The Curious World of Printing and Packaging

Author: Lakshmi Sivadas

The Curious World of Printing and Packaging

From printing papers to cosmetics, and chips to ready to eat foods - we know exactly which ones to pick thanks to the big, bold and eye-catching brands printed on them. But what goes into packaging and ensuring these brands stand out?

Let’s face it. When buying products, we are first attracted by the packaging it comes in, the colour and shape of the material. And that holds true for nearly every product we consume. And what may seem like mere packaging often serves a bigger function that helps protect the material inside.

From the food industry which uses packaging for baked and frozen goods, to the consumer industry, which uses specialized printing processes to make everything from printed drinking cups to covers - packaging and printing is a big deal for every one of them and has varied requirements.

“We look at how different regulations like say in the European or Asian market can affect the type of packaging and printing materials used. We adjust the specifications and go step by step. If it is for food packaging all components should have declarations of compliance. There are different parameters to be considered for each new product specification, so, this is just the first step. At the end, we also have many internal trials where we put everything together and try to simulate the conditions that the packaging will undergo," explains Karolina Ciesielska, Technical Service and Development Manager from Walki, a leading European packaging company that also specialises in print and pre-press services.

The business of packing and printing

Only once these basic tests are done by Walki does it reach the customer or brand for further tests in real packing conditions and final approval. One example for this is the humble printer and copy paper in the office. There are many things about it that we take for granted.

The first thing you notice about it is the sheer abundance and ubiquity of it - wrapped reams of paper, neatly stacked in various office rooms for employees to use whenever they need it. The second, is the effort that goes into creating the perfect wrapped ream.

Ever noticed how they rarely slip out of your hand when you carry them? Or how every office always has one brand of paper that they use? It’s printed in big bold letters on the ream wrappers for every employee to see. These are just two of the many details that packaging and printing experts consider before giving the ream wrapper its final makeover.

“We use a coefficient of friction as one of the most important parameters in the ream wrapping business for ease of handling the wrapped ream. Once we know the parameters, we adjust it accordingly. For example, the standard A4 packaging wrapper will be more slippery than for other bigger paper sizes," explains Ciesielska.

That’s one part of the picture. The process begins with a discussion with the customer on what they require.

“We need to establish with the client not only the standard parameters for example humidity protection, shape and appearance of the packaging, but also, what the product is and how it will be packed. We collect all this information, and look for the best available material for it - the best in terms of strength, printing quality, protective properties, papers, laminates or films for the particular end use and so on. After that, we need information about the print layout and gluing or sealing techniques, depending on which we can decide on what type of inks or overprint varnish to use," says Ciesielska.

Support from start to finish

And it’s not about ream wrappers alone. Very similar processes are used in the manufacture of all kinds of packaging material. Packaging and printing companies today also go the extra mile to help customers achieve the results they want right from the word go. Just ask Walki.

“Our work starts when the customer is creating the design by helping them choose elements and patterns that look good when flexo-printed. It continues through the whole process including detailed documentation of the work-flow, colour separation, preparing the plates, choosing the right inks and the actual printing process," explains Marko Siltala, Executive Vice President (Industrial Packaging and Lean Operations) at Walki.

In addition to all of this, the packaging and printing sectors cannot ignore their environmental impacts - from greenhouse gases to toxic emissions from solvent-based inks and energy usage. This is why many companies like Walki are investing in packaging and printing that uses sustainable and energy efficient resources.

“Our plants in Poland, Finland, Russia and China use only environment-friendly, water-based inks. Modern technology enables printing even on films with water-based inks in addition to the traditional paper-based substrates. Many printing houses are still using-solvent based inks that affect the environment adversely, and are not good for the working environment in the production site," explains Siltala.

From print to you, in a heartbeat

And while the utmost care is taken in choosing the right materials, elements and colours, the speed of production cannot be ignored.

“In today’s dynamic world the speed of this process is becoming more and more important. It is also important to choose the right substrate to be printed including the correct barrier properties when needed. Walki is an expert in this as well. Last but not the least is to ensure that the supply chain model suits the customer best," emphasises Siltala.

This is crucial to brands, especially those catering to fast-moving consumer goods. They simply cannot afford delays or hugely expensive and time-consuming processes. Which is why companies like Walki spare no efforts in ensuring that the latest technologies are used to streamline operations.

“We have recently invested in a ten colour flexo-printing machine at our Jatne plant, apart from the thirteen machines additionally available overall at Walki. The width of the machines varies from 0.8 to 3.5 meters so we can serve a vast variety of applications. Walki follows a lean model where we try to improve our operations and production cycle on a daily basis. With all of this, we are also able to offer quick delivery and reaction times," says Marko.

So, the next time you pick any packaged product with remarkable print on it, remember, there is a lot more to it than what you see on the surface.

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