labels to bottles, meaning higher labor time, material costs, and additional production steps.”
“Direct to cylinder printing will never replace labels—this is a complementary technology for special projects,” argues Juan Kim, CEO, Valloy Incorporation.
While some brands use paper or pressure-sensitive labels, these methods do no project the image of a premium product as much as a direct printed graphic. “They won’t tear, rip, or wrinkle during shipping and handling and won’t be damaged by spills, water, or ice,” comments Paul Bolduc, president, Koenig & Bauer Kammann. This reduces waste and ensures that the craft brewer’s brand always looks its best. As craft brewers look to differentiate their products from other brands and provide a premium product, he believes it will become imperative to standout on shelves and with customers.
Branding & Color Consistency
Cylindrical direct to object printing technology presents challenges in branding and color consistency. To be well-equipped across multiple surfaces, craft brewers may want to look into hybrid—screen and digital—solutions or devices with more color capabilities.
The primary color space achieved with CMYK or standard digital color capabilities only achieves about 75 percent of the Pantone Matching System (PMS) library. Additional corporate colors that sit outside of the PMS space can prove challenging. However, Oliff says by incorporating three additional digital inks—green, violet, and orange—this color space can widen to nearly 90 percent. Ultimately, a decision needs to be made on the tradeoff between cost, time to market, personalization, and individualization versus a corporate color that is only a shade or two off of what is reachable.
“Printing a Pantone color using the digital process could result in some color compromises, which would not meet the demanding standards of most brand owners,” agrees Bolduc. By using a hybrid solution with both screen and digital stations, craft brewers have the ability to exactly match the brand owner’s colors using a screen station to apply the perfectly matched color. Select devices offer screen stations that can be used for metallic colors as well. Additionally, hybrid solutions can also be equipped with camera inspection systems to check the color tone to further assure the perfect color match.
Brewers Take Note
Cylindrical direct to object printing technology is one of the more popular trends for craft breweries. With the ability to transform their business model for the better, brewers using this technology gain complete control over the supply chain, take advantage of textured effects, and lower their overall costs in production. IPM
Jun2020, Industrial Print Magazine