How Are Cardboard Boxes Printed?

Some small companies opt for purchasing ink stamps and stamp their logo onto cardboard boxes. While this is a great method for keeping costs down, it isn’t the greatest solution for branding your packaging and is pretty time consuming too!

  • Stamping cardboard boxes has many disadvantages:
  • Ink running out at the worst possible moment.
  • Greater chances of the ink bleeding.
  • Inconsistent placement and ink coverage across parcels.
  • The time it takes to stamp each box.

For startups, stamping your own boxes can be a way to get you up on your feet, but it’s best to look into buying custom printed boxes as soon as you have the available funds.

There are many options for printing onto your packaging. In this article we’ve listed the different methods for printing and how each method works. If you haven’t decided if branded packaging is right for you, take a look at our article: Understanding the Benefits of Branded Packaging.

Silk Screen Printing

Silk screen printing is the oldest method used for branded packaging. It’s a conventional method that, to this day, works brilliantly for bold designs of one or two colours.

The design is turned into a stencil made from polyester and fine mesh. This mixture of material allows for full ink coverage across the stencil. The areas of the design that are blank are filled with an impermeable substance which prevents the ink from bleeding and transferring through to the cardboard box.

The manual process required by silk screen printing means it has a long setup time (which translates into a higher setup cost). The nature of silk screen printing only lends itself to simple designs and small runs; however, it can deliver higher resolution images compared to most other printing methods.

Flexo Printed Packaging

Flexo printing, as the name suggests, is a form of flexible printing.

Flexo – short for flexography – makes use of plates made from plastic, rubber, or photopolymer. Your design is turned into a raised plate which allows only the design to touch the ink before being printed onto the packaging.

The main benefit of Flexo printing is that this method can be used to print designs on a range of materials such as cardboard, plastic, foil, and brown paper. Once the plates have been created, modern printers can print up to 600-metres of design per minute!

The downside to this method is that it doesn’t work well for complex designs and the cost of creating the plates means that you need a high volume of print runs for it to be worthwhile.

Litho Printed Packaging

Lithographic printing, known as Litho printing, is a modern, computerised method of printing designs onto packaging. This method is the most commonly used throughout the printing industry.

Litho printing works by uploading your design onto a computer. The machine then uses a laser to create a plate of the image. As this method is computerised, it lends itself to full-colour and photographic-quality images.

To get your money’s worth with Litho printing, the best method is to use a sheet-feeder for fast and effective printing. The only downside to a sheet-feeder is that cardboard is too thick to fit into the feeder; therefore, the traditional printing press method, although slower, is better suited to cardboard.

As with the Flexo printing process, Litho printing is also costly to set up; therefore, doesn’t lend itself to short runs. There also isn’t an option to amend your design once the plate has been created.

Digital Printing

Digital printing is a modern printing method that makes use of a large format laser printer or ink-jet printer.

Digital printing, as the name suggests, is completely computerised, however there is a minimal set up needed for this form of printing. The design images are sent digitally from the computer to the printer. The printer prints the design onto the desired material in the same way a household printer works: line by line. This method removes the need for a plate.

Why Digital Printing is the Preferred Method for Cardboard Box Printing

Digital printing is the preferred method of printing, and not just for cardboard boxes. Digital printing has many advantages:

  • This method of printing does not require plates. This results in very quick set up times and therefore lower initial costs. It also means that you can make changes to your design even when the printer is printing your designs out.
  • Digital printing allows simple and complex designs; colour, gradients, and complex photo images are all accepted in digital printing.
  • As digital printing uses a photo file, you can test changes to your image without having anything set in stone or acquiring additional costs.
  • If you want to offer customer-specific personalisation to your package, or print your logo on packaging, you can do so incredibly easily.
  • Ideal for short runs of cardboard printing.

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