Corrugated Packaging: Design Opportunities and Cost Challenges

Author: David Zwang

Digital printed corrugated packaging offers FMCG brands a variety of opportunities to engage and convert new customers. For boutique brands, it is how they do business since they are looking for short runs to keep inventory costs down and design flexibility up, so the incremental cost is less of an issue than for larger brands. Since the ink becomes the determining cost factor in the analog vs. digital equation, reducing the digital ink cost is an imperative, especially for larger brands. Ultimately, we can expect that as digital inkjet adoption increases, there will be some reduction in ink cost. However even when that happens it still may not reach the lower cost of analog (flexo) ink.

Larger brands and even smaller brands are beginning to realize that they can adapt their designs to reduce the amount of ink used, which can significantly reduce the cost of digitally produced corrugated and bring it closer to flexo. According to Marc Jorge, the Technical Manager of the Barberan Digital Printing Division, the biggest challenge is working with the brands on what design works well with digital. “What is easy to do in flexo is sometimes difficult in single-pass digital, and what is difficult in flexo is easy in digital. What is cheap to do in flexo is expensive to do in digital and what is expensive to do in flexo is cheap to do in digital.” There is another option, that of using “hybrid” production incorporating flexo and digital inline, similar to what Zumbiel packaging and Kodak created for folding carton production. 

Larger brands are willing to bear an small incremental increase in cost to take advantage of the opportunities offered by digital print production, especially in marketing campaigns. While they are a re-packager and not a FMCG brand manufacturer, Amazon recently offered a great example. As one of the largest users of corrugated boxes, in an effort to distract attention from the mountains of boxes going to the landfill and promote their desire for sustainability, they have recently introduced a campaign on reuse of their corrugated boxes. They are also using it as a way to introduce their customers to the Amazon AR app, which I am sure will find other uses in the future.

During their recent Prime Day event, they are shipping certain purchases in a new eco-friendly designed carton which includes a QR code and a white pumpkin.

When you draw on the pumpkin and use the Amazon AR app on your mobile phone, you are presented with a simulation of a pumpkin with your design.

While this may not be the best “reuse” of a carton from an environmental perspective, it does highlight some of the possibilities offered by digitally printed corrugated cartons, and the added value it can present. Of course, the opportunities for client engagement and advertising are increasingly being used as a part of the “unboxing experience” by many online retailers from photobook producers to boutique brands, like the following box from Thrive Market.

The growth opportunities, technical and cost challenges in moving production from analog to digital are nothing new. We saw it in the 80s and 90s when digital print (toner) was introduced and are now experiencing the same types of issues, although there are also sales and manufacturing challenges for early adopter newcomers in digital corrugated production as well as old line corrugate converters. In the next article we will take a look at some of those.


I would like to address your interests and concerns in future articles as it relates to the manufacturing of Print, Packaging and Labels, and how, if at all, it drives future workflows including “Industry 4.0.” If you have any interesting examples of hybrid and bespoke manufacturing, I am very anxious to hear about them as well. Please feel free to contact me [email protected] with any questions, suggestions or examples of interesting applications.

This article originally appeared on WhatTheyThink is the global printing industry’s leading source for unbiased market intelligence. Copyright © 2020 WhatTheyThink. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission. For more like this, please consider becoming a member by visiting:

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