Carton Box Printing: What are the Options?

Digital carton box printing
Digital carton box printing

Carton box printing involves the printing of images, text, or other designs onto the carton material of a packaging or shipping box. This can be done in several ways. Because different carton printing methods produce different results and cost different amounts, it’s important to first understand what your options are before making a decision.

Carton Box Printing Overview

Carton box printing is an important part of product packaging. It allows businesses to add branding, images, or text to their packaging and promotes their brand, among other advantages.

Cartons are often printed during manufacture, sometimes during the packaging process. Alternatively, printed labels may be affixed to the outside of the box. Let’s see what happens when printing on carton boxes from the printing machine to the process itself.

Carton Box Printing Machine

The carton box printing machine is usually part of a larger carton box production line. This line usually also includes a die-cutter, which is used to cut the carton material to size, and a gluer, which applies adhesive to the carton material to hold it together.

The carton printing machine itself typically consists of rollers that transfer ink onto the carton material. Depending on the method used, various controls are used to determine the color, size, and placement of the print on the box surface.

Carton Box Printing Process

Carton box printing takes place as soon as the carton material is cut to size and slotted or scored. The carton material is fed into the box printing machine, where it passes through the rollers that transfer the ink onto the required areas.

After the printing is complete, the carton material is then fed through a drying tunnel to cure the ink. Once the ink is dry, the printed cartons are then cut to the final size by removing waste and then glued at the appropriate areas.

Small carton box printing machine
Small carton box printing machine

Types of Carton Box Printing

Printing on carton boxes can be done in several different ways. Each printing technique has its own pros and cons, so it is important to choose the right one for your particular project. The most common methods of printing are lithography, flexography, and digital printing.

Other less common carton printing methods include gravure and screen printing. Here is a look at each technique, how it’s done, and both its advantages and disadvantages.

Litho Box Printing

Lithography is the most common type of carton printing, especially for the folding type. It typically involves pressing inked rollers (or plates in older machines) on to carton. The rollers contain the required image, which then gets transferred onto the carton.

Litho box printing is a fast printing process that prints large quantities quickly and easily. It also offers great print quality, with accurate colors and sharp lines.

The main downside of a litho carton box machine is that it requires a lot of setup time and can be quite expensive. If you only need a small number of cartons printed, lithography may not be the most economical option.

Flexo Carton Printing

Flexography is mostly used on corrugated carton boxes. The printing plates in this method are made of flexible rubber or polymer, which is why it’s called flexo printing. The polymer contains a raised image of the carton box printing design.

A carton flexo printing machine is quite fast and can print large quantities at high speed. It also doesn’t require as much setup time or tooling as lithography and is, therefore, relatively inexpensive.

But flexo printing does have some disadvantages. The print quality is not as high as litho printing, and the colors may not be as accurate. Flexo carton printing is also not suitable for very small text or intricate designs.

Digital Carton Printing

Digital carton printing is becoming increasingly popular. In this process, the design is printed directly onto the carton using digital printers. These printers use inkjet or laser technology to print the required design.

Digital printing offers several advantages. It is a quick process and doesn’t require any setup time. This makes it ideal for small runs and short turnaround times. Digital carton printing also offers great print quality, with accurate colors and sharp lines.

The main disadvantage of this carton printing method is that it is quite expensive. This is because digital printers are costly to purchase and maintain. A digital carton box printer is also fairly slow, which makes it unsuitable for higher runs.

Carton Box Screen Printing

Screen printing is another carton box printing method that you can use. In this technique, a stencil of the required design is created on a screen. The ink is then pushed through the screen onto the carton using a squeegee.

Carton box screen printing offers several advantages. It is a very versatile printing method that can be used on a variety of cartons including non-flat types. Screen printing is also inexpensive to carry out, with the box printing cost standing out as the lowest of all methods

The main downside of this method is that it is a very slow process. It is also quite labor-intensive, so it is not suitable for large runs. The quality of the print is another major disadvantage, with results being lower than those of other methods.

Carton Gravure Printing

Carton gravure printing, or rotogravure in full, uses engraved rollers to transfer the ink onto the carton. The required design is carved into the surface of the roller and then inked. The inked roller is then pressed onto the carton, transferring the design.

Gravure printing offers several advantages over other methods. It is a very quick process, so it is suitable for large runs. Gravure printing also offers great print quality with highly accurate colors.

The main disadvantage of printing carton boxes using the gravure method is that it is quite expensive to set up. This is because the engraved rollers are very costly to manufacture. It’s also not suited for small runs or short turnaround times, as the tooling time is usually long and the cost high.

Printed carton box packaging
Printed carton box packaging

Which Carton Box Printing Method is Best?

There’s no definitive answer to this question as a lot depends on your specific needs and requirements. For example, if you’re looking for a simple design on a few cartons, an expensive and fast carton box printing machine or method may not be necessary.

On the other hand, if you’re looking for high-quality printing on cartons with fine details and small text, you’ll likely need to use a more expensive printing technique.

As you can see, your specific needs and budget will largely affect your choice, so we recommend the following:

  • Lithography if you’re looking for both high print quality and speed
  • Gravure if looking for high color accuracy
  • Flexography if printing speed is more important than quality
  • For a small project with only a few runs but requiring higher quality, you may want to go for digital printing
  • For small runs and if looking for a method that allows carton box printing for less, screen printing would be an option to consider.


We hope this guide has helped you understand the different types of carton box printing methods available. Carton box printing is an important part of the carton box manufacturing process, so it’s important to choose the right printing method for your needs. A well-printed carton box can make a big difference in the overall look and feel of your product.

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