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Putting the Digital in Packaging: Graphic Systems Inc.

Part three in our look at print-turned-package providers.



From its inception in 1969, Graphic Systems in Minneapolis has served the fine-art market—photographers and artists—and has done occasional catalog work. In the 1980s, the company switched its focus to retail and point-of-purchase and expanded its printing options—literally—to include wide-format.

Today, the company has more than 70 employees and a dozen Durst printers. Besides the five Durst Lambdas it uses for photographer clientele, the business also has multiple Durst Rho UV inkjet printers—two Rhopac 160s, a press designed for corrugated displays; a Rho 350R and a 351R, designed for roll media, including fabrics and vinyl; a Rho 600 flatbed; and two Rho 800 continuous flatbeds. Unsurprisingly, “which one we use depends on the project,” says Marty Kauls, Graphic Systems’ marketing manager.

Point-of-purchase remains the core of Graphic Systems’ business, but the company also does a lot of prototyping—dummy packages and the store displays on which they set—combining literal packaging with point-of-purchase work. It also has a relationship with a traditional package printer and gets some work that way. “We work with another company that specializes in packaging, and we might do a smaller run for them. The size depends on what their workload is. I think 3000 48 x 96-inch sheets is the largest run we’ve had with them,” says Kauls.

Graphic Systems’ design and imaging expert Jordan Schopper says, “Most of the work we get comes in from the marketing firms in whatever program they’re working in—InDesign, Photoshop, Illustrator. We always leave it to the preference of our customer what they want to send. And then our prepress department runs preflight software to check it.”

Solutions provider (she likes the title better than “salesperson”) Cathy Campbell explains that she prefers to establish a relationship early on with her marketing and agency customers. “I like to go in when they’re still concepting, still in the brainstorm session,” she says. “Last week, we were in a meeting showing an agency the different materials they could print their project on. A lot of times, customers need to see and touch a sample of the product, versus just handing them the bare material. That’s part of what makes digital printing a good solution for prototyping for packaging, because they can see it right away and have all parties looking at the packaging.”

Campbell also works closely with Schopper. “I bring Jordan in with my customers a lot—he’s really the prototyping expert. He deals with the logistical nightmares of the numbers, materials, size, and so on. You need someone like that in your organization—a packaging engineer or a packaging designer—to make sure the product balances properly.”


One of the advantages Graphic Systems sees to its digital printers is its ability to reproduce or mimic packaging printed on traditional offset presses. “A lot of times, someone will tell us they want the product to look like cardboard,” says Campbell. “But we know we can get any look—it doesn’t actually have to be printed on cardboard. It can be printed on white, coated material, and we can print brown on it and still give it the look of cardboard.” 

That was the case with a project for Schwinn that Graphic Systems did with Capsule Marketing. Schwinn was rebranding and needed new hang tags for its bicycle accessories—helmets, pumps, tire gauges, and so on. The tags would be the backing the product would be attached to on retail shelves.

For the project, Graphic Systems produced 30 prototypes for each tag. They were printed on white-coated stock, but they were printed to look like cardboard in order to give the desired outdoorsy, natural feel. By printing them in advance, the people at Capsule could actually see and feel what the final tag would be like in the store. 

Graphic Systems Inc. 



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