Flexible packaging is a growing segment of the industry. There are numerous advantages to flexible packaging, including reduced manufacturing costs, reduced environmental impact, easy resealability, and low weight. Wide-format printers can produce a unique appearance for small runs of flexible packages or even personalized packages.
Customized packaging can be an extra asset for retailers. Having the name of their own store or house brand on the bag catches the eye and adds to customer appeal. When a package runs low, it reminds the customer of where they got it and can buy another.
Organizations can create limited-run packages for special occasions. They can be given out as perks or sold to raise funds.
Requirements for flexible printing
Flexible packages are popular for food and cooking ingredients. They need to withstand water, contamination, bending, and abrasion. They can’t leave any residue that would get into the contents or produce an odor. Printers using the UV curable process are especially suited for food packaging.
UV-curable printing uses liquid inks which are exposed to ultraviolet light after being printed. The UV light bonds the inks into solid polymers. There’s no smelly solvent to evaporate or soak into the material. The inside of the material stays clean. The turnaround time is quick; once the ink is bonded, it’s dry.
It’s important for the ink to be fully cured, since any uncured remnants could smudge and act as an irritant. A good-quality printer and regular quality checking will avoid this problem. Lamination can provide additional protection.
Food packaging is heavily regulated. The FDA doesn’t have specific requirements for inks, but printers need to make sure that they use food-safe inks. This rules out many solvent-based processes. The printing environment needs to be clean, so that no contaminants will get into the packaging.
Custom packages vs. custom labels
A more traditional solution is to produce generic packages and print custom labels for them. That doesn’t stand out as much as a fully customized package. Sticking the labels on is an extra step, and they can come off if they aren’t properly affixed.
Having the whole package available for printing opens more design opportunities. It can use colors which match the seller’s brand. The entire package is available for graphics and consumer information.
Personalization has become a big part of packaging. Sometimes it’s more an appearance than a reality, as with Coke bottles with different names on them, but real personalization is a growing driving force in sales.
The materials for flexible packages are varied. Polymers are widely used because they resist penetration. A package may contain multiple laminates for extra protection. Lamination over the printed layer will improve its resistance to stains and abrasion, as well as reducing the chance that any ink will get into the product. With waterproof layers over and under, paper can be fine for printing.
Printing directly onto plastics is difficult. They are non-porous, and no inks will adhere to them very well. Using a more suitable substrate for printing and then laminating it to achieve a smooth feel is more effective. Alternatively, heat or corona treatment before printing can improve adhesion.
Printing is just one part of the process of making packages, and it has to fit in with the rest. Consistent output, fast turnaround, and the ability to vary the printed content all contribute to a smooth process where the manufacturer can assemble custom products without trouble. Printing for packaging, especially if it involves food or medicines, requires a higher than normal level of care, but it can be a valuable addition to a printing shop’s services.
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