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Beyond “This End Up”: Printing Corrugated Boxes

Corrugated Shipping Box

For a growing range of products, corrugated “boxes” are becoming the primary customer-facing container for wines, beers and assorted consumer products. Corrugated is also a popular secondary packaging option, often with designs and graphics that encourage reuse. The printing process is complex, error prone and mistakes can take an $700 per hour press down for a big part of a shift. It all makes printing on corrugated containers a lot harder than seems to be.

What makes the printing process challenging is that containers can range from one several feet long and wide to those for products that can be carried in one hand. All are ultimately three-dimensional and require printing on some or all sides. This demanding combination of requirements makes creation of plates for corrugated containers one of the trickier challenges in flexography.

For example, consider the box for a washing machine. It bears the manufacturer’s name and logo in multiple places, along with the model number and bar code, warnings in at least two languages, the inevitable “This End Up” notice and sundry other markings, all in black. It’s a cube, 3 feet on a side, making it 12 linear feet of surface that is really 40 square feet including the top. Yet all these markings occupy only a tiny fraction of that area. The cost for making a flexo plate of this size runs far into the realm of unaffordable, especially for a container that will head to a landfill after one’s kids are done playing with it. So smaller plates, attached to a carrier, are the usual choice. However, because all the printed information has to be in exactly the right spots on the container a great deal of manual work is required.

Or think smaller, like that six pack of craft beer you grabbed at the store on Saturday. The design is compelling with interesting art and some good colors, too. But there are some unique shapes cut out on the sides and the printed areas wrap around the sides and ends in unusual ways. Unfolded it’s a couple feet square and is printed with CMYK and a hit of white. The die-cutting leaves little room for error, so as with the washing machine box, the plates have to be exactly right when this job goes on press.

The old-school approaches for either of these containers was make the number of plates required, manually cut them and affix them to a carrier sheet using drill or mirror mounting, time consuming tasks that ate into productive press time.

Now, as with so much else in the pressroom, software is offering a new way to work more efficiently and accurately, both when cutting them on a computer-driven cutting table and when placing plates on a carrier sheet. For example, Patchplanner from Hybrid Software, works from a native PDF digital design file to redefine the layout of the printed areas on a container as individual elements instead of areas of a larger plate. This enables production of several smaller plates that can be configured to take up the least amount of space on a sheet of plate material. Once the plates are made, provides a proof, along with software controls that drive accurate automatic cutting of the plate on a device such as a Zund cutting table. Once the plates are cut, Patchplanner streamlines positioning of the parts on a plastic carrier using the AV Flexologic mounting system. The result is a drastic reduction in the time required to produce and mount plates, shortening time to production and delivery, all while reducing costs for labor and materials. For instance, a corrugated job might require six 150 mil plates costing $500 each for a total cost of $3,000. Using Patchplanner could require the equivalent of three plates, saving both time and money. That type of savings over many jobs spanning a week, a month or a year can be an immediate boost to productivity and profitability.

In step with a changing industry Patchplanner can be used with flexography, direct to container inkjet printing, inkjet films direct to plate, and liquid photopolymer, making it a comprehensive solution for a full range of corrugated printing needs.

For more details visit our Corrugated Software page.

Learn More About Patchplanner