Michael Norkitis, project manager at 3D Systems, talks about the possibilities and benefits of 3D printing in packaging, and the technology's sustainability benefits. 

3D printing is becoming one of the most important technologies used by designers and engineers to create more eco-friendly packaging. It provides many opportunities to create new luxury packaging designs which can be evaluated by consumer audiences for aesthetics and by engineers for manufacturability before production – saving considerable waste while helping get products to market faster.

The very nature of 3D printing reduces costly material waste while enabling unique packaging design that could not be cost-effectively prototyped any other way. With 3D printing – also known as additive manufacturing - parts and products are built up layer by layer from zero until the final product is completed.  3D printing produces substantially less waste than traditional subtractive manufacturing where you begin with a solid block of material that is cut away until the desired shape is achieved. Think of Michelangelo starting with a slab of marble which he chisels down to reveal the statue of David. All the removed material with subtractive manufacturing processes, such as CNC, needs to be disposed.

Perfecting Design Before Production3D printing reduces manufacturing waste by enabling product designs to be evaluated easily for fit, form and function before the product is produced. It begins with iterative prototyping where product designs are 3D printed, evaluated, tested, then adjusted and printed again until the product design is perfected. 3D printing enables this process to happen in an accelerated design and prototyping cycle where several packaging prototypes can be produced.

Once the package or bottle design is perfected, it can be tested for customer feedback and for manufacturability. This process eliminates the possibility of design flaws that could lead to manufacturing errors and the waste of thousands of products.

Toly Group Makes it Real One good example of a packaging company that understands the value of 3D printing is Toly Group whose customers includes major beauty brands. Toly Group is based in Malta and operates production plants in Malta, China and South Korea, as well as sales and marketing offices in Malta, UK, USA, France, Belgium, Italy, Hong Kong, and South Korea, with over 1,000 employees. 

3D printing plays an important role in the company’s design and engineering processes and Toly has recently decided to expand its 3D printing portfolio working with 3DZ, a 3D printing reseller.

Toly uses a 3D Systems ProJet® MJP 2500 to prototype multiple iterations of each package and to create models to demonstrate new designs to its clientele. The ProJet MJP 2500 uses MultiJet technology to produce precision rigid, elastomeric, and clear parts with true-to-CAD accuracy, high quality surface finish and edge fidelity.


“Our clients are regularly asking us to re-design packaging to be more eco-friendly. The easiest way to do that is to reduce the material consumption of each and every part, for example by making the parts hollow to reduce energy consumption and plastic usage in processing for a more eco-friendly product. This is where 3D printing comes in. It allows us to test prototypes with thinner or hollow parts or lighter weight materials and make sure that the package still reflects the premium quality of the product inside,” said James A. Kingswell Innovation Manager at Toly  Group. 

“With the 3D Systems ProJet MJP 2500, we can very accurately replicate what we are going to receive from the injection molding process. It also allows us to test mechanical features like hinges and click force before we invest in expensive metal molds that takes weeks to produce. The level of detail we are getting and the very smooth surface finish are unparalleled.”

Development times for these high end packages have been significantly reduced at Toly. ”By 3D printing our own prototypes in-house, we are saving months versus sending them to be CNC’d.Each CNC prototype could take up to 3 weeks. Multiply that times three to get three iterations. And the outsourced models cost 100 euros each to produce. To 3D print a model in-house costs about €25. Now we can 3D print prototypes overnight and test them the next day. We are producing 100 new product designs each year; we are quite literally saving 10,000s of euros annually with 3D printing.

“In terms of the customer, 3D printing has made us much more responsive. For example, if we present a package to a customer and they request a change to a hinge, we can redesign the hinge and produce a new one to show the customer the next day instead of it taking another few weeks. If the change is very tiny, like moving a clip .5mm, we can do that with the ProJet MJP 2500 for a fraction of the cost of outsourcing. That is even difficult to do with other 3D printing technologies like FDM because the change is so tiny.

And all this means that our clients can deliver their products to market that much faster.”

More eco-friendly designs is just one example of the many ways 3D printing can positively impact packaging. Companies in a variety of industries, from Food & Beverage to Consumer Electronics, are discovering the advantages of using 3D printing to rethink the way products are experienced and manufactured.