The digital revolution has its sights on a new challenge, and decorating three-dimensional objects offers no shortage of puzzles or possibilities.
By Debbie Thorp
Product decoration using inkjet technology isn’t new – systems have in fact been on the market for many years. But recent developments have made decorating three-dimensional objects (not to be confused with 3D inkjet or additive manufacturing) one of the most talked-about segments in the industry.
Sales of small-format flatbed printers designed for decorating promotional items are increasing; more vendors are entering the market and the systems feature new capabilities. Also, we’ve seen significant developments in the mid- to high-end range of production printers. Systems that were demonstrated at tradeshows a few years ago are now proving themselves in real production environments.
Personalization and engagement are buzzwords that have been permeating marketing campaigns and social media in recent years with companies vying for “likes” on Facebook and developing ever more innovative ways of enticing us to buy their products. Numerous fast-moving consumer goods companies are now using digital printing technologies to add value to their brands and increase the “user experience.” What arguably started with Coca Cola’s “Share a Coke” campaign has exploded into personalized Nutella jars, Heinz soups, My Heineken bottles, and even customized dog food with Purina’s Just Right range – and there are many, many more examples.
The benefits and drivers for using digital printing technologies are well-known, including cost-effective short runs; just-in-time production; design freedom; no screens, clichés, pads, or time-consuming setup costs; and variable-data capability offering the potential for every product to be different. Then there are the particular advantages that inkjet technology brings as a noncontact technology that can print onto different product shapes – not only flat objects, but also tubes, conical shapes, and even tubs. Inkjet can also print onto structured surfaces, creating unusual visual and haptic effects, enabling decoration in areas not possible with labels. In short, inkjet can potentially operate in the same space as screen, dry offset, and pad printing – and yet offer the additional high-value benefits of a digital print technology.
Printing onto spheres, cylinders, and uneven surfaces is a challenge inkjet developers have happily embraced, offering direct print alternatives in applications where pad printing or labels would have been used in the past. Courtesy of Roland DGA.
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