by Cassandra Balentine
A spin off of web to print (W2P), web to packaging (W2Pack) solutions focus on packaging applications with specific feature sets.
Above: Apogee StoreFront is Agfa’s cloud-based W2P solution, which supports static W2Pack.
Many market forces are credited for the growing popularity of W2Pack, including increased adoption of digitally printed packaging, improved technologies and the workflows that support them, and the growing use of online ordering.
Ecommerce has pushed forward a global, small-parcel market that is predicted to expand. “It’s now expected to grow to a yearly average of 220 to 262 billion packages by 2026,” shares Andreas Storms, CBDO, CloudLab Solutions. “That’s more than double the 103 billion packages sent in 2019. In our white paper, The Adoption of Web-to-Print Technology in Offset and Hybrid (Offset & Digital) Printing Environments, we recognize that printing companies are leaving millions of dollars in revenue on the table by not taking full advantage of modern W2P technology.” The paper finds offset printers are slow to adopt W2P while their digital counterparts have embraced it and are currently reaping the rewards of the global online print market, “currently valued at a whopping $30 billion USD,” adds Storms.
Package Printers for W2Pack
W2P is an established technology utilized for more than 20 years. However, Abhishek Agarwal, CMO, Design’ N’ Buy, feels it is still uncommon in packaging for now. “W2P is without a doubt revolutionizing the packaging industry,” he states.
As more commercial print providers enter the packaging market, Mark Gallucci, manager, technology marketing, Agfa, anticipates this will grow. “In addition, as production trends toward short-run digital print—whether for just-in-time delivery or for limited- or special-edition products—the appeal of W2Pack will increase for both customers and providers.”
The packaging space continues to adopt W2P as technology becomes advanced in the three-dimensional (3D) imaging space, enabling consumers to visualize their products and see the design before ordering. “Our customers are looking for more of this type of functionality so that they can expand their offerings and provide the right experience for their customer. Personalized, small quantity packaging is a growing market,” shares Trent Foreman, regional sales manager, North America, OnPrintShop.
W2Pack is growing, but still in the early stages. “Several online store brands today are not manufacturers but companies that saw the opportunity to be early pioneers and capture market share in this greenﬁeld space. Many have done a great job with their websites and are leveraging the available web marketing tools to build a following,” says Storms.
Several well-known print packaging providers have accepted W2Pack technologies, but it’s in the early stages of adoption. Todd Gordner, president/CEO, PrintNow.com, points out that W2Pack technologies are more complex and the costs are greater to implement compared to W2P alone.
“As costs go down and deployments become more turnkey, this should change. Currently, we see large enterprises investing in W2Pack technology and print providers who offer some packaging starting with the basics and testing the waters.”
Because customers, agencies, and corporate buyers are accustom to buying products online, W2P/W2Pack is logical. “This is going to be a huge growth category for on demand and long-run packaging, especially as W2P providers adopt 3D and rotation views for proofing processes,” shares Slava Apel, CEO, Amazing Print Tech.
It is important to think holistically in terms of technology investments. “Our communication with customers is affected by a variety of new technologies, so updating and investing is necessary. In the 21st century, packaging is more than just what protects a product; it communicates, delights, and requires high standards of production. Their purpose must go beyond simply identifying content; they must entice, enhance interaction, and elicit a desire to purchase,” says Agarwal.
W2Pack software enables customers to personalize and create customized designs as needed. “Streamlining and speeding up the ordering process has improved efficiency and simplicity,” he adds.
“Packaging literally comes in all shapes and sizes, but it also comes in different formats too. This is where it gets complicated for the packaging designer,” admits Storms. By taking the complexities out of packaging design, W2Pack solutions make it easier for print service providers (PSPs) to sell more packaging online.
Benefits and Limitations
W2P—and as an extension, W2Pack systems—add automation and streamline workflows, saving time and money.
The advantages of W2Pack come from all sides. Foreman lays out some of the benefits. From the customer’s perspective, W2P for packaging applications allows them to estimate, design, and customize short-run packaging products that they otherwise weren’t able to access as a small business or short-run customer. For existing customers it provides a smoother experience to return to a design and order products on demand. For the print provider, a good W2P platform helps expand the existing product base to introduce both standard and semi-customizable packaging products to attract new customers and support current customers.
Agarwal believes the benefits of W2P and W2Pack are undeniable. “By automating steps such as estimating, design, job ticketing, prepress, and billing, W2P can reduce service providers’ costs. For customers, it can enhance their experience. Estimating, designing, job ticketing, prepress, and billing can be simplified dramatically.”
W2Pack shares many of the same well-known advantages as W2P. “Benefits include faster turnaround time, new marketing and sales channels, and increased customer loyalty and overall satisfaction. Some W2P features—i.e., data validation and template support—are very handy for packaging types that must adhere to government regulations. It makes following the latest standards easier for packaging buyers,” suggests Dmitry Sevostyanov, CEO, Customer’s Canvas.
“A well-implemented W2Pack platform has benefits all around. The designer can focus on the artwork without having to deal with technical colors and layers. The print provider enjoys the benefits of receiving consistent and reliable print-ready files that don’t require manual prepress intervention,” notes Galluci.
Storms points out that providing self-service tools for customers means more time is allotted to growing the print business and increasing proﬁtability. W2P software solutions come packed with features to suit every design level. “While customers spend their time fearlessly designing and ordering professional-looking packaging online, PSPs can spend time growing the print business and increasing proﬁtability. Gone are the days when you spent your time on prepress issues like ﬁle formats and fonts.”
The ability to test every idea without the commitment of sending it to production reduces the costs spent on creating the perfect product. “And with live quotes you aren’t reliant on someone getting back to you with the numbers. Everything can be done within its own time—however fast or slow. It’s all in the hands of the creator,” says Gordner.
Apel agrees. “W2P brings instant proofs to the mock up view and an immediate price point possibility. Today graphic designers and corporate buyers do not see how a design element impacts the price, but with the online proofing and cost analysis the entire journey of the purchase is accommodated in a single screen.”
Of course there are limitations to consider. W2Pack isn’t an all-in-one solution for packaging.
One drawback is the lack of interaction with the customer. “While it is a positive that customers can work on their own, it can also be a negative when it comes to developing a personal company/customer relationship,” notes Gordner.
The design process can also be an issue. “Dealing with 3D designs presents some challenges. It can be tricky to create a design workflow that is easy to use,” comments Sevostyanov.
He admits that online ordering for packaging boxes presents some challenges that adopters are trying to work around. “Companies are looking for the right balance of the SKUs that must be ordered online and products that have to go through the ordinary sales process. End users are not specialists in packaging design, and the online editor must be user friendly enough to allow an ordinary person to create a customized box that looks passably professional,” he explains.
“Nonetheless, advanced use cases that require a complete packaging CAD solution on the website might not be the best approach. Sophisticated packaging still requires packaging specialists to be involved in the process since the cost of errors is too high.”
Agarwal feels that while the benefits of W2P software are significant, he estimates that about 20 percent of users struggle with implementation.
“The only real limitation that I see is the lack of web/ecommerce experience within the PSP. The thought of revamping the current website to be an ecommerce website can be paralyzing. We always recommend the minimal viable product to get launched quickly. By learning from client behavior what works and what doesn’t work, PSPs can adjust and pivot the future direction of the website,” suggests Storms.
Making the Move
Print providers may be curious to know whether or not their existing W2P solution supports packaging products. Many W2P solutions do offer modules that handle packaging, which makes it possible for printers to expand into this segment with existing technologies. However, packaging does have unique requirements that a W2P solution should possess for packaging.
“If the existing W2P solution has only been built for two dimensional (2D) products then it might be quite a hurdle for the existing solution to address the packaging market’s 3D products without an expensive and time-consuming development project,” explains Storms. “Time to market is an essential factor in success to gain and retain market share and become sticky with your website visitors and clients.”
Galluci says when more advanced features are needed, like parametric design and 3D modeling, a dedicated W2Pack solution is needed.
Several W2P providers offer dedicated modules that better support packaging. “Although it’s possible to place orders for packaging in any ecommerce solution, a cleverly designed 3D workflow for print packaging offers the end user a fully interactive user experience to make it easier for the general customer to place on demand orders,” admits Gordner.
It is also important to note that there are two distinct types of W2Pack models on the market, static and parametric. Parametric solutions allow for customization to the user’s specifications while static options are fixed.
Packaging is inherently complex, therefore feature sets of W2Pack solutions keep specific considerations in mind.
Topping the list of essential capabilities is 3D previews.
“It is extremely hard to imagine how a flat paper sheet will look when folded,” stresses Sevostyanov. He says the ability to move the packaging in 3D and seeing how it will fold makes the designing process much easier for buyers.
Foreman agrees, noting that 3D design presentation allows customers to get a full visual of what a box or package will look like once produced.
Editing tools and design capabilities are also imperative.
“Packaging is much different than regular printing products with multiple areas to keep track off,” admits Gordner. He says the ability to edit packaging from all angles is one of the better benefits of W2Pack solutions when compared to W2P.
Gordner adds that the editing tools included with the W2P software should make it easy for online customization.
Sevostyanov agrees, noting that an easy-to-use and intuitive online editor is important for successful adoption. “The option to tailor the personalization process to the printer’s use case is also a must have. Some prefer form-based editors where users can only upload their logos and customize text. Others might need a comprehensive online editor to give clients the freedom to create unique designs. Moreover, adding mandatory elements to each design can facilitate a clear path that helps clients follow the appropriate regulations.”
Options like drag-and-drop functionality should make it easy to add logos and images; a rotating canvas means there is no need to work upside down, while images can easily be placed on ﬂaps, panels, and overlap corners, offers Storms. “Plus, when moving an overlapping image, W2Pack systems should automatically duplicate the image and place it in the correct position while matching the material chosen for a more accurate representation of the ﬁnal product.”
“A modern W2Pack solution must allow flexible resizing of the desired packaging so micro/emerging brands can right size their packaging and adapt to new designs. As parameters change, the price needs to change too—in real time. Downloadable 2D print data must include everything a designer needs like cut lines, fold lines, bleeds, and non-print areas,” states Storms.
Galluci adds that W2Pack products should also offer support for a broad font library; embellishments such as varnish, foil, and embossing; and spot color libraries and custom spot definitions that will be required by designers.
Preflight is another important element of W2Pack, enabling package printers to check for problems such as low resolution images, overprint issues, and minimum text size to eliminate the need for manual prepress intervention, according to Galluci.
“To start selling packaging online, PSPs should be able to simply select and upload their choice of packaging, label, and finishing options, together with their price list. W2P software libraries are bursting with thousands of product options to choose from, all neatly categorized into themes,” says Storms. “Then, they only need to set the parameters that suit their printing such as the maximum height and width.”
In addition to viewing and designing capabilities, instant costing is also important, according to Apel.
As digital printing is more commonplace, custom, short-run packaging orders are in demand. To keep these products profitable, print providers turn to W2Pack for the same efficiency and reach that W2P has offered the commercial print space.
W2Pack and packaging modules are in high demand for 2022, says Agarwal. With these systems, print and packaging providers handle a range of applications from paperboard boxes and corrugated boxes to folding cartons, poly bags, foil-sealed bags, and envelope and bubble mailers—the opportunities are limitless.
Visit dpsmagazine.com/webinars for a recent, archived webinar on the topic of W2Pack.
Oct2022, DPS Magazine