Durable

For the past several years, packaging has become an important asset in a brand’s marketing efforts. Though packaging was once little more than an afterthought, it now receives almost as much design and development as the product it contains. With more emphasis on packaging, more parties are involved in the design process. The process of package development requires multiple iterations of packaging prototypes before it can be considered final, which when done in the traditional manner of package preparation, is both costly and time consuming. 

3-D printing offers an affordable and convenient alternative to the traditional prototyping. A 3-D printer enables packaging prototypes to be developed, either in actual size or scaled down, and this inexpensive method of finalizing the packaging before committing to expensive tooling can help improve profitability. It also offers the advantage of being able to try out different configurations before settling on the final design, allowing clients to see and feel the packaging before designers commit to a prototype tool and produce the packaging in mass. With new product launches, clients can even provide product design files ahead of time to packaging designers, who can then develop the packaging before the product is even created. So, if 3-D printing is on your radar and you plan to invest in one, consider the following steps to ensure that your investment is a success that brings added value to your organization’s packaging line.

1. Research Your Options

There is an ever growing number of different 3-D printers available for a wide range of uses with new companies and offerings launching regularly. In order to maximize your investment, it’s important to understand the differences between 3-D printers on the market today, so that you can match the appropriate printer to your specific needs. As a good starting point, there are three types worth exploring: filament 3-D printers, stereolithography 3-D printers and printers that prepare high-resolution 3-D modeling from ordinary printer paper. 

Filament printers use a process called filament deposition manufacturing. Similar to a glue gun, plastic filament is melted and deposited into thin layers that eventually build the model. These can be low-cost and a good starting point for 3-D printing. Stereolithography printers use a photosensitive resin and a digital projector to produce very high-resolution objects. These printers, though pricier than filament printers, tend to have a faster printing process. If material pricing is an issue, printers that use ordinary printer paper can make models via paper and high-density glue, and offer drastically lower material costs than other options on the market.

2. Assess Current Needs 

Before narrowing down your options, it’s crucial to assess your current and future needs for packaging design. 3-D printers vary in quality and price points, ranging in cost from $500 models that can be purchased on Amazon to special-order models that cost tens of thousands of dollars. Models with higher price points will print more consistent products versus those at lower price points, so if you need to print in mass quantity, this is a quality to consider. Also, the need for color, print speed and size are all factors that should be incorporated into the 3-D printer purchasing decision.

By purchasing a 3-D printer based on solid research and current needs, packaging managers can offer an effective alternative to the traditional and expensive ways of creating sample packaging.

3. Map the Benefits

The traditional method of developing packaging prototypes includes regularly re-producing sample packages to meet client or designers’ needs, costing time and money. By using a 3-D printer, changes can be made instantaneously and multiple samples can be developed at one time, therefore avoiding typical prototyping costs that are associated with having to invest in a prototype tool.

To warrant tooling costs, organizations must create thousands of packages per month. 3-D printers open up the possibility to simply 3-D print packaging, as it is needed, offering brands the ability to print on-demand packaging allowing for just-in-time production while minimizing unnecessary warehousing and overhead costs. Another benefit of 3-D printers in packaging development is having the ability to run time trials on package assembly.  

Looking forward, 3-D printers are only going to improve in speed and quality. Printers in the future will help companies produce more high-quality items and finalized products. As 3-D printing technology grows ever better, so will its potential to revolutionize the way we design and produce all kinds of packaging leading to continued innovation the likes of which our industry has never seen. 

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