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Pharmaceutical Manufacturing and Packing Sourcer

Packing a Punch

With ever-increasing technology options and package designers continually pushing the limits of creativity, amazing ideas to differentiate brands from their competition have become the order of the day. While standing out is a consumer packaged goods (CPG) brand owner’s goal, design trends can also apply to medical packaging. There are a number of factors to consider – including customer requirements, creative influences, consumer behaviour and advancements in packaging – which impact upon four contemporary design trends, as seen from a manufacturer’s perspective.

The All-Natural Look

The ever-growing universe of natural and organic consumer products continues to drive the industry to introduce packaging and printing techniques that emphasise the messages of quality and freshness. From food and beverage, to beauty and personal care, and even in pet products, positive consumer attitudes toward pure, natural ingredients and formulations resonate when a package’s artwork features matte finishes, earth tones and more understated colour palettes.

As an example, companies that market organic foods in stand-up pouches that are looking for a more natural appearance to their packaging are designing packages with matte finishes. With the proper preparation and choice of colour and pattern, products that cannot be packaged in paper because they require barrier protection can instead be packaged in laminates printed to closely resemble the surface of a brown paper bag, parchment, linen or any other natural texture.

Achieving a natural finish on flexible packaging often represents only part of the challenge for some consumer brands, especially when they also require a window to show product contents. The winners will be brand owners that leverage a packaging manufacturer’s printing technology and experience to achieve this look, while matching all of the subtle textures and effects from the original artwork. The result is really the best of both worlds for organic brands: a natural-looking exterior texture with a window to showcase the wholesomeness, quality and visual appeal of the products inside.

Vivid Visuals

In the highly competitive battle for buyer attention, heightened visual impact in flexible packaging is being used aggressively to enhance point-of-sale appeal and communicate quality. Today, this is especially true for the growing number of store brands as they routinely appear adjacent to – or above – their named brand counterparts.

On larger packages, photographic and highly detailed illustrative images are being printed edge-to-edge to achieve extreme visual impact. On smaller packaging, where space is a premium, precise visuals are being used to generate product appeal, while leaving sufficient area for brand identification, promotional messages and ingredient listings.

Interest in and the effective application of visual enhancement techniques is not the sole province of CPG companies. They are equally important in the design of medical packaging to inform and communicate. Whether instructions are for storage, use or disposal, process or sterilisation indicators, or any other information, the right size, colour combinations and placement of text, symbols and pictograms will directly impact the satisfaction of the end-user, thus meeting one of the design-related Good Manufacturing Practice requirements.

Advancements in high-definition (HD) flexographic printing are directly supporting this trend. Gravure printing has previously been considered the standard in delivering high-quality images, but has its limitations – primarily its cost and volume requirements. HD flexographic results compare favourably with gravure and the technique is widely accepted as more cost-effective, enabling more brand owners than ever to present their product in the best possible manner. Consistent, vibrant colours – combined with higher print quality from the HD process – result from the use of smaller, printable dots. Other benefits include more stable tones, smooth gradients, sharper images and a greater colour palette. Brand owners understand that packaging featuring amazing, eye-catching images is well-positioned to win the battle on the shelf.

Critical Colour Consistency

Brights, fluorescents, metallics; on today’s flexible packaging, colour is everywhere. And, as with high-quality image reproduction, technical advancements have also shaped this trend. This holds true for colour effects as well, such as printing gold ink on a metallic foil to produce a dazzling sparkle-like effect. Virtually any colour or colour effect can be reproduced on any size package. This is especially vital for brands with proprietary colour formulations or unique colour combinations.

Ink Cataloging
With today’s press profile capabilities, a brand-specific colour can be sampled, have its unique formulation identified, be matched on press and then have the specifications catalogued for future use. For brands with many lines of products and package sizes, colour matching is critical to brand uniformity.

In response to this increasingly complex challenge, a growing number of CPG companies are choosing to partner with converters that use digital ink cataloging and mixing systems to ensure colour consistency. Once colour profile data has been established, inks are automatically and consistently mixed to achieve the precise formula, enabling the printer to duplicate the exact colours in every future run. This digital library – enabling instant call-up of previously used formulas – and the resultant automatic mixing is quickly becoming a mandatory capability brand owners expect from their packaging suppliers.

Reverse Printing
Other techniques are also being used to maintain colour and design integrity throughout the package’s lifecycle. While the use of in-line digital printing continues to grow, the standard for medical packaging and consumables continues to be reverse printing.

During this process, bright colours have their chroma maximised and are protected from scratching. Instead of surface printing the package, the application of print and colour occurs on the back side of a clear substrate in a mirror image of the desired result. The substrate is then laminated as the outer layer of the rest of the structure. When viewed, the image is seen as intended while being protected by an outer layer of film.

When this process is used for food or medical products, it ensures content integrity and compliance with industry standards and government regulations, by preventing inadvertent content contamination by hand transfer of the minute residue generated by surface-printed inks.

Balancing Act

Across all trends, technological progress has created a virtually limitless range of printing options and choices for flexible packaging design. Recent innovations, such as gearless printing, simplify the printing process by replacing the large, heavy cylinders used at each colour station with sleeves of different thicknesses. This results in more flexibility for a wider variation of dimensions and repeats on a press run, as well as substantially reducing the changeover time. The net effect is to reduce the cycle time and deliver what each customer needs sooner.

Included in making these design trends a commercial reality are the people who drive the technology and operate the equipment. Technical advancements aside, printing will always contain an artistic element, and the most successful packaging manufacturers are those whose pre-press and print operations are staffed by employees that apply a graphic artist’s point of view to their daily responsibilities.

Clear, impactful design and visuals are equally important, although a unique balance must be found in medical packaging compared to, say, the food industry. Content, design and layout decisions must continually be weighed against working within a finite amount of print space, considering the virtual library of information that can be communicated. Branding, product identification, instructions for use and disposal, barcodes and multiple languages are just a few examples.

Conclusion

Customers of packaging manufacturers are best served by partnering with suppliers that can deliver the appropriate balance of creativity and technology, by applying the right process and the right equipment to create the greatest value. The best printing results will always require ‘the personal touch’, and the printing department is the unsung hero that greatly contributes to meeting today’s exacting and evolving package design requirements.

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Domenick Pasqualone is currently National Vice President of Sales at LPS Industries. He began his packaging career with a customer service role at LPS after graduating from Muhlenberg College. Dom steadily progressed through a series of more responsible positions including Division Manager and Product Manager for LPS’s coated products and reclosable products business units. He has been in his current role of National Sales Leader for all LPS products since mid-2012.
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