While most brewers develop new craft varieties hoping that customers will be attracted to the flavor or taste, many American consumers choose their beer at the time of purchase, which means packaging can sometimes be just as important as the beverage alcohol inside the bottle or can. This puts smaller brewers in a challenging position. They need to find ways to create vibrant designs that make their brands stand out from the crowd while remaining cost effective when producing labels in short runs.
The good news: The craft beer movement’s dedication to uniqueness and variety aligns with the flexibility that digital and hybrid printing offers. By tapping into the power of digital printing, brewers can meet branding goals with sharper, more elaborate design details to make labels distinctive from their competitors.
Advantages of digital printing for craft beer labels
Through digital printing, the unique brand experience that craft brewers hope to achieve with each product becomes more feasible while improving durability and functionality of the label.
When a new craft beer product is released, the quick changeover and short-run capabilities of a digital printer allows brewers to easily add seasonal or regional designs, as well as variations on a brew. Digital printing offers the capability to produce a wide variety of labels because converters can switch to a different graphic in a moment’s notice. In those cases, using a label template design with variations can greatly reduce setup time and allow for changes like variation in flavor or promotional designs.
Another advantage of digital printing is the potential to print on-site. With traditional flexo printing requiring platemaking and more space for equipment, it made more sense for beer producers to outsource printing. With digital printing becoming smaller in footprint and easier to use with greater capabilities, it makes sense for brewers to invest in digital print technology.
On-site printing capabilities allow for a more efficient turnaround time right in house. As brewers are creating new flavors of beer, they can produce labels in the next room. Having the technology on site ensures brewers can create labels to match the quantity of beer that is produced.
Aesthetics and functionality
Functionally, brewers seek waterproof labels that will withstand consistent and heavy exposure to water and other moisture-related conditions. Aesthetically, they need a label that will attract consumers. Digital printing can help craft brewers compete with the larger brewing companies who have the advantage of brand loyalty and recognition.
Whether brewers are seeking a glossy or matte label, a warehouse-type look, or a boutique feel, digital printing technology allows infinite options in what beer producers and distributors are trying to achieve with their products.
Digital printing is becoming more capable of high-quality printing, offering the ability to print high-impact graphics that catch a consumer’s eye, evoke emotion, or create interest in new and unique flavors. While the outcome is often dependent on the substrate and how ink is absorbed and reacts, there are many well-known brands who have labels that are produced with digital.
Even when labels use a metallic, gloss or shiny texture — mainly developed through more complicated processes such as multiple pass printing — digital printing is becoming more capable of producing those premium labels without complex operations.
Certain substrates will always pose more challenges. For example, the glossier the substrate, the less ink will be absorbed, so there are more considerations in production. Overall, digital printing can achieve what used to be done through multiple passes on a standard printing press, or multiple finishing operations, to achieve a similar look.
Additionally, converters can always add an embellishment within the finishing operation, such as a special stamp, foil, or spot color, depending on the value of the product. But more often, converters are moving toward a matte-finish, shabby-chic look – which is not only specific to the craft beer industry, but also allows for endless cost-effective options to create unique labels for attracting consumers.
Craft brewing is all about exclusivity in a product, which means a wide variety of flavors, which can be customized to a region or a specific time of year, that can then be shared with the market quickly — which is exactly what digital printing can offer.
Carl DuCharme is a Commercial Support Team Leader for Paper Converting Machine Company (PCMC). For over 100 years, PCMC has been a leader in flexographic printing, bag converting, tissue converting, packaging, and nonwovens technology. To learn more about PCMC and the company’s products, services, and expertise, please visit PCMC’s website and contact pages at www.pcmc.com.