There was a time not too long ago when corrugated printing meant adding blue or black logos and text to the plain cardboard box a product was shipped in. Or adding to the front of a pizza box the two-colored cartoon imagery of a chef tossing dough as he sported the stereotypical mustache and goofy hat.
That’s not the case anymore.
Like many other technologies over the past decade, corrugated printing has evolved to become much more advanced, incorporating high-definition imagery, a wider range of colors, and more intricate shapes and designs.
You may have seen evidence of this in your most recent trip to the grocery store. Pop-up displays and product packaging have grown to be more detailed, enticing, and even interactive, as many brands have begun to utilize nearly invisible QR codes and digital watermarks.
Brands see their packaging as a final opportunity to advertise and deliver their message to consumers before these consumers make a purchase decision. Therefore, these brands expect precision and clarity in the printed products that represent them
Keeping up with all the advancements in the industry, as well as the customer demands, can be difficult, especially when a lot of corrugated jobs are short-run projects that require changeover in materials between print runs.
To help corrugated printers reduce costs and deliver maximum quality, we’ve outlined the top four things you should pay attention to in order to reduce errors and get the most out of your printing process:
- Printing plates: There are a number of variations that can affect your printing plates and, as a result, your finished product. Soft, uneven, or worn plates can lead to image bleeding or dirty prints. Dirty or damaged plates can cause spotty, uneven appearances. Plates with the incorrect impression can cause streaky patterns and washboard print. Plates can also come loose and lead to uneven results. Check your plates before every run, making sure that the impression is adjusted appropriately, and that the plate has been properly cleaned or replaced.
- Ink: This seems like a no-brainer, but making sure your ink’s features meet the project’s requirements can sidestep many issues before they start. If the ink formulation is incorrect, you might see streaky lines, washboard print, or spotty appearances. If the ink is contaminated, you could see hickeys and foreign particles in your finished product. If your ink is not compatible from station to station, it can result in smearing and uneven color across the substrate.
- Viscosity: Just as it is important to maintain a consistent pH level in your corrugated print run, it is imperative that you control the viscosity of your ink. Viscosity that is too low can lead to spotty and uneven appearance, foaming, abrasion, streaky lines and other issues. If the viscosity is too high, you might see some of the same problems, in addition to halos, fisheyes, color that’s darker than the proof, contaminants on the substrate, ink smearing, uneven color, and more.
We often talk about the importance of constant viscosity control. Without it (and a reliance on manual viscosity measurements, you may miss variations that can lead to the issues listed above. For a deeper look into the benefits of automated viscosity controls, check out our case study on the topic: Meeting Customer Specifications Just Got Easier.
- pH: The pH of your ink is very important in determining how well the ink will be absorbed and how well it will dry. If the ink is not drying or is drying too quickly, that’s often a sign that the pH is out of spec – too high or too low for the job in question. Uneven color and smearing can often be the result of a pH that is out of spec.
If the pH of your ink is low, you might also see images bleeding into non-image areas, spotty or uneven appearances (especially in solid areas), and streaky patterns of parallel lines. Monitoring and controlling pH to maintain a constant level throughout an entire run is critical as well. Any variations in pH levels can lead to inconsistent color from the start of a run compared to the end.
By paying close attention to ink characteristics like pigmentation, formulation, color concentration, and cleanliness, you’ll be able to avoid issues that increase cost and decrease quality.
There are a number of factors that can lead to costly corrugated printing issues, which are becoming increasingly magnified as clients and consumers expect more sophisticated prints from corrugated manufacturers.
To help reduce problems and maximize your process’ efficiency, get your free copy of our Corrugated Printing Troubleshooting Guide; it contains valuable information on identifying key corrugated printing issues, as well as the common solutions that can resolve each problem.