The Basics of Printing and Corrugated Packaging

Posted by Ken Wheeler on Fri, Mar 8, 2013 @ 3:21 PM

Corrugated packaging has come a long way in recent years. Gone are the days of boxes printed with dull, low-resolution images that do nothing to catch a consumer’s eye. Modern printing innovations now let you ship and display your products in corrugated packaging that plays a key role in promoting your brand.


There are now a number of corrugated printing options available to help you boost product visibility, appeal and sales in today’s increasingly competitive global marketplace. This post will introduce you to four of the most popular.

One: Flexography
Flexography, also called direct printing, is a printing method in which the image is applied directly to the surface of the corrugated packaging. It provides acceptable quality for many applications and is economical for both small and large press runs. You can even use flexography as a cost-effective choice for retail display kits and point-of-purchase (POP) displays.

With flexography it’s best to keep the graphics simple. You have a choice of one, four or six colors. The higher grade and the finer the fluting of the corrugated paper stock you choose, the better registration and overall print quality you’ll see on the final packaging.

Think of it as the more cost effective cousin of litho laminating. Typically with flexo printing, 1–3 colors are used on either kraft or white corrugated material. However, by using printing plates, direct print can achieve a look similar to a litho laminated box making it a cost effective alternative for POP displays and retail display kits.

Two: Screen Printing
The screen printing process forces ink through a screen mesh using a special squeegee in combination with stencils/masks to put the ink where it needs to go while shielding non-image areas. Screen printing allows for deeper, more saturated and glossier colors and can work with just about any substrate. The overall quality is very good, but the per-unit cost is greater compared with flexography. Thus screen printing is most often chosen for shorter to medium-length press runs. It is a popular choice for point-of-sale and display packaging.

Three: Litho Lamination
While flexography and screen printing print directly onto the corrugated board, with litho lamination you can offset print a design onto a coated linerboard, which is then laminated to a single-face corrugated board before it is die-cut and glued into a box or other final shape. This approach therefore offers all the quality advantages of offset printing, including tight registrations and finely detailed screens and half-tones. If you need photo-realistic and/or multi-color graphics where communicating your brand image is crucial, this is probably the way to go. Setup costs are higher than with the above methods, so litho lamination is more popular for medium length and longer print runs.

Four: Digital Printing
Digital printing is currently on the leading edge of printing on corrugated board. This method can print an ultra high quality, high-resolution image directly onto a wide range of rigid and flexible substrates. In many applications, digital printing is the most cost-effective way to print small to midrange quantities in full color. This option is most affordable when combined with cutting and other services. Digital printing is becoming popular for and wide range of corrugated packaging and display types.

Which option is right for your application? You first need to determine the level of print quality that you require, and then select a printing method based on setup costs and per-unit costs in relation to the quantity you want. A full-service provider with expertise in design, printing and production can help you choose the perfect balance of economy, efficiency and eye-popping originality.

What costing factors and other processes do you use to pinpoint the right printing approach for your corrugated packaging needs?

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