Digital printing on corrugated packaging has seen steady growth in the past few years as digital printing capabilities have greatly improved. With corrugated packaging’s inherent benefits of structural rigidity, durability and cushioning qualities combined with the ability to print sharp, eye-catching graphics directly on the packaging, this market is poised to experience significant growth in both the short and long term. There are currently many applications, from tertiary packaging and shelf-ready packaging to food packaging to micro brands producing packaging in small batches.
Unlike analog printing, digital printing allows for on-demand printing with shorter press runs and quick turnarounds at strategically located service centers to deliver flexibility and versatility in the supply chain. Packaging can be printed as it’s needed at a much more economical price for short runs than traditional printing, without having inventory sit around.
The challenge, whether printing on typical brown boxes, clay-coated paperboard or KEMI (white corrugated), comes in getting ink to stick to the surface. For a porous substrate like corrugated packaging, ink wants to dive in, which can negatively impact the brightness and image quality while requiring a lot of ink.
Ready for Prime Time
Print primers are critical to success in this new world of digitally printed corrugated packaging. Just like in analog printing, coatings bridge the performance gap between the ink and the substrate. Primer coatings work by providing a strong anchor to the substrate for the ink. This can improve adhesion and scratch resistance while optimizing ink usage and print quality. Digital inks have more solids and are specially designed to avoid clogging printer jets, which typically means a greater per liter cost than offset or flexographic ink. Primer holds the ink on the surface of the corrugated packaging so less ink is required to achieve the desired optical density. Coupled with optimized design and digitally printed graphics can be achieved at a total lower cost of ownership than traditional offset or flexographic print methods.
Print primers commonly use water-based technology so they are inherently low in VOCs. The printer manufacturer often works with chemistry and substrate suppliers to develop an optimized print system for a given end-use application. Primers are often designed to maximize the interaction with a given ink type. For example, there would be a different primer used for a water-based pigment ink versus a UV ink. Regulatory approvals, such as food compliance, may vary by end-use and system type. The desired finish, glossy or matte, also impacts the primer used.
With a portfolio of leading digital ink additives, digital ink dispersions and high performing ink receptive coatings, Lubrizol works with printer manufacturers to continue to drive digital printing innovations. Backed by years of industry knowledge, backward integrated in polymer synthesis and forward integrated in color dispersions, Lubrizol can custom develop water-based polymers or deliver ready-to-use print primers to enable beautiful and durable digital prints in corrugated packaging that make sense for both consumers and the manufacturing process.
Visit lubrizol.com/ or contact your Lubrizol account manager to explore new possibilities in digital print performance.