Why bother customizing the boxes you ship garments in? It's actually a small, but significant way to stand out from the crowd and look incredibly professional. That package is the customer's first impression of your business, why not make it a good one? Luckily, it's fairly easy to print on cardboard boxes. Rogue Lab Owner Lee Stuart breaks down every step of the process — from creating the artwork to curing the ink — so you can customize your own boxes effortlessly.
NEEDED TOOLS AND EQUIPMENT
Nope, you don't need a gigantic, fancy press to print on boxes. If all you have is a screen, that's a-okay. Ideally, you'd have at least a one-color press like the Riley Hopkins 150 to maintain consistency. For now, use what you got.
First, you need to select a box. For shipping Rogue Lab's merchandise, Lee uses boxes that are 10" x 8" x 6". It's a standard size for shipping garments like shirts, sweatshirts, and hats. Pick what would work best for you and your shop's needs.
Once you've selected a box, you'll need to measure the areas you plan to print on. You could print on the top and bottom flaps, as well as the side panels. Grab a t-square and measure the outer edges of the box. To measure the side panels, gently fold the box so the edges are more pronounced. Flatten the box and use the creases as guidelines when measuring the panels.
Got those measurements handy? Open up your vector-based graphic software and make a file that is the size of the outer dimensions of the box. Make rectangles that are the size of the panels on the box and place them on the file to mimic the box. Select all the boxes, right click, and select "Make Guides." It'll create a template of the box.
Now the fun part, creating the artwork. In the video, you'll see that Lee decided to put art around the side panels and the top flaps. It's up to you how you would like to customize the box. If you're new to creating designs, check out this free online course on Adobe® Illustrator.
"Boxes end up being things that fans keep because they look cool," Lee said.
SELECTING A SCREEN
For the cardboard box, you'll need a screen with 280-305 mesh count because you'll print on a harder surface that doesn't absorb ink well. Higher mesh counts ensure thinner ink deposits. Besides, printing with water-based inks require higher mesh counts, so it's a win-win.
PRINTING ON THE BOX
So, why print with water-based ink? A number of reasons. First, water-based ink will seep into the box a bit whereas plastisol ink would sit on top of the box. Ink sitting on top of the box has the potential to get scratched or damaged during transit, which would be no good. Another reason to use water-based ink is if you're working with a basic setup. Water-based ink will dry out over time, so if you don't have any equipment to cure the ink, you'll be alright.
On that note, water-based ink can dry in the screen as well. With that in mind, do not leave a screen open for more than 30 seconds, otherwise you'll have a lot more work on your hands. Keep the screens flooded!
"Printing on boxes is the easiest thing on the planet," Lee said.
Get your screen set up and registered on press. For pallet adhesive, Lee suggest using a water-based adhesive because it'll overall make the process smoother.
Pro Tip: To make production more streamlined, pick an area to lay down the box on the pallet. Mark it with tape or Sharpie. Or, you could do what Lee does and align the box in one of the corners on the pallet.
Don't forget about off-contact. For boxes, you don't need a lot — an eighth or sixteenth of an inch.
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Push or pull, it doesn't matter here. Lee pushes his squeegee in this case because it's faster. Keep in mind the creases in the box. Lay the box down where you'd glide over the seams. You don't want the squeegee to get caught in the crease every time.
TIME TO CURE
You can cure the ink on the box in four ways. One way is to let it air-dry. Fold the box so it's in the 3D shape and set it on the ground to dry. It'll take awhile, but once the ink is dry to the touch, you're good to go.
A heat gun would work well too. Apply the gun to all parts of the print until it is dried to the touch.
Many printers have flash dryers in their shops. A flash dryer can cure it, but you'll need to be extra careful. The flash is extremely hot and can start the cardboard on fire.
Lastly, a conveyor dryer is the best method. Lee doesn't adjust the belt speed or temp to anything special, he uses the same settings that he utilizes for plastisol prints on shirts. You may notice the ends of the cardboard curling up. That's totally fine, the conveyor dryer sucks up any moisture in the boxes. Let the boxes sit for a bit, and they'll flatten out again.
Once the ink is cured, print the other side.
Photo by Rogue Lab.
When the boxes are done, clean and rinse off the ink on the screen and store it for future use. If you'd like to go the full nine yards, you could invest in customized tape to put on the boxes to make it look really nice.
That's all there is to it! Customizing cardboard boxes is one simple, cool way to show the world you mean business. When you have the time, try it out. It may become part of your routine quite quickly.