Choosing the Right Ink for Cardboard Packaging

Need reliable and durable ink for cardboard applications? Keep these qualities in mind to find the best formula to meet your needs.

Cardboard is an invaluable material in today’s supply chain networks. Lightweight, flexible, and durable, cardboard cases and cartons are multi-purpose packages that are used everywhere along the distribution path. Some of the most common uses for cardboard include:

  • Protective primary packaging (e.g., cereal boxes, egg cartons, etc.)
  • Secondary packaging for heightened product protection and retail appeal
  • Pallet formation and other tertiary packaging applications
  • Direct-to-consumer packaging (especially in e-commerce)
  • Inventory storage

Although cardboard packaging is versatile enough to fulfill each of these functions, application success isn’t possible without proper traceability coding. 

Depending on how cardboard is being used, the packaging’s outer surface likely needs to be outfitted with a variety of codes to comply with modern traceability standards, distributor guidelines, and possibly state/federal law. These markings may include barcodes, lot codes/product batch codes, expiration dates, shipping information, and more. If these codes aren’t present, properly applied, and legible, companies may experience supply chain disruptions, loss of inventory, fines, recalls, and more.

Fortunately, by utilizing a quality substrate-compatible ink formula, companies can ensure that their codes are built to last. Here’s how to find the perfect ink for cardboard applications.

Traditional Challenges Associated With Cardboard Printing

Despite cardboard’s ubiquitous presence and numerous packaging benefits, it isn’t always easy to print on. The challenges traditionally associated with cardboard printing stem from two surface properties:

  • The porous nature of the substrate
  • The material’s brown color

Surface porosity is one of the most important elements to consider when printing on any material. Porous substrates like cardboard and lumber allow ink to sink into their surfaces, affecting both dry time and clarity. To ensure that codes come out clean and legible, companies must use ink formulas that are specifically designed to be compatible with the given substrate. 

In addition to porosity, cardboard users need to consider how the material’s signature brown color will affect code readability. For text codes like expiration dates and product batch codes, this isn’t a giant concern, as they only need to be legible to the human eye. However, markings like barcodes and data matrices require higher levels of contrast to achieve machine scannability. If these markings are unscannable, it can throw off inventory counts, hinder distribution, and ultimately result in the package being returned to the sender. 

With the right ink formula, however, companies can account for both surface porosity and cardboard’s brown color to foster ongoing marking success. 

How To Find the Best Ink for Your Cardboard Applications 

To coincide with cardboard’s multiple uses, cardboard-compatible ink comes in many formulations and can be used by a variety of printers. Some of the most popular cardboard-coding technologies include:

Each of these printer types has their own unique strengths and weaknesses that make them ideal for different kinds of cardboard printing:

  • Continuous inkjet printers, like the DuraCode Touchscreen, are able to mark cardboard packaging at high speeds with precision and accuracy. These capabilities make CIJ printers optimal for primary packaging applications, like applying expiration dates and lot codes. 

However, their applied codes are generally small in size and low in dots per inch (dpi) resolution, making them less than ideal for barcoding applications and logo placement.

  • Thermal inkjet printers, like the Anser X1, Anser Smart, and Anser SmartOne, generally can’t match the speed capabilities of CIJ printers, but they are water-based and not solvent-based, which is ideal for porous materials; they are also able to create larger markings with higher dpi resolutions. Consequently, they are capable of many secondary packaging applications as well as primary packaging applications. 

Further, newer TIJ models like the Anser X1 offer speeds that are only marginally slower than their CIJ counterparts (300m/min for the X1 vs. ~320-350m/min for CIJ printers).

  • High-resolution, large character case coders, like the Precision Series 72mm, can utilize thicker oil-based inks than CIJ and TIJ printers which lead to sharper images and codes. Additionally, the printhead is significantly larger than other printheads, enabling larger print size capabilities. For these reasons, case coders are commonly used to outfit cardboard packaging with company logos, barcodes, data matrices, and more. 

At InkJet, Inc., we carry a variety of formulas for each of these printer types. Coming in different colors and offering different drying properties, our diverse ink portfolio can help your company create long-lasting, machine-scannable markings that are smudge-free and easy to read.

Need Ink for Cardboard Applications? InkJet, Inc. Can Help

Regardless of whether you use cardboard to meet your primary, secondary, or tertiary package needs, you need the right ink for the job. At InkJet, Inc. we can help you find it.

For over 30 years, the InkJet, Inc. team has been developing high-quality ink formulas and distributing printer hardware. With these decades of experience, we have learned what it takes to create code-compliant markings on all forms of product packaging. Contact us today to learn how our industry knowledge can benefit your operation. 

To find ink for cardboard applications, contact us online today or call 1(800) 280-3245

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