Inkjet printing for corrugated: Opportunities and challenges

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This article was originally published at “The Ink Tank” on Kao Collins’ website. Tomohide Yoshida from Kao Corporation, will be presenting “Novel silver nano ink: High conductive print without heating” at TheIJC on 29-30 October 2019. He will discuss target market applications for water-based silver nano-inks for the purpose of decoration and printed electronics with a focus on environmental friendliness.

Look no further than Georgia-Pacific, the $22.5 billion paper company, for proof that industrial inkjet printing of corrugated material has come of age. It makes sense for the large paper company to stake a claim to the market opportunity.

Digital printing accounts for about 1% of corrugated print jobs, according to EFI Industrial Printing’s, Raimar Kuhnen-Burger, in an “Ink World” story in May 2019. Considering that the corrugated packaging and display market is worth about $33.1 billion, capturing a piece of that is a shrewd play.

Value proposition for inkjet printing cardboard

The challenge for digital printing on corrugated substrates is differentiating the inherent value in inkjet printing over flexo and offset printing.

The market growth for the segment ranges from 10-to-15% per year.

There is plenty of room to compete for some printing work because digital inkjet printing delivers solutions that analog systems can’t: shorter, agile production runs for just-in-time inventory and infinite personalization. Today, printing speeds of digital systems come close to competing with the legacy systems.

We can thank Coca-Cola's "Share a Coke," campaign for companies everywhere trying to reach consumers with personalization. With digital systems, every package could be different. That is the Holy Grail for marketing.

Inkjet printing offers mass customization for fast-moving consumer products.

Customization offers opportunities for both packaging materials (boxes) and point-of-purchase (POP) displays.

Early adopters of inkjet cardboard printing

Georgia-Pacific began testing the waters in 2015 with the purchase of the HP T400 Simplex Color Inkjet Web Press. They were not the first.

In late 2014 Czech Republic-based Obaly Morava, a.s. purchased the first machine.

Inkjet printing of corrugated cardboard is no longer a specialty application.

Obalay Morava CEO Martin Rehorik told Nessan Cleary in Graphics to Industrial Printing Journal that “We can print to any type of paper. We are using a standard type of stock in our corrugator. Because the corrugator has a heated hot plate for drying, we are able to control the humidity to the exact level for converting to packaging.”

4 parts of inkjet success for corrugated printing

  • Inks meet all end-user requirements, which includes color matching to meet brand standards, durability, and consumer safety.
  • Print systems that reliably deliver quality, resolution, and speed.
  • Companies ready and willing to invest in inkjet systems.
  • Sales messages that differentiate the value of inkjet technology to the client.

That final point may be the most significant challenge because this often involves customers changing their internal processes to maximize the opportunity from inkjet production.

Adapting to changing marketing

The marketing teams for major brands must begin adjusting their internal systems to leverage opportunities of speed and personalization of inkjet printing. Inkjet printing of packaging offers variation of packaging design for fast-changing campaigns and accommodate the growth of SKUs.

The creation and approval of marketing plans and design materials must happen at a faster pace.

The successful converter may be the one that works as a partner with the client to adapt to the changing workflows, inventory needs, and enhanced capabilities of industrial inkjet printing.

Producing new inks

Inkjet ink manufacturers have increased the options for printing on corrugated materials. Eco-friendly water-based ink, UV ink, and LED ink offer alternatives to solvent-based ink. Kao Collins, for example, produce all these types of ink and can create custom ink solutions for unique printing applications.

Better equipment

The major inkjet printhead manufacturers have worked to eliminate many of the obstacles for printing corrugated cardboard substrates.

Thanks to Micro-Electro-Mechanical Systems (MEMs) speed, quality, accuracy, and reliability are all improving. Some of the major printhead manufactures for this technology include Fujifilm Diamatix, EPSON, Konica Minolta, Kyocera, Memjet, Panasonic, Ricoh, Seiko, Toshiba, and Xaar.

Today inkjet printing rivals the quality of the analog flexo presses. Similarly, speed is much less an obstacle.

Also, color matching is competitive now with many of the newest single-pass inkjet systems printing with 4-6 colors plus white ink.

Major inkjet companies competing with analog systems


More and more companies are rolling out single-pass systems that handle materials that exceed 600-feet-per-minute and at cardboard widths up to about 110 inches. 

Also, the major players continue to refine the systems for handling corrugated substrates. A major obstacle has been poor quality or warped cardboard, which makes inkjet printing difficult. 

The combination of innovative inks and advancements in inkjet technology for  printing corrugated substrates gives brand managers more options for reaching new audiences.

Contact Kao Collins about formulating inks for corrugated packaging and point of sale materials.

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