Printing Methods for Corrugated Boxes

The process of transferring ink to the corrugated box has evolved through the years with newer technologies always replacing the older methods and equipment. Printing on corrugated was limited to relatively simple graphics for most of the 100 years of the existence of corrugated packaging.

Changes in the way goods are marketed in recent times have pressured corrugated box manufacturers to expand their print capabilities to enable the printing of more sophisticated images.  Point of purchase retailing has resulted in the need for corrugated packaging to expand its role from that of just being a shipping container to also act as a selling tool at the retail level.

The methods of printing on corrugated board can be defined in four categories. post print, pre print , litho lamination, and digital.

Post-print has been and remains the dominant technology for printing corrugated containers.  The term refers to the fact that the printing step occurs after the linerboard and medium have been combined to form corrugated board.  Great care must be taken in post-print not to crush the flute structure during printing.  Skill is required by the machine operator to regulate the pressure of the blank to the printing plate in order to achieve a quality printing job.  Letterpress, flexographic and silk screen are the process used in post print.

Preprint involves printing the linerboard before it is combined into corrugated board.  In this process a roll of linerboard is unwound and printed on a printing press and then is rewound into a roll to be made available to the corrugator.  This roll-to-roll printing process occurs in one pass through the printing press.  The advantage of preprint is that printing pressure is not an issue. The linerboard is passed around steel rolls, which act as a solid backup to the linerboard during printing.  This system takes the worry of too much pressure out of the printing equation and allows very sophisticated photographic quality printing to be achieved on corrugated. The only drawback is that for this method to be economical a large volume of boxes is needed.

Another method which has allowed more sophisticated images to be displayed on corrugated, employs the lithographic printing process.  The method involves printing a sheet of publication grade paper on an offset printing press and then laminating the printed sheet directly to the corrugated board, or a finished box.   Another way lithography is used is known as single face lamination. It involves laminating the printed sheet directly to the medium as the outside liner. Litho-lamination generally produces the most sophisticated form of printing for relatively small packages for the consumer market.

Digital printing is the newest method of printing on corrugated and is still in its infancy compared to other methods.  Digital printing basically uses inkjet printing technology, but adaptations allow it to print on a larger scale, print thicker substrates, and the inks are formulated for linerboard. Graphics from a digital computer file are transmitted directly to a printer that plots the graphics onto the corrugated board. The need for printing plates is eliminated, however because it is a time consuming process it is used primarily for short runs.

Here at St. Pete Paper we will be happy to go over these methods in greater detail and can help you determine the most practical method of printing for your application.


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