Paperboard Printing 101: How to Create High-Quality Product Codes

Paperboard is one of the most common packaging materials in today’s marketplace. Durable, lightweight, and cost-effective, paperboard cartons are a staple of both primary and secondary packaging across industries. Primary paperboard packaging can be found lining the shelves of grocery stores, containing food products such as eggs, ice cream, and pasta as well as beverages such as milk and juice. Secondary paperboard packaging is also used to house food and beverages, as well as products from several other industries, including:

Paperboard cartons not only provide these products with eye-catching packaging, but they also provide ample space for traceable codes and other essential markings. Depending on the products you are packaging with paperboard, distributor policies and government regulations may require you to place codes such as expiration dates, “packaged by” dates, facility location, and lot codes/serial numbers on your cartons.

Absent, unreadable, or misprinted codes can lead to expensive consequences, such as recalls and lost inventory. Fortunately, paperboard printing isn’t difficult when you have a well-built production line and the right combination of printing hardware and ink. 

Paperboard’s Material Qualities

Paperboard is a porous material that is most frequently used to create primary and secondary packaging for food, beverage, and pharmaceutical products. Thicker than normal paper, paperboard cartons share a resemblance to cardboard and corrugated boxes, but they are much thinner.

As a porous substrate, paperboard responds best to water-based inks. Porous materials such as paperboard readily absorb water-based inks to create:

  • Well-defined text messages
  • Machine-scannable codes
  • Stark logos, diagrams, and other images 

Water-based inks are more affordable than solvent-based inks, as the raw materials cost less than those used to make solvent-based inks or pigment-based inks. 

In addition to water-based inks, paperboard responds well to:

Choosing the best combination of hardware and ink requires a complete understanding of your printing needs and a knowledge of available options. In our next sections, we will look at which solutions work best for specific primary and secondary paperboard packaging applications. 

Paperboard Printing Options for Primary Packaging

Paperboard printing applications change from one operation to the next. For example, while one company may need to outfit paperboard cartons with high-resolution codes, another may need to place low-resolution variable text on thousands of cartons a day.

To meet various coding requirements, InkJet, Inc. carries several production line paperboard printing solutions. Each option offers different marking speeds, print heights, maintenance needs, and cost factors. If you would like to learn more about a specific product, contact InkJet, Inc.’s sales team for more information. 

Thermal Inkjet Printer

Thermal inkjet printers (TIJ) are the most common and accessible paperboard marking solution. Compact, affordable, and requiring little or no maintenance, TIJ printers offer easy installation and diverse coding capabilities. TIJ printers excel at creating high-quality text codes and DPI-rich graphics at faster speeds than other printing options such as continuous inkjet printers and hi-resolution case coders. 

TIJ printers are ideal for printing:

  • Variable data text
  • Machine-scannable codes
  • Images up to 1” high (even larger if you stitch printheads together)

If you are looking for an easy-to-use, versatile printer at a low price point, thermal inkjet is a good choice. However, if you are working with large product volumes, a higher-speed technology may be a better fit. Although some newer TIJ models like the Anser X1 can print at speeds up to 300 m/min, most TIJ options max out around 120-150 m/min. 

Continuous Inkjet Printer

Continuous inkjet printers (CIJ) are larger, faster, and more expensive than TIJ printers. Designed for production line coding, CIJ printers are well-suited for industrial product marking due to their fast printing speeds, diverse surface compatibility, and environmental fortifications. 

Companies with demanding code requirements choose CIJ printers like the DuraCode Keyboard for their:

  • Nonstop coding capabilities (up to 24 hours a day)
  • High printing speeds (up to 320 m/min)
  • Wide operating temperature range (41-113°F/5-45°C)
  • Ingress protection (IP55 rating)
  • Compatibility with both curved and flat surfaces

CIJ printers cannot match the overall code quality and print size options offered by TIJ printers, but they are much faster and deliver consistently excellent results. 

CO2 Laser Marking System

Along with CIJ printers, CO2 laser marking systems are the primary marking solution for high-volume applications. 

Like CIJ printers, CO2 laser systems are capable of completing high-speed marking applications without interruption for up to 24 hours a day. Although laser systems cost more upfront than CIJ printers, they have very few maintenance concerns and almost no consumable costs. All inkjet printers require periodic fluid refills, while laser systems use internal heat sources and bulbs to create markings. If you print on thousands of products a week, switching to laser can provide you with significant cost savings over time. 

Moreover, InkJet, Inc.’s CO2 system—the F8100C Series CO2 laser marking machine—costs thousands of dollars less than similar models from Videojet and Markem-Imaje while delivering better results. Benefits of the F8100C Series CO2 laser marking machine include:

  • Coding speeds up to 2,000 characters/second (when using the high-speed scanner) 
  • Air-cooled laser source for 24/7 uninterrupted coding
  • Optimized laser output that offers a source life of 30,000 hours
  • IP54 ingress protection 
  • User-friendly touchscreen interface
  • Intuitive line integration

Case Coding Technologies

Although paperboard is commonly used to create primary packaging, most paperboard boxes and cartons are used for secondary packaging purposes. As with primary packaging, secondary paperboard packaging must display traceable codes and product information to comply with distributor policies and regulations. 

Many companies apply required codes to boxes, cases, and cartons with the help of physical labels. Lower volume operations may apply labels by hand, while others may use automated print-and-apply labeling machines to process the packaging. In other cases, companies may choose to print the required information directly onto the package or use a combination of printed codes and applied labels to achieve compliance. 

To complete secondary packaging printing applications, operators most often use either TIJ printers or high-resolution case coders like the Precision Series 72mm. TIJ printers have the print height and necessary DPI capabilities to create the large codes, images, and graphics that are often placed on boxes and cartons. However, TIJ printers are very sensitive and require proper product orientation to create attractive images. 

TIJ printers must be placed within ⅛” of the carton to create a proper code. If boxes are coming down at odd angles along the line, they will improperly align with the TIJ print head. High-resolution case coders are more forgiving than TIJ printers and can create large images without the need to stitch printheads together. Thick oil-based case coder ink also leads to starker images than TIJ printers can create.

However, case coders are more expensive than TIJ models due to several factors, including upfront costs and ongoing factors. If you are unsure of which option may be right for you, reach out to one of our team members today.  

Searching for a High-Quality Paperboard Printing Solution? InkJet, Inc. Has You Covered

Paperboard printing success hinges on a few different factors. You must use a solution that can:

  1. Mark paperboard supplies.
  2. Fit on your production line.
  3. Meet your output needs
  4. Resist any potentially disruptive environmental factors.
  5. Match your code contrast and DPI requirements.

Addressing each of these factors requires a deep knowledge of coding technologies and an understanding of how to create an efficient production line. Thankfully, the team at InkJet, Inc. has both. 

Offering a range of industrial strength printers, laser marking machines, and specialty ink formulas, InkJet, Inc. carries everything you need for paperboard printing success. Contact us today to learn which printing solution could be right for you. 

For more information about paperboard printing, contact InkJet, Inc. online or call 1(800) 280-3245.