July 12, 2022 

Top Technologies for Printing on Flexible Packaging

Cost-effective, sustainable, and capable of maximizing product shelf-life, flexible packaging is an attractive and practical way to bundle products for retail sale. 

Created with a combination of plastic film, paper, and aluminum foil, flexible packaging is becoming increasingly popular across multiple industries. Flexible packaging is used to house everything from snack foods to over-the-counter drugs; it’s diverse in both form and substrate composition. Some of today’s most popular flexible packaging forms include:

  • Pouches
  • Bags
  • Chub packs
  • Sleeves
  • Wraps
  • Liners 

Each of these flexible packaging forms offers its own unique advantages that benefit different types of products. Chub packs, for instance, enable meat producers to package sausage and ground meat in a way that both extends product freshness and appeals to consumers. In another example, resealable bags and pouches provide companies with a colorful canvas that attracts customers and allows for long-term product use. 

Given how diverse the flexible packaging field is, it makes sense that there is no “one size fits all” printing solution made for flexible materials. Factors like facility environment, output needs, intended coding application, and preferred substrate all influence which printing technology will work best in one’s operation. 

To help readers discover the right equipment for their needs, below we have listed today’s top options for printing on flexible packaging, as well as their strengths and weaknesses:

#1. Technology for Printing on Flexible Packaging: CIJ Printers

For more than half a century, continuous inkjet printers have been one of the most popular product coding technologies on the market. Capable of coding products moving at speeds above 300 m/min, CIJ printers are still the go-to technology for labeling goods with variable information such as:

  • Expiration dates
  • Lot numbers and batch codes
  • Serial numbers

Continuous inkjet printing is a non-contact marking technology. CIJ printers are equipped with piezoelectric printheads and are able to perform high-speed coding on both curved and flat surfaces, making them compatible with all forms of flexible packaging. Moreover, CIJ printers are capable of operating 24/7 without interruption. This helps companies maximize uptime and maintain high levels of productivity. 

Today’s CIJ models are also designed to resist common environmental issues, including dust presence, high humidity, and extreme temperatures. Environmental fortification is particularly important for pharmaceutical plants and certain food packaging facilities, as these locations frequently face challenging facility conditions that can damage unprotected printers. With the right CIJ printer, companies of all specialties can mark flexible packaging with high rates of success.

However, it is important to note that CIJ printers are often limited when it comes to print height and max out at  60-180 DPI. Although this doesn’t often affect variable data printing, it does make CIJ printing a poor choice for creating images and many machine-scannable markings such as QR codes.

#2. Technology for Printing on Flexible Packaging: TIJ Printers

Affordable, compact, and easy to fit on production lines, thermal inkjet printers are another popular choice for printing on flexible packaging. 

Designed to print texts and images at moderate speeds, TIJ printers are versatile machines that are well-suited for a number of coding applications, including:

  • Barcoding and QR code printing
  • Variable data printing
  • Labeling packages with company logos and images

While CIJ printers offer faster speeds than TIJ printers, TIJ models are capable of making larger codes and images at higher contrast levels. For example, the Anser X1 can print images up to 2” high (with stitched printheads) at a max resolution of 600 x 600 DPI. The Anser X1 is also noteworthy in that its max printing speed of 300 m/min. rivals many CIJ printers, while most TIJ printers only reach printing speeds of 70-120 m/min. 

Given that most TIJ printers offer relatively slow printing speeds, they are not intended to be used as the primary coding option for industrial-speed production lines. Instead, they are ideal for slower-speed lines and intermittent coding applications. Of course, high-speed TIJs like the Anser X1 are exceptions in these cases, and can be used to complete many industrial coding processes.

#3. Technology for Printing on Flexible Packaging: TTO

Commonly abbreviated as TTO, thermal transfer overprinting is the optimal printing choice for high-fidelity, text-heavy marking. 

Unlike CIJ and TIJ printers, TTO models do not use liquid ink as consumables. Instead, TTO machines apply heat to thermal ink ribbons that are covered in resin, wax, or a resin/wax combination. The applied heat melts the ink on the ribbon, allowing the TTO printhead to apply the ink onto a substrate and create the intended design. 

TTO ribbons provide users with the ability to create images and text messages that are much sharper than those made by CIJ or TIJ printers. This level of high print quality does come at the expense of speed, however, as TTO models max out at printing speeds around 60-80 m/min. Consequently, TTO printers are not a good choice for high-speed applications such as variable data printing, although they are the best choice when it comes to making durable, highly-readable text.

Want to learn more about printing on flexible packaging? Stay connected to C&M Digest by subscribing to our newsletter. With information on hardware, formulas, and other important marking topics, our newsletter will keep you updated on the latest industry developments. To get in touch with us about possible collaborations or ideas for coverage, contact us today.

C&M Digest Team

The C&M Digest Team is composed of experts from across the coding and marking world. Comprised of ink developers, hardware veterans, and engineers, our News Team delivers informed coverage that is always free from brand bias.

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