When your brand starts to explore custom packaging, you might feel overwhelmed by the options you have. With printing alone, there are so many choices to be made – whether you want flexographic or digital, color or no color, text or images, etc. The first step of your custom packaging strategy is to understand each of the printing techniques available. Once you know how each method works, you can select the right one for your application. Let’s dive into the different printing methods available for custom packaging.
Flexographic printing involves the use of flexible printing plates that are mounted onto a rolling cylinder. The plates are customized based on the design of your packaging, and they transfer ink as the cylinder rolls across uncut corrugated material that’s fed through the system. One project could require the use of multiple plates to create the final outcome. This is considered the most common method of printing for corrugated material.
Flexographic printing is frequently used for text-based designs or for custom packaging that involves just one or two colors. It is highly cost-effective for simple printing jobs, making it a great option for large volume projects. However, flexographic printing is not recommended for intricate logos or designs because it requires the creation of more printing plates, which can increase your costs.
Unlike flexographic printing, digital printing does not require the use of plates. Instead, the process involves printing a design directly onto the corrugated material. Digital printing works within the full range of CMYK colors, so you don’t need to mix or overlap colors like with flexographic printing. Unfortunately, digital printing does present a few challenges to your custom packaging strategies
There are typically more imperfections with digital printing, including issues like the colors being slightly off, lines appearing on the design, and ink is absorbed into the material, which creates a muted look. Fortunately, the digital printing industry sees continuous improvement and these imperfections are becoming less common.
Digital printing gives brands a lot of flexibility for creative designs. This helps you develop high-quality packaging that’s unlike anything else on the market. With packaging being one of the No. 1 influences on consumers’ decision to buy, digital printing can help you get their attention before your competition does.
Lithographic or Offset Printing
Lithographic printing involves transferring your design to a printing plate, often made of aluminum, that only holds ink where the design is placed because of the relationship between oil and water. From there, the ink is transferred to a rubber “blanket” and then onto the material you’re working with, such as a corrugated box. This method is often called offset because the image is not applied directly from the plate but transferred to another surface first.
Lithographic printing provides high-quality images for your custom packaging, but it comes with added costs. It is considered one of the most expensive printing options available. This is because lithographic printing involves the creation of custom plates, so it’s best for high volumes of custom printing. Many companies will require a high minimum before agreeing to print your designs.
During a silkscreen printing job, the ink is pushed through a woven piece of fabric. Certain areas of the fabric screen are treated with a non-permeable material, so ink only gets pushed through in the areas of your design. Silkscreen printing has many advantages, such as being able to work on multiple materials, including glass, paper, wood, fabric, and metal. Silkscreen printing also works on surfaces that are not flat, which gives it an advantage over most other printing methods available.
While silkscreen printing has low setup costs, it’s best used for smaller volumes. The production times for silkscreen printing are much slower than other methods, so you’ll want to make sure this process can keep up with your demand before choosing it.
With rotogravure printing, your design is engraved onto a cylinder that is then mounted onto a machine. The cylinder picks up ink on the design area and transfers it to the material being printed. Each color has its own cylinder, so the final image is layered from multiple engraved cylinders. The depth of the engraving will determine the intensity of the colors, creating unique effects where necessary. This process of printing is useful for working with thin materials like polyester or nylon, and it’s commonly used for flexible packaging.
Rotogravure printing provides a high-quality image over longer periods of time because the custom cylinders can withstand through multiple printing jobs without deteriorating. However, this printing method is best for high volume applications, otherwise, it doesn’t make financial sense due to its expensive nature.
These are the 5 different printing methods for custom packaging. Flexographic and digital printing are the most popular printing methods being used in the industry. But all of these methods provide unique benefits to your custom packaging strategy, so it’s good to understand how each of these methods work. Now that you have a basic understanding of each printing method available, you can select the right one for your application and create the ultimate custom packaging design.