A Beginner's Guide to Digital Printing & Custom Packaging

Discover what printing solution is best for your custom packaging project.

Digital print is the only print process that Fantastapack uses. There are some important things to know about digital print when considering what printing process is the best fit for your project. Digital has fantastic benefits, especially for small businesses and startups with limited budgets, but there are some things to consider so you have the right expectations when committing to your project.

What Exactly is Digital Printing? 

Digital uses CMYK colors and involves dots spraying down onto the corrugated surface (like your desktop inkjet printer but industrial-sized and much faster). The benefits of digital print include the ability to do short runs (no minimums), and no print plate is required to produce your artwork.

Digital print approximates color by combining millions of dots of four separate ink colors. The edges of digital print will tend to look fuzzy because they have no defined edge, the edges are made up of many colored dots, and some darker dots next to light dots will make your eye not see the edge as crisp. For this reason, you will see dots/slight graininess when you zoom in; that is exactly what digital print is. It will never look totally solid like offset printing, especially under magnification.

From an artwork standpoint, the digital print will look more splotchy in colors that are near light pink/blue/orange and pastel-looking colors. It's because, in the CMYK spectrum, there is very little K (black) and small amounts of CMY to make up the light color (Cyan, Magenta, and Yellow) - the ink is commonly referred to as being 'transparent'. Our eyes see darker CMYK colors as more solid and pleasing and light CMYK colors as more pixelated and noisy. Additionally, digital inks are transparent, so the base white comes through more which further impacts light colors. It's all about color composition and the amount of ink dots required to make any given color.  

  • Digital CMYK printing cannot create a clean white color, so white materials such as Standard White or Premium White must be used to create the white in any artwork.
  • If you need white on Kraft, then we recommend you choose a Standard White material and use a simulated Kraft pattern in your artwork.
  • Blacks and dark solid colors look great on Kraft, but light colors such as pastels do not fare very well due to lack of black color 'K', ink saturation, ink transparency, and the color change that can occur (for example: if you use a pastel blue, you are effectively mixing that blue with the natural brown hue of the Kraft cardboard and the result may come out as a green).
  • Generally, using shadows in your artwork or text fonts smaller than 16pt will exacerbate the digital print elements mentioned above, and the natural dot fuzziness will be more pronounced.
  • Use artwork created as vectors (e.g. Adobe Illustrator) rather than pixels (e.g. Adobe Photoshop). 

Tolerances in Digital Printing: 

Printing and cutting registration is considered within spec as long as it is .125” or less from the specified dimension.  Keep in mind these tolerances when designing print. On your screen, you may see color abruptly end on a panel cut or crease line, but when manufactured, that color border can move up to .125” and still be within spec. This means your color may slightly roll over a panel or fall short by up to .125”

This manufacturing tolerance is also why we require a .125” bleed around your printed box.

Digital Print Pros: Faster turnaround, no minimum orders, lower pricing, no dies/print plates required. Excellent on bright solids and darker prints.

Digital Print Cons: Potential fuzziness on fine or tiny details, fine pointillist-like dot/grain effect when seen zoomed in — more noticeable on fine scroll detail or small text. CMYK transparency is more apparent in pastel and light colors.

What Other Types of Box Printing Processes are There?

There are several printing processes for all types of mediums - the main alternatives are Offset Lithography and Flexographic. If digital is not a good fit, you should research printers who use these processes as required by your project. 

Offset Lithography

This process involves a printing plate, which is most often made from aluminum and contains an image of the content that needs to be printed. When the plate is inked, only this image part holds ink. That inked image is subsequently transferred (or offset) from the plate to a rubber blanket and then to the printing surface. The process can be used to print on paper, cardboard, plastic, or other materials, but these have to have a flat surface. This process produces crisp clean printing but is quite costly, with long lead times, high minimums, and per-color printing costs.


In flexography, the content that needs to be printed is on the relief of a printing plate, which is made from rubber. This plate is inked, and that inked image is subsequently transferred to the printing surface.  The process can be used to print on paper as well as plastics, metals, cellophane, and other materials. Flexo is mainly used for packaging and labels and, to a lesser extent, also for newspapers. Produces a clean crisp print, needs plates, and longer lead times typically have set minimums.