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Printing Industry Exchange ( is pleased to have Steven Waxman writing and managing the Printing Industry Blog. As a printing consultant, Steven teaches corporations how to save money buying printing, brokers printing services, and teaches prepress techniques. Steven has been in the printing industry for thirty-three years working as a writer, editor, print buyer, photographer, graphic designer, art director, and production manager.

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Commercial Printing: Deconstructing the Carton

Throughout my reading in the print and online trade journals, I have seen a handful of themes regarding the present state of commercial printing:

    1. Packaging and labels are two of the most rapidly growing niches within the trade. This includes short-run labels digitally printed either through laser technology or inkjet, flexible packaging (such as juice boxes and apple sauce bags), and folding cartons (chipboard and corrugated board, digital as well as analog).


    1. Ceramic printing, and the printing of flooring and other building products, are also growing exponentially.


    1. Fabric printing for fashion and interior design is growing.


    1. 3D printing, in every conceivable arena, ranging from shoes and jewelry, to weapons, food, and internal organs is growing rapidly.


  1. Magazine and newspaper printing isn’t dead. It has just migrated to other countries around the world, such as China, India, and Saudia Arabia. In some of these countries, people are demanding more and more printed magazines and newspapers along with their electronic media.

This short list contains my observations culled from (and echoed by) every conceivable media. For printers, print brokers, and buyers of commercial printing this is welcome news. Print is not dead.

In this light, when it comes to printing you can lay your hands on immediately, a good example is the common shoebox. Think about it. It takes marketing savvy, chutzpah, and skilled commercial printing vendors to create these works of art and at the same time command premium prices for their contents, the shoes.

Deconstructing the Shoebox

My fiancee came back to the condo with about twenty shoeboxes yesterday for a weaving project for the autistic students to whom we teach art. We will convert these to small looms by cutting slits in the cardboard and then stringing up the boxes with yarn. In art therapy, these boxes will be used for weaving fabric wall hangings.

Within the universe of these twenty shoe boxes, I saw an educational moment for print buyers regarding the construction of designer cartons.

Here’s a description of one.

    1. To me it was clear that a sheet of enamel custom printing paper (perhaps an 80# or 100# text stock) had been printed in three colors (metallic gold, burgundy, and black, with full bleeds) and then covered with either a liquid or film laminate before being glued to a corrugated board base.


    1. The printed boxes, which presumably had been laid out flat on a press sheet with their assorted tabs for gluing, were then converted.


    1. This conversion process involved first die-cutting the tabs and then removing all waste paper. Then, all the tabs were folded up and glued with spot glue (either cold applied or hot melt) to create a three-dimensional carton. The top and bottom of each box had a lip, an extension of the printed litho paper that had been folded over and glued into the inside of the box. From the outside of the box, nothing was visible but the gloss coated, full-bleed, printed graphic.


    1. On the inside of the particular box I have chosen to describe, one could see the fluting of the corrugated board with white paper covering the parallel ribs. Even with the paper covering, this fluting was still somewhat visible as a textural pattern.


  1. On one side of the bottom of the box a 3/4” hole had been drilled and a plastic grommet had been inserted. Perhaps this was to offer a glimpse of the leather boots inside this particular carton.

The whole effect of the printed carton was opulence, even for this particular “cowgirl” boot. On the side of the carton along with the boot size, color, and stock number, was a clear strip of adhesive acetate on which the UPC barcode had been printed, presumably either with an inkjet technology or a thermal printing appliance.

What You Can Learn from this Case Study

    1. A cynic might say that these boots cost more than they’re worth. However, to those who understand and appreciate the branding, the attention to detail even in the boxes themselves, owning these boots at any price might be reasonable.


    1. The graphic design of the boxes (the surface appearance without the physical, three-dimensional structure of the cardboard) clearly reflects an awareness of the buyer’s values, preferences, and lifestyle. One could see this in the choice of fonts and colors, and even in the choice of lamination materials to give the product a highly reflective sheen.


  1. The physical attributes of the box–including the materials, box design, and graphic design choices; the finishing of the carton from a flat printed sheet to a laminated press sheet; and the conversion of the press sheet on corrugated board into a diecut, folded, and glued box—all reflect craftsmanship. A savvy buyer would assume this craftsmanship extends to the product in the box as well.

All of this was contained in the box, for those who would observe closely and think.

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