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Printing Methods for Packaging

printing methods

Need custom packaging, but don’t know which print method is right for you? Watch the video or keep reading for an overview of three of the most common printing methods: flexographic, digital, and lithographic labels.

Flexographic Printing

Flexographic printing is one of the most common methods of printing for packaging. It is very cost effective on larger runs, making it a great choice for bulk and recurring orders. Flexographic printing requires print plates, and can print one or several colors. However, each color requires the purchase of an additional print plate. Halftones can create different shades of single colors.

How it Works

  1. The printer applies one color of ink to a print plate for that color. The ink sticks to the raised surfaces of the plate.
  2. The print plate then transfers the ink to the surface of the package.

What it’s Good For

  • Large or recurring runs
  • One or multiple colors
  • Non-variable prints

Digital Printing

Digital printing is unique in that it doesn’t require the purchase of print plates. This makes it a cost effective choice for small or variable runs and allows for multi-color prints without the cost of additional print plates. Digital also allows for photo-real prints with a level of detail that has grown to rival that of lithographic labels.

How it Works

  1. The printer applies Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, and Black inks directly to the package material.
  2. These inks combine to form a wide variety of colors.
  3. For special cases like neons, metallics, and brand colors, the printer may add spot colors.

What it’s Good For

  • Small and large runs
  • Photo-real prints
  • Fast turnarounds

Lithographic Labels

As the name implies, lithographic labels are not printed directly on the surface of the packaging. They are instead printed separately, then applied to the final packaging as a label. This allows for smooth, uniform finishes, even on areas with pure white. Lithographic labels do require the purchase of print plates, and the additional steps of printing and applying labels means that longer lead times are necessary.

How it Works

  1. Rollers apply water and oil-based ink to the print plate. They repel each other, ensuring the ink stays in place.
  2. The print plate then transfers the image to a blanket cylinder.
  3. The blanket cylinder transfers the image to a label.
  4. Finally, the label is applied to the packaging.

What it’s Good For

  • Large runs
  • Photo-real prints
  • Smooth finishes

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