It’s No Picnic –Polischuk

By Tom Polischuk

One of the more common themes for commercial printers—especially in the past decade or so—has been to consider moving into package-printing markets. It is not at all surprising that commercial printers would look in this direction. The volume of printed materials in the commercial sector has been decreasing steadily and significantly in many segments—books, magazines (ouch), advertising materials, transactional materials, and even something as simple as checks. If I’m a customer example of a company that was making a good return printing checks, that company is now trying to make up for about 85 percent less volume.

This issue includes an interesting article written by Erik Cagle, senior editor for our sister publication Printing Impressions. Titled “Massive Transformations” (p. 18), Cagle acknowledges the appeal that the package-printing market has for commercial printers: “You’ll never see a box of Frosted Flakes going online.” He follows this up with two of the significant challenges that commercial printers would face if they elected to go down this path.

First is the issue of complexity in package printing: “Migrating from the commercial world to packaging is hardly a laughing matter; the investment in equipment, education, and training required to make the leap ain’t no joke,” he writes. The second issue concerns the competitive landscape that already exists in the package-printing arena: “If commercial printers believe their market is oversaturated with competitors, they will soon find that many packaging segments are tough nuts to crack, overflowing with suppliers.”

These are both significant competitive barriers. The package-printing market overall incorporates a very wide range of materials—substrates, inks, coatings, adhesives—and the equipment (and skill) needed to process them. The amount of variables and interactions approaches exponential proportions.

The number of existing package printers serving the market—whether labels, flexible packaging, folding cartons, or corrugated—is the second hurdle. To varying degrees, each of these areas is oversupplied, which has led to much industry consolidation that will continue in the years ahead.

This is not to say that the current stock of package-printing companies should sit back and not recognize the potential of this formidable competition. Cagle highlights three commercial printers that have successfully expanded into package printing; one into prime labels, one into folding cartons, and one into high-end niche markets using synthetic and lenticular materials. Package printing has very little, if any, low-hanging fruit these days, but it does have fruit just the same, and many “diners” that would like to eat it for lunch.

Tom Polischuk, Editor-in-Chief

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