An Overview - Printing on Plastic and Glass Containers

There are several ways to print or decorate containers. Screen print, pad print, hot stamp, heat transfer, label, sleeve and dry offset are commonly used. Graphics International can advise you on all processes as some of our staff have been in the container decoration business for more than 45 years.

Printing on containers

Labels are the most used today because of low cost, multi-color combinations. There have also been gigantic steps forward in printing labels, in that they look like screen printing and hot stamping direct. Labels are applied at very high speeds where necessary, and keep up with the filling lines.


Screen Printing, which went into decline for a number of years, is again becoming popular. Nothing compares with a high gloss, bright, direct screen print on a container. Because of the relative ink coat (up to 12 thousandths of an inch), depth of color and opacity are superior to any competitive system, features that are highly prized in the cosmetic industry. Multi-color machine prices have also dropped dramatically, giving impetus to screen’s return. A lack of qualified machine operators for multi-color printing has slowed screen’s progress.


Hot Stamping suffered along with screen print because of the label factor. However, labels are often hot stamped and applied, while direct hot stamping can be slow and difficult. When direct hot stamp is applied with direct screen print, the combination of appearance is unmatched - especially for cosmetic products.


Heat Transfer Labels were popular on hollow containers several years ago, but multi-color (self-adhesive labels) screen printing technology and self-adhesive labels often replaced them because of low cost. Heat transfer labels are mostly used today on injection molded rigid products (as opposed to blow molded products).


Pad Printing is very popular on rigid objects (injection molded products) or very difficult shapes that cannot be screen printed (such as uneven surfaces or objects like golf balls). The pad can print flat at 120° around a surface. Pad printing is very slow (1/4 of the speed of screen print) and often requires multiple heads to ‘keep up’. Ink layers are often only 25% of the depth of screen print, and appear less bright. Drying between colors can improve this appearance. Pad printing sales have also suffered from the ‘label affect’ like all directly applied processes.


Sleeves Printed sleeves can be applied at high speed and heat-shrink fitted to a container – even a difficult shape. Recent technology for deep color printing on sleeve labels has dramatically improved sleeve – label’s market share. The sector has made big strides in very high quality consumer packages, such as drinks, and also where contoured shapes (hour glass shape for instance) cannot easily be decorated by any other process. Some poorer, low cost sleeve labels on items such as bleach and windshield washer fluids have tended to define this sector.


Dry Offset is rarely used on blow molded containers. A mandrel or very rigid surface, are required to withstand the high downward pressure of the blanket / image on the press. Tubes and hollow containers (margarine, yogurt, ice cream) supported by a mandrel are the biggest dry offset market. The advantages of dry offset are very high speed, and up to 10 colors at one pass. The disadvantage is a very thin ink layer, and the need for product surface support.

Graphics International Decorating can advise on all the above processes, but we are specialists in screen printing.

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