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Digital printing for craft beer: Improved economics with small production lots

High quality and artistry, inside and out

Digital printing provides the perfect solution for economical decoration of small production lots. Printing machines such as the D240.2 by Hinterkopf allow to send artwork directly from the creative computer to the printer. There are no printing plates or change-over delays, and virtually zero waste to consider. Those are some of the advantages which make this technology ever more attractive to the world of craft beer.

Over the past several years the craft brewing community have turned the brewing industry on its head. With their creative, new interpretations of traditional beer styles the new brewers worldwide have sparked a passion for beer. Most new players in this space are start-ups: eager to push the boundaries, open to new ideas, highly motivated teams that usually produce small batches of new beers with surprising nuance in flavor. To package the new creations in beverage cans and distribute them locally or regionally, can be economically challenging: conventional decorating techniques such as dry-offset is pricey for small lots, and in many situations not suitable. Creating printing plates, machine idle times for change-overs, energy intense heat-up times as well as start-up and run waste – all these factors are cost drivers when producing in smaller quantities.

Digital printing has become a viable alternative for the small and medium production lots. The world’s first industrial digital printing machine was introduced by Hinterkopf, leader in production lines for production and decoration of cylindrical hollow containers, already in 2013. “Every day our digital printing machines are producing over a million packaging containers in perfect quality. What’s exciting: over 250 different graphics daily are run by our customers”, says Alexander Hinterkopf, Managing Director of the family-owned machine innovator based in Eislingen in southern Germany. This large variety of print jobs is only made possible by digital printing, which does not require any printing plates, films or similar media. Print job change-over occurs at the push of a button, and the print results are perfect from first to very last copy. The cost structure in digital printing is predictable and linear, regardless a single can or 100.000 are produced. “A client recently produced two custom designed, unique cans for husband and wife for a wedding”, recalls Hinterkopf.

Another big advantage of digital printing: there are almost no lead times. Every print job is sent directly from the creative computer to the printing machine. “A brewer can create a custom artwork for a special edition beverage with extremely short lead times”, explains Alexander Hinterkopf. If, for example, the local football team scores a surprise victory in a cup match, or the weather turns and winter returns at the end of April – any occasion can be a special occasion. The special edition craft beer can be brought to the point of sale in its custom designed eye-catching beverage can, at very short notice. All this with photorealistic print quality, across the Pantone color spectrum, with razor sharp text in size as small as 2 point, and with full body printing up to the neck and shoulder area of the can.

The impressive versatility of digital printing is well known within the craft beer community. Canada based start-up company Hart Print for example built its processes around the D240.2 by Hinterkopf. The tried and tested machine is a perfect match for Hart Print’s requirements, which are centered around frequent change of graphics and short to medium runs. The print result is identical from first to very last copy, with virtually no scrap.

Over 30 million beverage cans have been produced by the Mount-Royal/Quebec based start-up, with between 30 to 35 different graphics each day. “These successful go-getters are full of passion for their business and can barely keep up with the overwhelming market demand”, states Alexander Hinterkopf. For that reason, it does come as no surprise that Hart Print has already placed an order for the second D240.2 digital printer from Hinterkopf. Other D240.2 machine owners such as DigiCan Printing in St.Charles/Missouri, Canworks in Denver or ALM in Barcelona/Spain have used digital printing to win over customers from the craft brewer community. “We are not even close to any market saturation. The hands-on, quality driven way of craft beer matches the spirit of the times, and digital printing is the perfect complement to provide packaging which is the perfect match to its creative content”, summarizes Alexander Hinterkopf.

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