The role of 3D printing in packaging

* 3 min read

The creation of 3D printers has led to many exciting innovations in a huge variety of fields, from printed prosthetics to car parts. The technology offers lots of interesting opportunities and I am excited about how it could be used to enhance packaging design. 

In the last few years we have seen a real trend for personalised packaging, with a few examples including:

• Coca-Cola’s Share a Coke campaign
• Nutella offering personalised jars of chocolate spread displaying the consumer’s name
• Burberry providing the opportunity to have initials engraved on its My Burberry fragrance
• Heinz running a competition to win a personalised bottle of HP Sauce for Father’s Day

This trend has continued into 2015, with brands looking for new ways to personalise packaging beyond the more obvious name on a label. A great example is Johnny Walker, which is developing whisky bottles that include sensor tags that can be linked to a smartphone. The sensors can detect when the bottle is opened and closed, allowing the brand to send personalised text messages to the end user. With personalised packaging seemingly here to stay, it is in this area that I believe brands could really benefit from exploring 3D printed packaging. 

Who Could Benefit?

Whilst personalised 3D printed packaging could benefit many sectors, I feel that it could be a particularly helpful tool for food and drink brands. Personalisation can be especially attractive for gift packaging when consumers want something special, such as at Christmas, Easter, Birthdays and Mother’s and Father’s Day. In this instance, confectionary manufacturers could offer consumers the option to personalise their chocolate boxes. Gift wrap could also be personalised to make their gift even more unique. 

In reality, any product that is giftable can benefit from this form of personalisation and along with the previously mentioned Johnny Walker, other drink brands, including Famous Grouse and several Champagne makers have followed suit. 

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There are a couple of challenges that brands face when personalising through 3D printing. The first is cost and, whilst 3D printers have come down greatly in price, personalised packaging still costs more than standard formats. However; most consumers looking for personalised items would expect to pay a premium for them. 

The second challenge is that of the need to include certain elements, such as imagery and legally required information. Because of these requirements, consumers cannot be allowed to be in full control of the packaging design. One way around this could be to provide them with a packaging template, or perhaps choice of templates, with certain aspects that can be personalised before being printed. Another solution could be to have the item’s main packaging standardised, with the option to personalise an outer sleeve or other form of gift wrap. 

The level of shopper engagement that 3D printed packaging can generate means that it is certainly worth brands meeting these challenges to provide personalisation. With 3D printing still very intriguing to consumers, I expect to see brands experimenting with it in the coming months and it will certainly be interesting to see the creative ways they make use of this new technology.