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Inkjet Printing on Corrugated Cardboard

Driven by the demands of online retailers like Amazon, inkjet printing increasingly delivers the solution for printing corrugated boxes in the need it now economy, when costs of freight and other factors are added into the calculation.

The utility of the cardboard box hasn’t changed much since its introduction in 1891. Cardboard boxes today withstand considerable human and natural forces and the inks for printing labels, logos and other information must be equally durable.


Inkjet Printing Challenges

Printing on plain brown boxes must last long enough not to rub off, remain legible and offer a level of visual appeal when needed. The boxes endure assembly lines for packing and shipping, whether through the slower ground delivery to next day and same day delivery. The printing on the boxes must withstand temperature fluctuation and human handling, the printing must also resist quick fading or effects nature’s elements.


Some box finishes require extra consideration when choosing an ink. Many boxes are traditional and brown, but some businesses expect more and opt for boxes with a better finish. These boxes often have a layer or semi glossy white, or another colour, paper over the corrugated cardboard. Inkjet ink manufacturers evaluate the substrate to deliver the best ink for the corrugated material.


Curing is another consideration in the ink formulation, the inks must dry on the substrate quickly in high production systems yet remain fluid on the print heads to avoid costly downtime for upkeep. Various curing systems are used across the industry, depending on the ink, these are forced fair, ambient air or dryer.

Most of the inks used are water based, which are cheaper than UV or solvent based inks.


Dye or Pigment Inkjet Ink?

Typically, most inks used for box printing are pigmented and marking and coding on corrugated boxes use black piezo inkjet inks, which are traditionally oil based pigment inks. For marking and coding with thermal inkjet systems (TIJ), many printers use a water based pigment ink, only some of the TIJ inks used are dye based.


Dye formulations are used more often in inkjet printing on cardboard and these formulations are less opaque but absorb well into the box.


While most inkjet printing on cardboard projects are using black ink, a company may want their logo to reflect their identity through their brand colour. Companies analyse the colour characteristics of the substrate to formulate an ink that matches the intended brand colour.


Shifting Technology

Companies are opting for inkjet printing over the long-time methods of flexography, rotogravure and offset. Unit recently these legacy systems have had the advantage because they were cost-effective for high-speed, high-volume production. Large printing presses produced the boxes that were shipped anywhere to the customer. The scale and volume of production justified the expensive printing infrastructure.


Business are demanding more flexibility, with the growth of e-commerce and the related shipping, companies are choosing inkjet. Companies are reluctant to lock into large orders of boxes based on speculation of consumer demand for products. Also, businesses are weighing the cost of the freight and warehousing of the boxes. Using inkjet technology for cardboard printing allows companies to be nimble in producing boxes and avoid over or under forecasting the amount of cardboard they’ll need.


Companies can affordably set up an inkjet printing operation for box production and digital inkjet can be reconfigured more quickly. Digital inkjet printing opens the door for personalised messages on the shipping boxes. As inkjet technology continues to be more widely adopted, it can no longer be viewed as a printing option with only a few, specific uses.