Looking back at Fespa

Epson's impressions from this year’s FESPA. Two big trends stand out – lower emissions from ink and solvents, and mass customisation.

Looking back at Fespa

A look at what we saw during Fespa 2015

When I was a lad my dad worked in the flexible packaging industry, and on several Saturday mornings I visited his factory. My memories are of truck-loads of biscuits wrappers, ink, glues, solvents and coatings – all highly volatile and somewhat smelly – and very good at setting off my asthma. So my trip to FESPA was therefore made with some trepidation. However, I’m very pleased to report that I survived unharmed!

One of the key things that I learned from my visit is that inkjet technologies and the rise of digital printing is changing the environment within print shops and packaging companies. Digital printing has created flexibility and ‘personalisation’, and these have moved the cost model from a drive towards low unit costs to a desire for presenting the customer with a unique experience – whether that is a small volume product or a unique personalized label with the customer’s name on it. This in turn has driven the uptake of inkjet printers, and they have in turn driven the support of aqueous inks that make far less use of volatile chemicals. In other words, inkjet printers help you breathe more easily (apologies the makers of cough sweets).

Another point I learned from FESPA is the rise of dye-sublimation printing and its use to create a huge range of objects. Epson’s stand itself was made of many materials created using a dye sublimation process (such as work tops, table tops and fabrics), and our partners Sublitec were showing a simple process that used dye sublimation techniques to print onto a range of hard 3D objects. Some of their examples included the platforms and heals of shoes, trinket boxes, fridge magnets and phone cases, all printed with the same graphic theme used on the stand.

Live on our stand we also demonstrate the latest printers to create dye sublimation transfers, and with the support of partners, turning those into stunningly printed fabrics for furnishings, clothing and soft signage. Yet these could be created in any quantity from a few square metres to whatever is needed – a major turn-around from my earliest encounters with commercial printing where volume was king.

It’s true that companies packing peas and chickens still need their bags by the tonne, and chocolate makers still require truck-loads of bright wrappers. But while it’s true that they will always need to drive down the unit cost of their packaging, now there is a new trend. The creation of digitally managed ink-jet printing has led to personalization of packaging and new printing processes that use less harmful chemicals. Labels, wrappers, boxes, bottles – all can now be created to short-run or even unique designs. These new technologies mean that packaging, signage, fabrics and furniture can all be printed in quantities so small that they’d cause my dad to faint (without the assistance of toluene or acetone). And I think that is just as impressive as eight pallet loads of salt’n’vinegar crisp packets.

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