When considering bespoke packaging there are a variety of different costs that have to be considered, other than the per-unit costs of your packaging. Nearly all types of custom packaging will require some form of tooling, whether these be die forms, to cut and crease the board into your desired box shape and design, or origination; printing plates and stereos to offset ink onto your packaging. These costs can vary depending on what processes are being used, and what type of packaging you require.
Tooling costs are not included in the per-unit costs at Sarcina Packaging. In order to promote transparency, these costs will always be presented as a separate item on your quotation. Whilst all manufacturers require tooling to create your bespoke packaging, some will include these in the unit costings, as it can be beneficial for these manufacturers to continue to charge for these one-off costs on any repeat orders you place with them. Most types of tooling only need to be produced once, and will then be stored by the manufacturer, usually for up to three years before being disposed of. The die forms and plates can be used for any future orders subject to the size, style or print of your packaging not being modified.
Corrugated boxes are any cardboard boxes that utilise a material with an interior and exterior liner, and a flute. You read our definitive guide to corrugated board grades by clicking here.
There are several ways to print onto corrugated boxes, each demanding different types of printing plates, and each with their own varying setup costs. The two most common methods of print for corrugated boxes are lithographic and flexographic printing.
You can read more about our flexographic packaging here. Flexo print is a form of direct-to-board printing. It uses a flexible relief plate to offset ink directly onto the board, before being die cut into the desired shape. Flexo plates are usually mounted onto a cylinder, which rolls onto an anilox roller that is partially submerged in ink, this collects a thin layer of ink on its surface which is transferred onto the printing plate, before offsetting this onto the corrugate material.
With flexo printing, a separate printing plate is required for each colour that you print. The number of colours you print increases the number of ink stations required and therefore the number of printing plates you require – and thus your costs increase accordingly. The cost of flexo printing plates depends on a variety of different factors, but is primarily determined by the amount of print coverage you require and the complexity of printed image. Naturally, the more area the plate needs to cover, the larger the plate needs to be and the greater the cost.
In some instances, where a varnish is required to help seal the ink on your corrugated boxes, varnish plates will be required. These operate in exactly the same way that standard flexo plates do, but instead of ink they place a thin layer of varnish, overlaying the already printed corrugate surface. Sometimes it is possible to utilise blanket stereos (stereos that cover the entirety of the blank) but where varnish free areas are required, a bespoke varnish plate will need to be commissioned. Varnish free areas are typically required when a carton needs to be overprinted by a customer, at a later stage. This may be to outline batch numbers, sell-by dates or any other product specific information.
Lithographic print (Litho laminated)
You can read more about our lithographic packaging here. Litho printing is a more advanced form of printing than flexo, and provides a much clearer and more detailed print finish. It is similar to flexo print in the way that it uses flexible plates, but instead of applying ink directly onto the board from the plate, the image is first transferred onto a rubber blanket, which through pressure, applies the image onto the substrate.
Lithographic print, when used for corrugated boxes, is not a form of direct-to-board printing. Most litho printers are setup to print onto solid board, coated or uncoated papers or folding boxboard substrates up to 700mu in thickness. This means you cannot run corrugated board directly through a litho printer. Generally, the pressure that a litho press applies would crush a fluted board, reducing any impact protection that the substrate would have otherwise offered. Your graphics would first need to be printed onto a solid board liner, or paper which is then laminated, using an adhesive, onto a single face corrugate (S/F corrugate). This additional lamination process does mean that litho laminating is a more expensive method of printing onto boxes, and is much better suited to high volume production runs. However, printing plates for litho presses are generally much more cost-effective than flexo printing plates and your setup costs would be conversely much lower.
Digital print has gained a huge amount of popularity in recent years. Instead of using printing plates and stereos, digital presses use small jets of ink that are propelled by air, creating small droplets that together create your desired text and images. It is possible to laminate digitally printed liners to a single faced corrugate, in a very similar method to litho lamination detailed above. As digital does not require printing plates, the only setup that you would require is a die forme. The digital process, however, is generally more expensive than litho lamination for most quantity requirements.
Die formes, cutters or dies. These tools are often known by these terms in the packaging industry, but they all serve the same purpose. They are large pieces of wooden board, most commonly a plyboard, that has been furnished with small blades, foam and pieces of metal designed to cut and crease a sheet of solid or corrugated board, in order to produce a blank (die cut but unglued box). Die formes are typically flat, but can be mounted on a cylinder, known as rotary die formes. However, these are usually reserved for particularly large products that wouldn’t fit on a standard flat-bed die cutter.
The cost of a die forme broadly depends on the rule, or meterage of metal that has to be placed onto the die forme. The rule length increases if a box design is particularly complex and has many different components. The cost of the forme also depends on what type of machine it is being used on. For smaller volumes it is sometimes possible to use a manual die cutter, which is operated by hand. The cost of formes for this type of die cutter are much lower than one used on a fully automatic die cutter, which would be more suited to high-volume runs. Die formes that are suitable for direct food contact applications are dearer still, due to their specialist nature. Typically die formes range in cost from £150 to £700 plus VAT.
Folding Boxboard and Carton board
Folding boxboard, carrier boards and carton boards are all types of solid board that can be printed, die cut and converted into any manner of different carton styles and packaging products. These board types are available in a range of different grades and thicknesses. The most common way to print onto folding boxboard is lithographically.
Lithographic Print (litho)
Litho printing is an advanced form of printing that requires printing plates, which roll into a tray of ink and then onto a rubber plate before offsetting an image onto your chosen substrate. Every colour that you print will require a separate printing plate, until you reach four colours. At which point, you can print as many colours as required using a CMYK process, unless spot colours (pre-mixed inks, such as ones that require a PMS code) are specifically required.
In cases where a number of design variants are required, composite plates can sometimes be used. This is where you print multiple design variants using a single or multiple printing plates. Depending on the size of the blank, multiple cartons are printed at the same time. This is usually referred to in a format such as 1up, 2up, 4up, 8up etc. With the number dictating how many cartons are being printed, or die cut using a single stereo or die forme, respectively. Composite plates take advantage of this by printing a number of design variants using a single plate. In certain instances, this affords the customer greatly reduced setup costs as fewer printing plates have to be made. However, if quantity splits and design variants change on future orders, the previously purchased printing plates would become obsolete after just one use.
An increasingly common way of printing onto folding boxboard and carton board is by using a digital process. In recent years, digital print technology has advanced greatly, with the quality now rivalling lithographic print. Digital print does not require any printing plates, and you can split quantities over many design variants without impacting costings. However, digital print quickly becomes cost-prohibitive at larger quantities whereas litho continues to offer savings as order quantities increase.
Embossing & Foiling
When you are adding specialist print finishes to your cartons, such as embossing and foiling, certain setup costs do need to be considered. In the case of embossing and debossing, a die, typically constructed from aluminium, is required to create an impression on the board. This is achieved by applying increasing amounts of pressure to the die, until it has created a satisfactory effect. The cost of embossing or debossing dies depends on the size of the area that will be embossed, and can increase for particularly complex impression work.
There are many different methods of foiling, with new processes being constantly developed. The most common method, known as hot foil blocking/stamping, is a form of relief printing which utilises a metal stamp that heats up to very high temperatures before being pushed against a reel of your chosen foil, and then onto your chosen substrate. The area touched by the metal stamp becomes adhered to the substrate and the remnants of the foil reel are collected as waste. The cost of hot foil dies/stamps varies greatly depending on what machine is being used and the area of foil that is required. The larger and more complex the area of foil is, the higher the cost of the die. These cannot typically be quoted until the completed design has been reviewed.
Die formes & Stripping tools
In order to cut down raw sheets of board into the designs and styles of box board products that you require, a die forme or cutter is needed. This is typically a large flat sheet of plywood with a variety of knives and pieces of metal to cut and crease the board into the desired shape. Die formes for solid board product work in exactly the same way that die formes for corrugated products do; more information for which can be found above.
If you require a window patch, or an acetate window in your product, or if there are many small pieces of material that need be removed once your cartons have been die cut, you will require a stripping tool. This tool works in conjunction with the die forme to help push out these pieces of waste, helping the job to run more efficiently through the presses by reducing stoppages. Stripping tools also reduce the requirement for any manual labour that would have been spent removing this waste prior to gluing or window patching, thus reducing your per-unit costs. The cost of a stripping tool depends on the size, and which die cutter it is being used on. However, like die formes, these are one-off tools and once paid for can be used on any subsequent production runs.
Varnishes can be applied to folding boxboard and solid board as an in-line process, which utilises a blanket stereo to cover the entirety of the sheet with a thin layer of varnish. Typically, these are available in matt, gloss or satin machine varnish finishes. However, in instances where varnish free areas are used, or it is not possible to use an in-line process, you will require a varnish plate. These range in cost depending on the size and complexity, and whether you are able to utilise composite varnish plates. OPP laminates can also be adhered to the printed surface to add protection as well as visual and textural effects. These finishes can include soft-touch laminates and anti-scuff laminates.
Printed flexibles refers to any type of mono of laminated plastic film which is then printed and converted into a finished product. At Sarcina we are able to provide printed film on the reel, which we can then convert into a huge range of different products. These include stand up pouches, three side seal pouches, quad packs and items such as mailing bags. More information for which can be found here. These items typically don’t require paid for conversion tooling, as existing tooling can be adapted to transform film into almost any size required. However, there are a variety of ways that we can print onto these materials, each with their own costs to be considered. In the case of flexo or rotogravure printing, printing plates will be required.
For smaller runs, or where large quantities need to be split over multiple design variants, digital print is becoming an increasingly popular option. The quality rivals that of flexographic print, and digital provides the benefit of not requiring any printing plates. Instead of traditional offset printing processes, digital instead uses small jets of ink propelled by air in order to create images. This means, that for digitally printed film and pouches, the only cost to be considered is the per-unit cost.
Flexo print techniques can be used to print onto various plastic substrates, as well as the paperboard substrates mentioned above. It remains one of the world’s most popular print methods for flexible packaging and accounts for 40% of all packaging printing. The principals of printing onto flexible plastics is the same as with paperboard, a flexible relief plate is used, which makes contact with an anilox roller that is constantly partially submerged in an ink tank. One flexo stereo or plate is required for every colour that you are printing. When multiple design variants are being printed these setup costs can increase quickly. As a result, flexo printing onto flexibles is only used for larger production runs, or for products which are predicted to become high-demand products. Flexo print is also commonly used in cases where large pouch sizes are not achievable through digital.
The costs of flexo stereos does depend on the machine that is being used to print the substrate, and the costings can vary depending on artwork complexity. Typically plates cost between £150 and £200.
Rotogravure is a print processes that is reserved for packaging that demands an extremely high-quality print, at consistently large volumes. It’s a very quick printing process, with presses commonly reaching 14 meters of film per minute. It can support continuous tone images and especially complex artworks, it also offers a much stronger colour vibrancy than flexo and digital.
Rotogravure utilises what is known as an intaglio printing process. This is where large copper plated rotary cylinders are engraved with your desired artwork, with either a laser engraver or diamond tipped drill. Due to their premium and specialist nature, these cylinders are very expensive to commission. However, the cylinders are very hardwearing and will last a great deal of time before having to be replaced.
What’s best for my packaging?
There are many different things to be considered when deciding what will be best for your bespoke packaging. There also inherent, unavoidable costs that have to be considered closely when making these decisions. Given these sometimes significant set up costs, it is very important that the structural design and print on your packaging is well considered. Start planning for any bespoke packaging well in advance of a product launch, as this leaves time to ensure the details are correct before you make the initial investment
Sarcina Packaging can help talk you through what processes are best for your products and packaging, whilst staying within your budgetary requirements.
Call Sarcina Packaging today for free impartial advice on how we could help you to make these decisions easier.