How To Print on Plastic Packaging and Bottles

Versatile, lightweight, and easy-to-transport plastic is one of the most popular packaging materials in the world. Used to house food, beverages, pharmaceuticals, and other consumer goods, more than 80 billion tons of plastic packaging is produced each year. Taking the shape of bottles, jars, trays, pouches, and rigid containers, plastic packaging is used across industries to keep products fresh and appeal to consumers’ sensibilities. 

Whether a company uses plastic to package eggs, CBD products, or pet food, it’s essential for plastic packaging to display legible product codes that adhere to government regulations and distributor policies. Common display codes and markings include:

  • Lot codes
  • Expiration dates
  • Serial numbers

These markings allow companies to trace their goods throughout the supply chain to perform recalls and other quality-assurance processes. However, creating these codes may be tricky for those new to plastic packaging. Codes are only valuable if they are clearly legible and durable enough to withstand the entire product lifecycle. Satisfying these demands requires a high-quality printing solution that meets the unique needs of one’s operation.

Below, we describe how to print on plastic using today’s most popular industrial coding options, including:

Along the way, we’ll discuss the strengths of each marking solution to help companies discover which coding option is right for them. 

Use a Marking System That Fits Your Production Needs

The manufacturing/packaging sphere is diverse, with many companies using different packaging types and production line setups to meet unique output goals. As such, line operators need to utilize marking systems that are well-suited for their production demands. 

To meet the needs of different businesses, industrial printing companies offer marking systems with diverse capabilities. These marking systems offer different:

  • Coding speeds
  • DPI resolutions
  • Environmental fortifications
  • Substrate compatibilities

Today, industrial primary packaging is generally completed with one of these three options:

  • Continuous inkjet printers, which are large production line printers that are designed for high-speed, low-DPI applications.
  • Thermal inkjet printers, which are more compact than CIJ printers and tend to have higher DPI capabilities. Most TIJ printers offer lower print speeds than CIJ printers, so they are generally better suited for lower-speed lines or intermittent printing. High-speed TIJ models like the Anser X1 are the exception to this rule.
  • Laser marking systems, which offer fast coding speeds, pinpoint accuracy, and consistently excellent results. Although laser marking systems are not printers, they are one of the most powerful coding options on the market today. Fiber and CO2 laser systems, in particular, are well-suited for plastic applications.

See the chart below for a rundown of these printer types and their qualities:

Continuous Inkjet Printers

Thermal Inkjet Printers

Laser Marking Systems

- Fast coding speeds around 300m/min.


- Lower DPI resolution


- Weighs around 90 lbs. with attached ink


- 1 - 3 inch printing distance

- Generally slower coding speeds around 70m/min.


- DPI resolutions around 300 x 300


- Weighs as little as 5 lbs.


- 6mm printing distance


- Handheld models available

- Fast coding speeds up to 200m/min 


- Machine-scannable resolutions


- Weighs up to 90 lbs.


- Ideal for continuous coding

Use an Ink Formula That Is Well-Suited for Your Type of Plastic Packaging

Unless you are using a laser marking system to code your plastic packaging, proper ink choice is essential to producing readable product codes. 

Packaging today can be made from a wide range of plastics, including:

Different plastic types contain unique surface properties that may affect ink effectiveness. Companies often require special properties from their ink to resist code damages from factors such as:

  • Extreme temperatures
  • Light
  • Alcohol exposure
  • Physical handling

To help companies find the best ink for their plastic packaging, InkJet, Inc. maintains a robust fluid portfolio filled with plastic-compatible formulas with special characteristics. If you need help finding a formula for your needs, contact a member of our sales team today for guidance.

Using Transparent Plastic: Outfit Your Line With the Proper Vision System

If your company uses transparent plastic packaging, it’s essential to take the appropriate precautions to make sure that your marking system can recognize packages. 

Many vision systems struggle to recognize the presence of transparent plastic. For example, photoelectric sensor systems (i.e., “photo-eyes”) detect materials with light beams. Once a moving package interrupts the beam, the printer is triggered to create the intended code. However, transparent plastic packaging often complicates this process by passing as undetected through the light beams. 

To ensure that your marking hardware will recognize every product despite transparency, outfit your line with a vision system that excels with transparent materials. Retro-reflective photo-eyes, for instance, are much more reliable than standard photo-eyes when coding “see-thru” materials.

Consider Code Location and Line Space 

Producing high-quality codes requires more than just the right hardware and ink combo. You also need to think about these two factors:

  1. Code placement 
  2. Production line space

Plastic packaging can take many shapes, ranging from flexible film to curved bottles and jars. Depending on where a company wants to place its codes, the curvature can majorly affect which coding system is the right fit. 

TIJ printers, for instance, are not well-suited for curved printing or upwards printing (i.e., printing on a product located above the printer). For these applications, CIJ printers and laser marking systems are a much better fit. 

Line space may also be a major concern. CIJ printers and laser marking systems require ample production line room, so it’s important to keep this consideration in mind as well. Before investing in a system, consider speaking with an expert, such as one on the experienced team at InkJet, Inc., before making a decision. 

Need More Guidance? InkJet, Inc. Can Show You How To Print on Plastic Packaging

Whether your operation uses plastic to package food, beverages, cosmetics, or any other type of product, it’s essential to have a reliable printing solution on your production line. Learning how to print on plastic may seem like a complex undertaking, but with the help of a continuous inkjet or thermal inkjet printer, you can ensure that all your products are outfitted with codes and markings required by distributors and government agencies. 

Here at InkJet, Inc., we carry everything you need to achieve printing success. From high-speed marking systems to high-quality aftermarket printer fluids, we have printing solutions that fit every major packaging/manufacturing industry. Contact us today to learn more.

For more information regarding how to print on plastic, contact InkJet, Inc. online or call 1(800) 280-3245.