Labels, Packaging and Design

A Beginner’s Guide to Digital Printing for Craft Beer Packaging

Digital printing is a big part of what we do. That’s partly because it’s the best solution for the Point of Purchase displays that so many of our clients create. But, as you’ll see, after reading our Digital Printing Guide for Craft Beer, it’s the right choice for many packaging and marketing applications.

First, what’s digital print?

For commercial 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 the desired colours.

So…when you need to print a run of corrugated boxes, trays, carriers, gift packs, folding cartons, or labels for your craft beer brand, what do you choose? When is digital the best option?

Digital Printing Guide For Craft Beer | Sleeman Breweries
Digital Printing Guide For Craft Beer | Sleeman Breweries

Advantages of digital for craft beer brands

No minimum orders—First, it probably makes sense to choose digital when you need to print fewer items. That’s, of course, usually the case with craft beer brands, especially when they’re starting out. When you don’t need to actually create the dyes 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. Things move fast in the craft beer industry, and so does digital.

Lower prices—Once again, no need to invest in the set-up required by analogue means a lower cost overall, which is always a life-saver for craft beer start-ups.

More flexibility—If you need to change anything, adjustments are a few mouse clicks away. Craft beer brand design is monumentally important, and it’s normal to want to keep refining the outcome.

Things to Consider when choosing digital for craft beer brands

Because digital is produced by many millions of dots of colour, rather than solid blocks of pressed ink, it doesn’t have quite the same crispness as analogue. Fine details and edges may seem grainy or fuzzy, especially when you zoom in.

By virtue of the way CMYK ink works, light orange, pink, blue, and pastel colours don’t look as solid. They tend to look more pixelated to the human eye. (Bright solids and dark colours still look great in digital, however.)

When to choose digital printing

If you have sufficient lead time (3+ months), your run is larger (hundreds of 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—and typically craft beer packaging runs do! 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.

Digital Printing Guide For Craft Beer | Strathcona Brewing Co.
Digital Printing Guide For Craft Beer | Strathcona Beer Company

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.

Add Bleed Lines

When your design is meant to be printed to the edge, make sure you add a quarter-inch 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 high-resolution form. With Illustrator, Photoshop, or InDesign 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.

Digital Printing Guide For Craft Beer | GLBC Branded Holiday Display and Case Stacker
Digital Printing Guide For Craft Beer | GLBC Branded Holiday Display and Case Stacker

That’s the quick and dirty when it comes to digital printing and craft beer packaging! Don’t hesitate to contact us with any questions. We’re very much here to help and we absolutely love the work we get to do in the craft beer industry.

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