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5 printing processes to use for your packaging

A Breakdown of the 5 Printing Processes to Use for Your Packaging

You have a perfectly branded design and package for your food or beauty product. Now you need to decide how to print your design onto your packaging.

The printing process takes careful consideration. You want to use a process that works for your budget and gives you the printing quality you are looking for.

There are five main industrial printing processes. Each is different in price and methodology. You will want to choose your printing process based on the volume of packaging you are printing, the quality and type of design you’ve chosen for your product, and the type of material you are using for your packaging.


In lithography, ink is applied to an aluminum printing plate with your design on it. The inked image is then transferred to a rubber blanket, and finally, onto your packaging. This process can be used with a variety of materials, including paper, cardboard, and plastic, and yields a high quality of printing, especially when it comes to color gradients.The only requirement is that there be a flat surface.

Things to think about:

Lithography can be pricey, especially if you aren’t printing at a high volume. That’s because a custom-made plate is required to do the printing, and companies often require a high minimum to take on your printing.

Common applications:

Lithography is often used for printing folding cartons and labels, as it requires the packaging be able to lay flat.


You can think of flexography as a modern version of letterpress printing. It uses quick drying inks. Unlike in lithography, flexography uses flexible photopolymer printing plates. These are wrapped around rotating cylinders. The cylinders are then used to make a high volume of prints very quickly.

Things to think about:

If you’re on a tight budget, flexography is a better option than lithography. It is less expensive and can print on many different materials, including corrugated cardboard, cellophane, and plastic. Your packaging does not need to be flat. However, the print quality of flexography is noticeably worse than lithography. You will also see banding if you’re printing gradients.

Common applications:

Flexography is often used to print plastic pouches (like juice and yogurt packages), food wrappers, and corrugated cardboard packaging. It can also be used to print milk cartons and shrink-wrap.


You’re probably most familiar with digital printing, as you can do it from home with an inkjet or laser printer. You can also go with commercial digital printing for larger quantities and higher quality packaging. Unlike lithography and flexography, digital printing can be used for very small numbers of prints and you can make changes to your design easily. File preparation is also much easier with digital printing.

Things to think about:

If you have a smaller number of packages to print, digital may be the way to go. However, large volumes are more expensive. There is also minimal coating protection with digital printing, so if your packaging is designed to be handled a lot, you may want to choose a different printing method.

Common applications:

Digital printing is used for many applications, including labels, corrugated boxes, and to make packaging prototypes. It’s especially useful for new companies, as it’s inexpensive and you can do it from your home computer.


Rotogravure printing is good for packaging designs that have intricate details you want to preserve, and for printing in very large quantities. In rotogravure, your design is etched into metal cylinders in a pattern of cells. Each color gets its own cylinder. The cells are etched at different depths, and they hold the ink that is then transferred onto your packaging. The different depths of the cells change the intensity of the color, with the deeper cells creating a more intensive color than the shallow ones.

Things to think about:

Rotogravure produces very high print quality and can easily print photo images. You can also print high volumes without a drop in quality. However, if you don’t have a very high volume of products, it doesn’t make financial sense to use rotogravure, as it’s quite expensive.

Common applications:

Rotogravure works well for printing on very thin materials, like polyester and nylon. It’s commonly used for food packaging that is flexible or has lamination. It can also be used to give a no-label look to packaging.


Unlike rotogravure, silkscreen printing is more suited to smaller print jobs, as production tends to be slow. It uses a screen, which is a woven piece of fabric. Parts of the screen are coated with a non-permeable material, while in the remaining areas, ink is pushed through and onto your packaging. Silk screen printing can be used on many materials, including paper, fabric, glass, wood, and metal.

Things to think about:

Silkscreen printing is best used for smaller volumes. It has low setup costs and doesn’t require a flat surface to print on. However, the production times are slower than other methods, and it’s not as good for high volumes.

Common applications:

Silkscreen printing is often used on glass and metal bottles. Even though it is mostly used for limited runs, it is still used for larger volumes of items like glass fragrance bottles and plastic tubes for body lotion, shampoo, etc, as it gives these products a more sophisticated look.

The bottom line:

For lower printing volumes or if you may need to make changes to your design: Choose digital or silkscreen

For high volumes at a lower cost but with slightly lesser quality printing: Choose flexography

For high volumes at a moderate cost on packaging with a flat surface: Choose lithography

For very high volumes with highly detailed designs: Choose rotogravure

Want more? Here’s a detailed chart on the different types of printing.

Do you need a beautiful design for your beauty or food product packaging?

Our collaborative CPG branding agency will make a packaging design that is true to your vision, your brand, and your product. Let’s schedule a chat to discuss how our approach can elevate your brand presence.