By Olivia Cahoon
Digital print provides a cost-effective way for companies to offer short runs of packaging, prototypes, and even product holders. But constructing a three-dimensional (3D) box shape, designing multiple sides, and ensuring accurate measurements fit together can be challenging.
To help, vendors offer 3D visualization software programs specifically targeted toward packaging and prototype creation. These solutions solve design errors before beginning the print process—reducing the need for reprints and saving time and cost.
Above: Creative Edge Software iC3D includes a Shape Modeller feature to create complex models like perfume bottles, spray triggers, and molded containers.
Targeting Package and Prototype Creation
3D visualization tools include features for 3D modeling, designs, layouts, measurements, and templates. These help manufacturers and print providers sell and market solutions while effectively producing packaging applications. Software vendors target the digital packaging space with visualization features for creating and viewing visual mockups while highlighting features that streamline the production process.
“The ability to visualize the finished product in 3D is an essential part of boxes and displays,” says E.J. Nodurft, product category director, CNC machining and packaging products, SA International (SAi). While prototyping grants clients design creativity, it also leads to multiple versions of different designs that require customer approval. With 3D visualization software, customers can approve software designs without ever needing to print.
Most software includes templates that provide pre-made designs with customizable features. “Users choose from extensive libraries of models, templates, and materials or import their own 3D structural files,” shares Heath Luetkens, director of technical innovation, Creative Edge Software. Templates are best suited for designs and print providers unfamiliar with structural work.
Templates also verify and analyze the folding process to ensure the final folded design fits together correctly. Without this, Nodurft says print providers would need to cut the design and physically test it. “This could prove costly in terms of time and resources,” he explains. Printed test designs that need further revisions repeat the testing and printing process until designed correctly. “3D visualization overcomes these barriers by rectifying errors in the template dialog box, the parameters, and settings therein,” continues Nodurft.
According to Luetkens, many software design programs can take up to 12 hours to render a package before knowing it’s aligned correctly. Using a 3D visualization solution, the design process is cut from hours to minutes—allowing designers to identify flaws before the design is sent to print. “3D visualization provides designers with the ability to catch what would be costly mistakes sooner,” he offers. Visualization solutions also help designers avoid incorrect placement, which could affect the entire design.
3D modeling features quickly create complex models including structures and graphics. Originally, manufacturers were required to make changes to a two-dimensional (2D) flat design—a longer process that required more trial and error. 3D models allow customers to inspect all sides of the structure for a faster approval process. They also eliminate post-production rejects. Designers can treat 3D models as real-life proofs.
Layout features calculate one or multiple interlocking nesting patterns for on-press efficiency and minimum material waste. Arden Software offers Impact, a solution for designing paper-based packaging and production tooling. The software includes an automatic layout feature that tracks material type and flute/grain direction to ensure packaging designs maintain correct orientation when added to a sheet.
With measurement features, designs are scaled accurately for print output—presenting customers with a professional printing process. These features ensure 3D graphics are positioned correctly in relation to box cutout shapes. Nodurft offers, “this gives print providers the best perspective in terms of the design and results in a high-quality finish of the finished design compared to a 2D graphic.”
Shrink wraps and sleeves are applicable in various industries but require accurate sizing. Some visualization software offers placement and sizing tools specifically designed for shrink packaging.
Released in 2013, Creative Edge Software’s iC3D is a 3D visualization solution that includes SmartWrap and SmartShrink features for accurate shrink artwork and shrinking to fit in seconds. iC3D also provides photorealistic render and dynamic background capabilities for marketing strategy tools. “Generate pre-release and product promotional materials without physical mockups or photoshoots at a fraction of the cost,” says Luetkens.
iC3D includes a Shape Modeller feature to create complex models like perfume bottles, spray triggers, and molded containers. According to Luetkens, Shape Modeller allows for the creation of complex shapes like ice cubes and glassware. “This gives users more versatility in displays and promotional materials,” he adds. iC3D also includes bump displacement for enhanced emboss and deboss control.
At Labelexpo Europe in Brussels, Creative Edge Software announced iC3D v5.0. Advanced Shape Modeller offers additional tools for the creation of highly complex 3D shapes and combinations of shapes. A new Sealed Shrink feature visualizes shrink-filled packages using completely sealed bags. This complements the existing Shrink Sleeve feature.
Esko’s Studio Advanced for Adobe Systems Incorporated Illustrator also includes features for shrink sleeves. Its studio toolkit simulates a heat shrink sleeve around one or more objects. With Studio Advanced, shrink sleeve jobs can take as little as two to three hours. The software also features a studio toolkit for flexible packaging. It creates 3D models with options for package types like geometric shapes and fills like air and liquid. The flexible packaging toolkit is used to design packaging for pillow bags, gusseted bags, sealed porches, and diaper bags.
3D software features take the guesswork out of structural design to minimize error and enhance the proofing process. Manufacturers save time by accurately designing and visualizing packaging and prototypes.
Traditional 3D software solutions can be complex and difficult to learn. For easier integration into the design process without time-consuming training, 3D visualization software is ideal. Designers and manufacturers already familiar with traditional design software generally have an easier time learning how to use structural design programs.
Luetkens believes any one at ease with Adobe Illustrator will find updated 3D visualization software instinctual. He says two days of training is generally sufficient enough to understand how to operate it.
Robert Bou, co-founder, AlphaCorr, LLC, agrees and says the software is very simple. “Anyone who uses Adobe Illustrator at even a rudimentary level can achieve the results they need within a few minutes of orientation,” he offers.
The AlphaCorr Folding Genius 3D v2 is created for Adobe Illustrator. Released in January 2015, the software works directly with artificial intelligence data and is compatible with Mac and Windows. It supports 3D visualization of dielines created in or imported from box design programs like Esko’s ArtiosCAD and Arden Software’s Impact.
According to Bou, the Folding Genius 3D performs multi-piece assembly and exports 3D PDFs for direct use or imported into advanced presentation software. The solution is $195 a year or $29.95 per month.
3D visualization software is also available as cloud solutions to assemble, design, and share parts and drawings from any location. Onshape Inc. offers a cloud CAD solution that accesses CAD data and model parts from any cross-platform web browser or iOS/android phone or tablet. It offers the ability to add or revoke access privileges to protect company data. Onshape also stores CAD data in a database for all users to view design changes.
Other visualization solutions are specially designed for specific 3D printing equipment to make usability simple. Afinia Studio Software is intended for use with the Afinia H-Series 3D printers. It includes a photo-to-model feature that converts 2D photos into 3D models. The software also features a dormancy option that puts the printer to sleep after printing.
Regardless of design software experience, 3D visualization solutions are available to fit most levels of user ability.
Return on Investment
While the digital print industry experiences a boom in packaging and prototyping, manufacturers should first consider the costs of implementing digital technology into their production process before taking advantage of the demand.
Outsourcing any portion of the job risks losing clients to designers who may already have their own business. In addition, creating physical print prototypes is also challenging due to time restraints that accompany editing the prototype until it’s accurate.
“Often, the cost of fabricating physical prototypes limits businesses to only a fraction of the potential,” says Luetkens. However, 3D visualization software creates accurate virtual prototypes that save money and time. These solutions allow manufacturers to find new business while remaining competitive.
Visualization tools also enable businesses to utilize their existing equipment to expand their business offerings at a competitive price—allowing capabilities for creating boxes and packages of various shapes, sizes, and thicknesses. By expanding application offerings, Nodurft says print products can increase revenues and sharpen their competitive edge while enjoying enhanced production operations from a simplified and expedited job design.
In addition to packaging, 3D software solutions like SAi’s DisplayGenie are used for furniture, marketing, point of purchase (POP), sales, and trade show displays. Released in October 2017, DisplayGenie is a Flexi-powered software used for a variety of designs.
“DisplayGenie overcomes the troublesome pain points faced by designers when creating pieces in their existing third-party software,” offers Nodurft. The solution integrates with EnRoute software for output to CNC routers and knife systems. It uses Production Manager from a full FlexiPRINT license to communicate to large format printers and cutters. It is available at an introductory price of $1,495.
Digital Graphic Systems (DGS) DGS 3D POP System creates POP displays, packaging, and trade show booths. It features KASEMAKE software—a 2D structural design and 3D visualization solution for 3D mockups and proofing. Built-in auto-sizing design libraries are available for POP displays, honeycomb board displays and furniture, corrugated and folding carton packaging, and presentation folders and wallets.
EngView Systems’ 3D Presenter module is also used for prototyping POP displays through realistic 3D modeling. 3D Presenter is included in EngView’s packaging CAD and features several finishing effects including backing, varnishing, foil stamping, imprinting, special inks, and embossing. The software allows 3D parts to be inserted into the design for assembling multiple POP displays and structures.
3D Visualization Software
According to Nodurft, 3D visualization is essential for keeping production costs down in the manufacturing space. He offers, “the ability to visually check individual components and view how they come together or fold means overcoming the most resource-consuming part of the process.”
Advancements in 3D visualization software helps packaging and prototyping manufacturers sell and market solutions while eliminating flaws before printing. Features like design tools and 3D modeling take the guesswork out of the print process. These solutions save manufacturers time and costs.
Nov2017, Industrial Print Magazine