Getting a New View
Bringing a product to market is no easy process. Developing packaging mockups and prototypes, sending them out for approvals, and then making the required adjustments can take a painstakingly long time.
But if packaging can be designed in 3D and shared virtually across the supply chain, the speed to market is drastically increased, saving time and money for brand owners, printers and designers, freeing up valuable resources.
The Advantages of Virtual
Larry Moore, VP of partner programs for Esko, gives an example of the benefits of 3D design, referring to the packaging used for a football. Using conventional techniques, Moore explains the packaging designer would go into a CAD drafting program and make measurements of the football, to accommodate its size, as well as the inserts that must be positioned to hold the ball securely inside the packaging. Then, the designers would create a representation of the box, complete with artwork, using design software, such as Adobe Illustrator.
“The packaging and the graphics need to highlight the football and be attractive enough to draw attention [from] the consumer,” he says.
Then, to create a prototype, the graphics are printed and the corrugated material and inserts are cut out by hand or on a CAD table.
“You place the football in the package and make sure that it’s secure, finish folding up the package and send it on to a focus group and see how it stacks up,” Moore says. “You might also mock up the shipping carton. The entire process could take a month to a month and a half.”
But, by incorporating 3D software such as Esko’s Studio suite and ArtiosCAD software, the process becomes far more streamlined and less time consuming.
“You can take a virtual image — a 3D representation of the football and design the package around it,” says Moore. “You can take your cursor and draw a box around the football, choosing what materials you’ll use, such as a full-coated E-flute corrugated, and the software will generate a box design.
“You can look at the box in virtual form, drag lines through the ball to determine inserts and build a structure based on the placement of the line and material chosen.”
3D design software isn’t only beneficial for structural design, Moore says. Graphic design and application can be applied to the virtual packaging and then quickly visualized in its completed form.
“You can return to the flattened package, take the dieline into Illustrator and fold it back up to see a representation of the full box with the football inside,” he explains. “You can apply graphics virtually and have a complete prototype in hours rather than days.”
By taking this approach, Moore says the virtual packaging can take the place of a corrugated prototype. It can also be placed in a simulated retail environment to compare it to its competition.
“You can even show what the package will look like on a store shelf next to competitive footballs,” he adds.
In fact, an entire shipping container — or even a shipping skid — can be laid out virtually in 3D on screen so shipping space can be maximized in advance and the chances of product damage can be reduced.
Moore explains that just five years ago, tools like this were viewed as futuristic. But now, the reality is that a 28- to 30-day process can be reduced to a day and a half.
“Speed to market is incredibly fast and you’re reducing your carbon footprint by keeping everything on screen,” he notes.
The Growth of 3D
3D applications are growing rapidly and creative users are becoming more knowledgeable about and experienced with 3D technologies, says Nick Gilmore, CEO of Creative Edge Software. However, he says that the packaging industry has not yet fully leveraged 3D capabilities and opportunities.
“Packaging is a very touchy-feely business,” Gilmore says. “You have to be able to spin the box, bag or bottle; view it in the right lighting; and see it in any environment.”
Creative Edge Software is the company behind iC3D, which is a software application for real-time 3D digital packaging design and mock-ups. The solution can be used for several packaging segments, including cartons, labels, flexible packaging, bottles, shrink wraps and in-store product visualization.
Using 3D design and virtual prototyping can simulate the necessary physical requirements of packaging design while saving time, labor and money, Gilmore says.
“In the ‘old days,’ the creative development timeline could take 33 business days just to have a prototype … in your hand [and it] cost $3,000,” says Gilmore. “We wanted to cut the ideation, design and approval cycle by half or more.”
To make that happen, iC3D considers elements including lighting, shadows, wrapping (for barcodes and logos) and modeling, creating a photorealistic product mock-up that can be shared on screen and online. It can also generate a very high-resolution file that can be output on a 3D printer.
Additionally, dynamic backgrounds can be incorporated to visualize a product on a shelf or any retail environment.
“You can show what a product would look like in five different stores next to five different competitive brands,” Gilmore says. “Is this how you want your new garlic-and-herb flavor biscuits to look next to our paprika flavor? There’s no need to have the actual product before promoting it.”
Gilmore explains that creating a pricing structure for 3D prototyping can seem challenging. For example, he says that with conventional prototyping, the process can be as easy as charging $500 for two box prototypes and generating an invoice for $1,000.
“But what could you charge to present a client with a series of 3D virtual prototypes?” he says. “Why not charge [accordingly] to prevent the creation of failed prototypes and allow much faster ideation than ever before?”
With 3D prototyping, players along the supply chain can enjoy increased peace of mind as potential errors can be caught quickly and easily. For example, Gilmore says if a label for a clear bottle containing a red drink was designed on a clear stock with red text, it would not be an effective label design.
“That error would be caught in a second using a 3D mock-up,” he says.
Another perceived barrier is ease of use, Gilmore says. But, using 3D is not akin to practicing “the black arts,” he explains, stating that the technology is available to anyone versed in Photoshop and Illustrator. The reality is that 3D software can provide an easy way to create accurate mock-ups, cost-effectively and quickly.
Getting on the Same Page
Stephen Kaufman, chief product officer of BLUE Software, a provider of brand lifecycle management solutions, explains that incorporating 3D technology into the packaging manufacturing process can mean different things to different people.
3D can facilitate the process from exploratory stages through design, prototyping and approvals. But it can also be used for marketing, merchandising and retailing purposes.
“We’re seeing growth in 3D for e-commerce to provide images for e-retailers such as Amazon, Walmart and Kroger,” he says. “Some agencies specialize in glamour 3D shots that show liquid flowing into a [sports drink] bottle and that might cost $10,000 to $15,000, compared to a typical product image that costs in the $150-$400 dollar range, depending on quantity and quality.”
BLUE’s solutions for packaging workflow management provide routing and tracking from design through proofing and printing to ensure consistency and quality control all along the workflow. Kaufman explains that 3D creative tools facilitate a smoother ride from design to production.
“A folding carton designer creates artwork that matches the approved dieline,” he says. “However, in the interim, prior to production, the converter may change equipment or the type of glue that will be used. Or there may be a new version of the artwork.”
If all members of the supply chain aren’t notified, changes could render the original artwork inaccurate.
Kaufman explains that employing 3D at the design stage simplifies comp creation and leverages online proofing to maintain accuracy.
“You can wrap that 2D Illustrator file around a 3D structure, and marry them together to create an interactive experience [for approvals],” he explains.
Kaufman says that 3D is gaining steam throughout the supply chain, including with packagers and converters.
“[They] are looking for the introduction of 3D as early in the process as they can get it — ideally without special training and at a low cost of entry,” Kaufman asserts. “Almost all packaging artwork is created in Illustrator, but 3D proofs can also be routed and stored as PDFs, and viewed in Acrobat.
“Plus, when you move to a 3D model, people are more aware of considerations — such as how type is laid out on package — and treat a design as ‘more real’ in 3D,” he continues. “From a social engineering perspective, 3D creates a sense of urgency and of reality that is often lacking in 2D workflows.”