The Expanding Role of Premedia Companies in Package Prototyping

Tangible interaction with a physical product stimulates the most intimate of our senses and certainly affects consumer perception. Digital prototypes can simulate many embossing, varnish and texture effects without expensive dies or printing plates.
All images courtesy of CSW Inc

When the creators of the National Biscuit Co (Nabisco) entered American retail in the 1890s with their first branded and nationally marketed packaging—Uneeda Biscuits—they would never have imagined the kind of convoluted and expensive movement they had just started. Trillions of dollars later, packaging’s protective properties have become equally important to its “decoration.”

Packaging materials and packaging design merged, birthing a sophisticated weapon in the never-ending fight for total shelf domination. Designers, premedia providers and printers/converters are now full-time participants in this increasingly faster and ever-evolving marketing warfare.

In order to empower “marketing generals” to make smarter decisions, avoid costly surprises and strike the competition with surgical-like precision, premedia companies are expanding their services and increasing their interaction with brand owners beyond their traditional role.

Using years of converting expertise and the newest visualization technologies, these digital warriors are closing the communication gap between converters and marketers in an attempt to shorten time to market and lower the cost required to bring new products from concept to cart.

Welcome to the Retail Jungle

With more than 45,000 big consumer products companies listed on stock markets, there are millions of recognizable brands surrounding us in the “retail jungle.” How can a brand stand out in this increasingly thick and dense marketplace without being eaten by bigger or more agile competitors?

The answer is not a matter of survival of the fittest, but rather part of brand strategy and perfectly executed packaging. This often requires an army of stakeholders who spend precious resources and tons of time to research, design, evaluate, produce and deliver these unique packages promoting the brand’s essence.

Over the last two decades, supporting converters and brands with technical consultations and more efficient converting tools became the solo mission of the prepress industry. Lately, that mission is expanding into even more sophisticated areas of design and structure optimization, cost calculation, recyclability, reproduction specs, graphics communication and manufacturing logistics.

Brands want their package to win among other SKUs screaming for consumers’ attention and premedia companies need to offer knowledge and resources to support them across the entire chain of the packaging development cycle.

Commercializing Mona Lisa

Today’s premedia specialists have been mastering the unique fusion of art and science with growing emphasis on predicting outcomes while avoiding any unwanted surprises and costly mistakes. Packaging prototypes are important tools in that process. They are a visual and physical confirmation of the design’s intended result. My firm is one such company that has engaged in creating a collaborative and efficient connection between agencies, brand owners and their converters, using state-of-the-art technologies and creativity to deliver a more cohesive, powerful brand image.

Using advanced algorithms, 3D models of the bottles are virtually wrapped in the simulation software with exact shrink film properties, imported from the manufacturer’s specs. The accurately scaled models of the digitally wrapped multipacks are then saved into 3D PDF format for further review and integration testing before progressing down the development pipeline. The final results are indistinguishable from a physically converted version and may not require any further “grid testing.”

Working hand-in-hand with prepress counterparts, visualization specialists—equipped with large-format inkjet devices, digital cutting tables, various laminators, shrink tunnels and thermal sealers—diligently create a realistic prediction of the final package and remove many unknowns from the manufacturing cycle.

But each agency’s carefully crafted work—to them, a “packaging Mona Lisa”—needs a reality check, in order to meet the harsh requirement of further commercialization. Built by premedia and visualization specialists, physical prototypes match indistinguishably what will later be produced by the converting equipment at full speed and scale, including custom substrates, accurate colors, foil stamping, varnishes, textures, special enclosures, embossing, etc.

The process is designed to reveal certain aspects of the three-dimensional package that were unforeseen by stakeholders working solely with a flat color proof. This is especially true when it comes to flexible packaging, like bags, pouches and multipacks made using high-barrier foil, metalized polyester and clear, or shrinkable, films.

Beside the visual confirmation, the touchy-feely aspect of physical mockups (shape, form, size, closure, texture, etc.) usually leads to additional feedback. Tangible interaction with a physical product stimulates the most intimate of our senses and certainly affects consumer perception. This is one of the reasons why better than 50 percent of us still visit stores before buying things online.

When constructed correctly, mockups are ideal for the focus groups, sales samples, and various evaluations and presentations without investment in costly tooling and press time. Alternatively, inaccurate prototypes can create huge excitement, only to become a big disappointment when the production run doesn’t match these falsely set expectations.

When the latter scenario occurs, it reinforces one message: it is essential for premedia providers to understand the converting process for any given packaging segment before attempting to produce accurate prototypes.