What Defines Functional Printing?

The phrase “industrial printing” is becoming more and more an all encompassing term used to describe the printing process utilized by the manufacturing sector which has evolved over the last couple of decades. Throughout the world we are seeing a continued expansion of printing technology beyond product decoration, and this expansion, spurred by manufacturing, is pushing the role of print to the limit. From the advancing capabilities of industrial printing machines, to the development of versatile inks and print head technology, there are now many new and exciting solutions to traditional hurdles.

It’s fair to say that all of these changes and additions to the industry have created new segments in the market, and sometimes the lines can be blurred.

One such segment where confusion occurs is functional printing. The definition of functional printing varies (depending on who you are talking to). The concept of print ‘providing a function’ has been around since printing’s inception. Traditional methods such as a highway sign visually warning us those two lanes are about to merge, a watch dial, or the markings of a tape measure all provide a function. Are these examples of “functional printing”? Well, technically yes, but functional printing can include more than tics on an odometer.

Among the many breakthroughs that are occurring within the printing industry, is the ability of a printed substance to actually perform a function, such as ink that illuminates, or conducts electrical current. Yes, illumination and electronics are very far from being new technologies, but the ability to effectively ‘print them’ is still an industry at its infancy, redefining the role of print providing a function.  These growing capabilities are opening new doors for industrial manufacturers and process engineers charged with ever changing market demands and ink manufacturers are glad to follow suit. The manufacturers who stimulate this growth are at the forefront of these new developments. Robin McMillan (European Marketing Manager of Industrial Inks at Sun Chemical) believes that functional and industrial print are “two sides of the same coin”. More specifically, he prefers to talk about ‘Functional Industrial Specialty Print’, which he describes as: “a group of markets where printing is used as part of a manufacturing process or as a functional part of the end product.”

This partnership between manufacturers and industrial printing is just one example of how the definition of functional printing will change and develop as it ‘creates and competes’ to meet the needs of such a wide range of industries.

Short-Run Printing – The New Digital Megatrend

It’s no secret that we live in an on-demand world. Technology has provided us with immediate gratification in nearly all aspects of our lives. Print on demand is a perfect example of how the digital age has redefined the what, how and when of our printing needs.

Albeit a less popular buzz-word, short-run printing is becoming an ‘industry equivalent’ in many respects in the world of commercial and industrial printing.

Manufacturers need to enable their clients with the ability to produce smaller, customized quantities in a cost-effective manner. This is proving as necessary on the industrial printing side of the industry as it is the consumer printing side.

“Customers want to do shorter runs. They want to do shorter runs, because they want to version, or they want to have personalization, or they want to run very specific campaigns. We see those same megatrends that are happening in the core (publishing, transactional, commercial printing) are happening in the packaging industry”, said Eric Weisner (VP & GM of Hewlett Packard) in a recent interview.

The Benefits to Companies (Large and Small)

Although digital printing has been commonplace in the home and office environment for some time now, it is still referred to as a change of revolutionary measure in the professional printing world.

The efficiency and profitability that digital printing creates is stirring up a world of possibilities in the printing industry. It is driving innovation and pushing companies to new limits, all very good things.

Among short-run digital printing’s many benefits is the fact that it is not company size-centric. While the benefit to small businesses is obvious, larger companies with hundreds of products benefit equally. The ability to print the amounts needed at a particular time (and apply changes ‘on the fly’) makes short run printing just as appealing to big business.

It’s all about meeting deadlines and staying within (or below) budget, regardless of who you are.

Endless Opportunities: What the Numbers Are Saying

Commercial printing currently makes up close to 40% of the worldwide $901 billion print industry. Over the past 20 years, digital printing has literally transformed the industry (initially at the consumer level). Think about how receptive the market was to the introduction of personalized cards and calendars? We love the ability to make something ‘our own’ through personalization.

Digital printing has given us the ability to innovate endlessly. High quality, short run capabilities (with constantly improving technology), offering the ability to print on virtually anything…in small amounts and with variations as well.

Digital short run packaging has hit a high gear with the private labeling of in-demand goods, personal care products, food  and beverages, seasonal packaging and special events to name a few. It has also created an affordable and flexible means for brands to test the waters with short runs of new products, as well as testing those new products in different languages.

Industrial Printing: Short Run and the Manufacturing Process

Digital short run printing (for both decorative and functionality purposes) during the manufacturing process is another large segment. Medical devices, automotive parts, textile and glass are all industries that are prospering from both digital and its short run capabilities. When it comes to innovation, market testing and customer requirements, digital short run is becoming more and more an obvious choice.

“The migration to customized digital solutions that satisfy the needs of brand owners and product managers is why equipment manufacturers are developing new and innovative solutions in imaging, inks, material deposition, and printing technologies.” says Ron Gilboa, Director of FIPS.

When we stop and take a look at the substrates that digital short run printing can print on (from both the decorative and functional perspectives) it is easy to envision the boundless opportunities and the inevitability of growth. The technology now exists to digitally short run print on metal, glass, plastic, wood, wax, fabrics, ceramic…even food.

Direct-to-Shape: Replacing the Printed Label and More!

As Marcus Timson well stated, “Printing and placing labels onto packaging and products is big business.” As a segment of the printing industry that is approaching $50 billion, there is no shortage of innovation brewing as to the possibility of replacement of the printed label. Businesses are starting to realize the economics of it, while also beginning to embrace the new possibilities that come with direct-to-shape. The flexibility of direct-to-shape compared to printed labels allows for more customization and more creative freedom. The ability to effectively print directly onto various contours opens a world of possibilities.

Decorative Examples

  • Clothing
  • Fabrics
  • Home Furnishing
  • Flooring
  • Toys
  • Bottles/Jars
  • Helmets
  • Signs
  • Candles
  • Glasses

Functional Examples

  • Circuitry
  • Sensors
  • Batteries
  • Catheters & IV’s
  • Instruments
  • Display Panels
  • Antennas
  • Dashboards
  • Switches

…the list goes on!

 Conclusion: So Much Can Be Done In the “Short Run”

Digital short run printing within the realm of industrial manufacturing is opening the doors to enormous opportunities. When technology creates the ability to innovate cost-effectively and with less and less creative limits, a renaissance of sorts occurs. Companies are able to introduce new products in a manner that is less risky, new markets are created at a faster rate, and providers of the technology are continually inspired to invent new capabilities. This is what the age of industrial digital printing is creating. A kind of new “Industrial Age” in and of itself.

Industrial Printing Takes Branding to Next Level

Industrial printing is considered by many industry experts to be the greatest advancement in the printing industry in decades, and for good reason. We are seeing the opening up of endless opportunities in the personalization, geo-customization and consumer interaction of product packaging.

The ability to connect with consumers in a more personal and engaging manner than that of your competition is more important than ever now. Digital printing has become a ‘game changer’ in creating an efficient, cost-effective way for companies to make this happen.

Whether it is diverse packaging versions, multi-lingual labeling or custom messages, digital printing allows for short runs that keep your consumer loyalty high, while keeping production costs low.

Significant Growth in Industrial and Functional Print Markets

The industrial and functional printing industry is expected to grow another 62% by 2020 (becoming a 107 billion dollar industry). “Printing technology is widely used to decorate items from architectural and automotive glass to ceramics, electronics and textiles with new functions including biomedical, display and photovoltaics becoming significant”.

Although analog printing methods are still widely used, digital printing is growing most significantly here as well. New inkjet inks and fluid are creating new opportunities, and the overall efficiency and cost –effectiveness of digital printing is creating an inevitable shift in the industry.

“Industrial functional print is growing as demand grows for construction, automotive, electronics and manufactured products that use print – and there is more print involved in the manufacturing processes. This is in stark contrast to publication and commercial print, where volumes are declining,” said Sean Smyth, print consultant and author of The Future of Functional and Industrial Print to 2020.

Why Digital Printing is Making a Difference

Although digital printing is still in its relative infancy, it is unquestionably one of, if not the most revolutionary advancements in the history of printing. Digital printings superior accuracy, speed and short run capability has created an industry game changer…and we’re just getting started. Its many benefits include the following:


Digital printing eliminates the need for any press preparation. The printing process is extremely simpler. No plate mounting, no adjustments, no ink keys and minimal setup. This means production begins almost immediately and the finished product is delivered much more quickly. As the saying goes, time is money. Digital printing saves a ton of it!


The financial savings provided by digital printing is monumental. The ability to provide short-run print jobs eliminates the need for minimum quotas, prep time (associated with offset printing) and results in quicker delivery. This all equates to lower overall costs and the ability to offer your services to a wider range of businesses.


When you go digital, your company’s green status is elevated right away. This is because (unlike conventional printing) the pre-press stages involving photo chemicals, plates, ink keys and other materials no longer exist.


Due to the non-existence of plate changes and setup fees, digital printing offers the ability to make design changes quickly and with minimal effort. This is becoming increasingly essential in a world where Web-to-Print and Print-on-Demand markets are growing rapidly.

The Future of Digital Printing

The digital printing industry has increased by more than 400% over the past 10 years. According to Smithers Pira, the digital print market will reach 225% of its 2013 value by 2024. Reasons for the growth cited their report The Future of Digital Printing to 2024 include the following:

  • Improved customer service levels
  • Increased personalization and versioning
  • New revenue streams for customers
  • The ability to produce high quality short runs
  • Impact on labeling and packaging industry

The report also states that while electrophotography is currently a leading contributor to the growth of the digital market, inkjet is the sector that is growing more rapidly. It is expected to account for 53% of the digital print volume by 2024.

The future appears very bright for the digital printing industry, as increased volume is expected in printed packaging, electronics, medical, automotive, glass and textiles.

Engineered Printing Solutions designs and builds specialized machines to fit whatever unique application you can dream up. We partner with you to create a machine that satisfies your requirement 100%. Visit us at www.epsvt.com

EPS proudly offers The XD-70 Multi-Color Industrial Inkjet “image direct” from computer to print. The perfect solution for short or long runs with quick changeovers Single Pass Inkjet Printing and variable data. This printer is ideal for multicolor printing on flat and semi-flat surfaces on a variety of substrates and can be customized to meet your printing needs.

Anti-Counterfeit Packaging – A Primer

While there are many types of security features used in product packaging, the ‘big three’ categories are usually defined as Overt, Covert and Forensic.

  • Overt – This type of security contains a visible feature, enabling packaging to be validated quickly and easily through visual inspection.  They are best used where the general public is a part of your policing in the field. These features are usually more readily available and therefore less secure, and include holograms, color shift inks, security fibers, floating images/ patterns, etc.
  • Covert – This type of security feature is typically placed in such a way as to be invisible to the naked eye.  The feature is revealed with certain tools or calibrated readers that cause special inks or graphics to react. Special effect inks, with Ultraviolet (UV) and Infrared (IR) phosphors dispersed, are popular methods used in currency and secure documents, but also include watermarks, time and temperature-sensitive inks, chemically reactive inks, etc.
  • Forensic – Forensic refers to scientific method of collecting and analyzing information.  These types of security features generally require a sample to be taken to a laboratory for a full analysis. Although highly secure, there are often thought to be very expensive to integrate (though this is not the case with the DNA Matrix™ security mark). Other examples include chemical or ionic taggants, nanoparticles, etc.

Packaging is the technology of enclosing or protecting products for distribution, sale and end-use. In the case of pharmaceuticals, packaging conveys valuable information and now, pedigree of the product. High prices make the pharma market most vulnerable to counterfeiting and product piracy, because the product manufacturing is a high-volume, and high-profit business.  Pharmaceutical companies typically invest heavily in R&D to develop new products, but the production of counterfeit drugs need not require large infrastructure or facilities.

The most commonly counterfeited drug in the world is a ‘lifestyle drug’ called Viagra, but in developing countries, the most counterfeited medicines are those used to treat life-threatening conditions such as malaria, tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS.  As one would expect, trade in these medicines is more prevalent in countries with weak drug regulation, fragmented supply chains and controls, scarcity or erratic supplies and unaffordable prices.

In the US, the Drug Quality and Security Act (DQSA) and the subsequent Drug Supply Chain Security Act (DSCQA) have added Track and Trace functionality to the pharmaceutical packaging process, in the form of 2D matrix barcodes, to ensure that unique product identifiers are placed on each and every drug package.  This form of security packaging provides advantages to manufacturers that are already placing batch/ date codes on their products, in that they can embed security features, such as the DNA Matrix™, into the same codes, at the same time and at very little cost.

With increasing sophistication, counterfeiters continue to advance and profit at the cost of public safety and company revenues. But, by implementing new packaging security measures, affordable and reliable brand protection is now closer than you think.

Mike Hayes is the Managing Director of DNA Technologies.  He has been helping customers to combat counterfeiting in print applications for over 10 years.

Want to learn more about packaging security and anti-counterfeiting measures? Drop us a line!

Fields marked with an asterisk are required.
This will enable us to direct your inquiry to the appropriate Sales Engineer.
Click or drag a file to this area to upload.
Upload an image file (optional)
Note: Under no circumstances will we sell, share or otherwise distribute your data outside EPS.

Tech Tip Tuesdays: Let’s Talk About The XD070 Industrial Inkjet Printer

The XD070 Industrial Inkjet Printer “image direct” from computer to print. The perfect solution for short or long runs with quick changeovers and variable data. This printer is ideal for multicolor printing on flat and semi-flat surfaces on a variety of substrates and can be customized to meet your printing needs.

Now, let’s talk fixtures and print job setup!  With 3-dimensional parts, proper presentation of the product to the print head is critical.  The closer and more level the part can be presented relative to the face-plate, the better the quality of the print will be.  Calipers and a level are tools which can make this process more simple, but the ability to actually advance the product into the machine to more precisely gauge your proximity is optimal.  By employing the “Setup  a Job Print Position (by Test)” standard software utility on the XD070, the Operator is able to advance the fixtured product into the printer to visually set the print head-to-product offset (print height), as well as the cross track (left to right) offset. This capability provides for faster initial job setup and decreased printer crashes saving both time and frustration for the Operator.

Secure Inkjet Printing Process to Combat Product Counterfeiting, Pirating, and Diversion

Inkjet printing is a growing force in the commercial printing world today. Higher quality reproduction, short run flexibility and customization are making inkjet technology attractive to all forms of business, including industrial printing and packaging providers.

With the integration of advanced security features, inkjet has a new market in which to compete – anti-counterfeiting and brand protection. Many industries that employ variable data printing (pharmaceuticals, medical supplies, food, industrial manufacturers, packagers and labeling) are now able to integrate advanced security features into existing processes.

As the market for variable data printing expands, there is an opportunity to gain ‘first mover advantage’ with a unique and robust product authentication solution, by combining the secure covert features of PhotoSecureSmartDye® and DNA Matrix™taggants with variable data printing to produce secure customized codes, serial numbers, barcodes, or integrated graphics.

DNA Technologies provides licenses and taggants tested in inks and in on substrates for the support and integration into a system for product authentication, including 2D Matrix barcode/security mark integration.

Market Facts
Counterfeiting and Brand Identity theft is accelerating with digital copying and printing, and with the outsourced remote manufacturing of highly desirable brand name products. Global products depend on trust and recognition, as the trade name and logo become just as important as the quality of the goods. There are larger incentives to cheat, and easy access to sophisticated technologies is encouraging criminals to produce increasingly successful fakes.

Consider these facts:

  • PIRA International estimates that product counterfeiting represents 5 – 8% of world trade
  • The World Health Organization estimates that 5 – 7% of the world’s medicines are fake
  • Losses to US businesses from the counterfeiting of trademarked consumer products is estimated at $200 billion a year (Dept of Commerce)

Most industries are at risk. The new breed of forgers are attracted by technological advances that make them more difficult to catch than the old. Generally, the counterfeiters have no previous criminal record, and the equipment they use is inexpensive and totally legitimate. HP estimates that they have over 200 million inkjet printers installed worldwide. How do you determine a legitimate print job from a fake with that kind of access to technology?

Think about something as ubiquitous as a barcode label. How difficult is it to reproduce?

The advancement of technology and its use by counterfeiters has allowed better copies to be made of both the actual product and the packaging. Modern computers, scanners and color printers have not only made it easier to mimic packaging and documentation, but have also reduced the skill level required to produce passable copies. Technology has also meant that better copies can be made, that are harder to detect and which are easier to slip into the ordinary trade channels used by legitimate commerce. Sometimes counterfeits are mixed with genuine goods, making it difficult to detect the fakes.

Solving Brand Owners’ Problems
Companies that find themselves competing with counterfeiters suffer a direct loss in sales. Some markets are even dominated by counterfeiters, creating barriers of entry for the producers of the genuine product. Trade names and product quality reputations are damaged. Products are diverted to the wrong market and sold at uncontrolled or sometimes illegal prices.

But there is a growing change in attitude towards supply chain integrity – counterfeiting is no longer an accepted cost of doing business. Companies aren’t out to just limit gray market diversion or counterfeiting, they’re out to recover revenues.

Consumers, who are deceived into believing that they bought a genuine article when it was in fact a fake, blame the manufacturer of the genuine product when it fails, creating a loss of goodwill.

By integrating product authentication features into existing inkjet technology, and developing electronic bar code readers sensitive to forensic covert taggants, we provide your customers with protection against counterfeiting and product diversion – a level of security that will allow Brand Owners to recover revenues and market share, track distribution on an ongoing basis to control product piracy, preserve the integrity of their products in the marketplace and increase consumer confidence in their brands.

Key Features

  • High security – extraction and matching of DNA sequence code provides irrefutable proof/ positive identification
  • Simple, yet complex product authentication solution – easy to use, but with inherent complexity to prevent duplication
  • Wide variety of applications – can be applied to virtually any tangible surface
  • Multi level encryption provides moving target for counterfeiters
  • Cost-effective solution – low cost per mark, with no major re-tooling or process re-design

[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]Want to learn more about barcoding and batch-printing?  Let’s start a conversation![/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]

The Future of Pad Printing

For the past three years Engineered Printing Solutions has been utilizing robotics to increase production, lower operator costs and improve the overall decorating process of various parts. The use of robotics has evolved from (a) pick and place systems to (b) SCARA robots loading tooling to (c) 6 axis robots with vision orienting and loading tooling. SCARA robots were then utilized as the actual printing arm with the capability of changing pad styles during the print process. A robot being used as a printing arm has been proven to be the most effective way to print on various three dimensional products that require multiple prints in different locations.  In prior designs an elaborate fixture would be designed to rotate the part to different print positions so the 4 axis SCARA robot could print down on the specific location.  The development of the smaller 6 axis articulating robots with increased power has led to advancement in our current robotic pad printer designs replacing the SCARA robot with a 6 axis Robot.  The part fixture now remains stationary because the 6 axis robot allows you to print at any angle. This eliminates the need for an elaborate multi axis servo driven fixture. The pad printing cycle is also shortened because the robot is no longer waiting for part rotations.

Features of the six axis robot printer:

  • End of arm tool to hold print pad
  • Automatic tape cleaner
  • 2 sets of independent clichés to allow set up of next part to run without stopping the current print process
  • Clichés can hold multiple artworks
  • Touch screen HMI controller display on strong arm
  • Camera vision system to detect orientation of part
  • Up to six color printing
  • Automatic pad changer with use of up to six different pads
  • In feed & out feed conveyers

Currently the Engineered Printing Solutions team includes many highly motivated individuals with full engineering, software development and tech support. Our #1 goal is Customer Satisfaction. Our company is constantly pushing the envelope, discovering more and more ways to seamlessly incorporate pad and ink jet printing into customers’ manufacturing environments.

For information about Engineered Printing Solutions custom solutions, standard pad printers, industrial digital ink jet, consumables and other auxiliary equipment, visit Ink Adhesion Part 3: Ink Mixing, Contamination, Blooming and Mold Release Agents, e-mail sales@www.epsvt.com or call 1-800-272-7764