A Beginner’s Guide to Digitally Printed Packaging

October 8, 2020

Digitally printed packaging is a big part of what we do. That’s partly because it’s one of the best solutions for the Point of Purchase displays that so many of our clients create. But, as you’ll see after reading this, it’s the right choice for many packaging and marketing applications.

First, what’s digital print?

For large-scale print jobs, you have two options: analogue and digital. With analogue, you create a “master image” on a print plate, which then gets stamped onto the substrate (e.g., a box) as many times as you need. In the world of commercial printing, digital works pretty much exactly like your printer at home, just on a much larger scale. A digital printer sprays millions of Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Black ink dots directly onto the substrate, in whatever combinations will produce whatever image you desire.

So…when you need to print a run of boxes, or a POP, or a roll of labels, what do you choose? When is digital the best option?

HP Scitex 15500

Advantages of digital

No minimum orders—First, it probably makes sense to choose digital when you need to print fewer items, such as the POP displays we mentioned at the top of this post. When you don’t need to actually create the dies and the print plates analogue requires, you’re free to print smaller runs affordably.

Faster turnaround—No dyes or print plates also means you can set up a run with less lead time.

Lower prices—Once again, no need to invest in the set-up required by analogue means a lower cost overall.

More flexibility—If you need to change anything, adjustments are a few mouse clicks away.

When to choose digital printing

If you have sufficient lead time (3+ months), your run is larger (thousands) and/or you want an especially crisp print job—or one that produces pastels—analogue could be a great choice. After all, the price per unit goes down when your run becomes larger and the cost of set-up is absorbed.

But there are many print jobs that fall outside those parameters. If you want less lead time, more flexibility, and a lower cost for a smaller run, digital is your best option. Especially if your design uses bright solids and dark colours.

Best practices for digital printing

If you’ve decided digital is the way to go, here are a few things you should be mindful of at the design phase.

Digitally Printed Packaging From Right to Left: Nature’s Path – EnviroKidz, SunRype, and DTG Enterprises

Add Bleed Lines

When your design is meant to be printed to the edge, make sure you add a 5 mm bleed line that extends the artwork beyond the dieline.

Use High Resolution Always

Always make sure your images are at least 300 dpi (dots per inch). Note that images that look good on websites tend to be lower dpi than ones meant for print.

Compress

When you put your design in a ZIP file, it’s easier to upload and share.

Be Mindful of File Types

 If you’re sending a PDF, make sure it’s saved in a press quality pdf with fonts outlined and images embedded. With Illustrator files, you need to give the printer access to any linked files as well as the dieline layer.

Convert Fonts & Colours

Your fonts need to be converted to outlines and your file needs to be converted to CMYK colour mode.

Don’t Encourage Pixelation

Fonts smaller than 16 points and elements like shadows can unfortunately bring out the natural “fuzziness” that we see in some digital print applications.

Choose Bright Solids & Dark Colours

As discussed, pastels and light colours don’t work as well in digital print.

White In General

CMYK can’t print clean white. It’s better to use a Standard or Premium White substrate and then use negative space in your design to let that substrate show through.

That’s our quick little guide when it comes to digitally printed packaging! Don’t hesitate to reach out with any questions. We’re very much here to help.

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