The design options with custom retail packaging are endless – and the printing methods you choose have a big impact on the quality of your components.
Here are some common retail packaging printing methods and how you can choose the right solution for your packaging components.
This printing technique got its name because it uses flexible rotary relief plates. With a roller, your packaging substrates are fed into these plates that apply the ink to your components. Each color requires a separate relief plate, and they work together, along with other processes like die-cutting or lamination, to complete the process in one pass.
Flexography uses UV-, solvent-, and water-based inks. It can be utilized for a range of packaging materials, such as:
This printing process is speedy, accurate, and has a quick drying time, so it is a good choice if you need a large number of components.
Hot stamping is a form of relief printing, similar to embossing or debossing, where engraved molds are heated and pressed onto a substrate in order to transfer dried inks or foils to it. This printing method can add a luxurious feel, especially if you choose metallics.
Offset lithography, also known as offset printing, uses oil-based inks and water to print. Your design is transferred to thin metal printing plates and is dampened by two things: The ink, which makes up the design part of the image, and water, which makes up the negative space of your design. Afterward, the ink-covered parts are transferred to a rubber blanket, which is then used to print.
This printing method only works on flat, smooth surfaces, like paper. It is ideal for designs that feature fine details, crisp fonts, and vibrant colors. Offset lithography can be quite cost-effective with larger orders.
Digital screen printing avoids the need for printing plates. Instead, your image, artwork, design, or text file is transferred from the printer directly onto both paper and fabric packaging components.
Digital screen printing provides a high-quality output, quickly. Because of its simplicity, costs are typically lower than other more complicated printing methods. Plus, if you find an error in your printing proof, you can easily fix it before you print your entire order – other printing methods where plates are involved, like offset lithography or flexography, leave no room for error.
Screen printing, as insinuated by its name, uses a mesh screen that features a stencil of your design or logo. Once your packaging component is on the printing press, the screen is lowered onto it and ink is pushed and spread through the stencil with a squeegee.
Screen printing can be used on almost all packaging materials – from plastic to wood to metal to paper, and more. This printing method can be costly, but it leaves you with amazing colors that can be achieved with a range of inks.
Ultraviolet (UV) printing is a form of digital printing and follows a similar process. The main difference, however, is that UV printing uses a specialized ink that dries and hardens under a UV light.
You can print on a variety of packaging substrates with UV printing, including plastic, glass, wood, paper, corrugated cardboard, and more. This printing method is wear and tear resistant, enables highly-detailed designs, and is sustainable.
Light-emitting diode (LED) printing is a great option for paper components. This method uses LED lights to flash your desired design onto the printing material, line-by-line. A photosensitive drum comes into contact with the printer’s toner cartridge and then presses the toner into the substrate to apply your design. Then, to melt the toner onto the paper, your paper is run through a high-temperature fuser.
This printing method is known for being highly energy-efficient. It is not ideal for components that feature fine details and crisp lines.
Rotogravure, also known as gravure printing, is a printing technique that utilizes metal printing cylinders that are engraved with microcavities to transfer your design to your packaging substrate.
Rotogravure is ideal for flexible packaging materials, like plastic and paper, and is a great choice for high-volume orders since it maintains its image quality throughout longer printing runs. It is also known for its time efficiency, making it a good choice for last-minute orders.
There is a range of inks out there to meet your printing needs. All inks are made with:
Conventional inks, like petroleum (oil) based inks, have solvents that dry through oxidation. While less expensive than their eco-friendly counterparts, these inks have a high level of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) which can be harmful to people and the environment.
Plant-based inks have very little, if any, VOCs and are soluble in water, making them ideal for compostable and biodegradable components. If you are creating sustainable retail packaging, these inks are a good option:
You can also incorporate text and designs onto your retail packaging components through inkless printing methods, such as embossing or debossing which “stamp” the substrate and leave an imprinted design.
It is clear to see that different printing methods generate different results. You want to choose the method that aligns closely with your goals and matches the materials you choose. For example, vibrant, colorful retail packaging is best achieved with offset or UV printing. If you want a sustainable packaging solution, you will want to choose an eco-friendly printing method.
With so many choices and the nuance of retail packaging, it can be challenging to create a custom retail packaging component that is “just right.” If you are not sure which printing method best suits your goals, we have your back.
As custom retail packaging experts with a broad range of innovative capabilities and a dedicated team, we can help you design the best retail packaging for your brand.
Contact us today to get started.