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Archive for the ‘Plastic Cups’ Category

Commercial Printing: Musings on a Printed Plastic Cup

Monday, June 19th, 2023

Photo purchased from …

I am definitely a design and custom printing nerd. Last week my fiancee came home from a lunch with her son. They had dined at CAVA, a local Mediterranean restaurant. She had brought me a mid-size clear plastic cup with the logo emblazoned in white type, the letters “C,” “A,” “V,” “A,” and nothing else. I was ok with not having received a bit of leftover food in a doggie bag because I was so intrigued by the design of the plastic cup.

The Design

What makes this cup so special? First of all, the lines of the logo exactly match the lines of the cup. That is, the word “CAVA” is set in all capital letters in a heavy sans serif typeface (granted, that is the restaurant’s logotype). The particular slanted letterforms of the “AVA” not only nestle into one another (i.e., the kerning or space between letters has been consciously and appropriately reduced), but the letterforms also match the slanted edge of the cup from the top rim to the base. In fact, the “A”s in CAVA are actually like inverted versions of this cup.

The white ink, which appears to have been applied via custom screen printing, is completely opaque and slightly softened in its gloss (comparable to the surface of a white silk press sheet). The writing therefore contrasts beautifully with the heightened gloss of the plastic cup.

What sets this cup apart, however, is the combination of the boldness of a four-letter logo and the expansive feel of the logo on the clear plastic. The logo is large, and it wraps almost halfway around the circumference of the plastic glass, and although it is raised about an inch from the bottom of the cup, the logo extends upwards about two-thirds of the way up the side of the cup. So it feels big but not gigantic. Bold, as I said.

Moreover, if you look closely, there are a number of rings around the cup where it gets progressively smaller as you move down from the top to the bottom. And the logo is balanced nicely between the three rings at the top of the glass and the single ring at the bottom.

Back to the transparency. The logo on the clear plastic provides a sense of opulence, as though the logo were floating on the transparent plastic, and as though it could have been any size (larger or smaller) because there is no boundary between the logo and the glass.

This last point I will address further as we move into the technology and the other options for custom printing such a cup.

The Technology

In this case I would guess that the printer had used custom screen printing to add the logo to the glass. Screen printing inks are thick, bright, and opaque. The thickness and the opacity allow for a dramatic contrast, even between a white logo and a clear glass.

But, you may ask, how can you print with a silkscreen (or metal mesh screen) on a curved cup? Based on my research, I know it is possible to rotate a cylinder (like a glass or a can) while keeping the screen-printing frame flat on the top of the rotating item. Of course in this case the glass is more triangular than a tumbler glass, an aerosol can, or a similar shape, but I’m sure there are ways to adapt the process to the substrate.

One other benefit of custom screen printing such a cup or glass would be the durability of the thick screen printing ink. Even on a plastic glass, rub resistance would be important in order to keep the white CAVA logotype from cracking or flaking (and tarnishing the restaurant’s crisp, brand image).

Other Printing Options

With the advent of digital commercial printing, inkjet technology has provided an alternative to screen printing for a printed cup like the CAVA glass. In this case the print heads, which would never actually touch the plastic wall of the glass, could spray the white ink onto the side of the cup as it was rotated in some sort of jig (an apparatus to hold and spin the cup).

Since plastic is not a porous substrate, the commercial printing supplier might use UV inks, which cure instantly when exposed to ultraviolet light. These inks can be used on nonporous materials like plastic, and depending on their formulation and the substrate, they will have good rub resistance.

You might ask which of these would be more appropriate for custom printing a plastic cup or glass for a restaurant chain. In my opinion it would depend on the length of the press run. Both custom screen printing inks and UV inkjet inks can be formulated to be opaque (especially a white ink), but it costs a lot more up front to prepare a screen printing run than an inkjet printing run. There is a lot more makeready, so for economical screen printing it helps for the run to be multiple thousands of items or more. In contrast, there is very little makeready for a digital printing run, like inkjet, so there are only minimal preparation costs to amortize over the entire press run.

In addition, if you were a marketing manager at CAVA and you wanted to personalize each plastic glass or provide a series of cups that changed every so often (i.e., short, versioned press runs within one overall marketing initiative), you might choose inkjet technology.

(Granted, the printer would be the best advisor as to the point where one technology—perhaps inkjet–becomes less cost effective and the other—perhaps custom screen printing–becomes more cost effective.)

One final option that is trending these days is “direct-to-object” inkjet printing in which the inkjet print heads are not fixed in a single plane but can move to spray ink on an uneven shape, such as a CAVA glass (the more conical shape, as mentioned before) or even a football. This is possible because the printheads never touch the object.

Other Marketing Options

A good part of the attractiveness of all of these technologies rests on the absence of a label. The subconscious marketing message transmitted by custom screen printing or inkjet printing ink onto a clear plastic substrate is the expansive feeling it evokes. There is no bounding rectangle of a label (even a clear label), so the logo can ostensibly go on and on forever. It floats on the glass, cup, or whatever else you’re printing.

But this may not be an issue, depending on your design goals. If so, there are a number of options that may be less expensive.

For instance, you can print on an opaque label, which can be affixed to the plastic glass. If your design is more contained, perhaps in a rectangular border, this would be perfect. And many labels are made to be impervious to moisture and cold/hot temperatures (like wine bottle labels).

Another option would be a clear label on which you could print any number of colors with an assortment of technologies (such as offset lithography, flexography, inkjet printing, and laser printing).

Finally, you might even look into shrink sleeves. You may have seen these marketing novelties wrapped around bottles in the grocery store. Once printed, these can be fitted over a bottle like a jacket, and then with a source of heat you can shrink the wraps to a tight fit around the glass or plastic items.

What might make these good for marketing would be the extra space you would get onto which you could print logos, text, or other imagery. If you look at shrink sleeves in the grocery store, the consumer branding can feel much more dramatic when compared to the finite boundary of either a white opaque label or even a transparent label.

The Takeaway

For this one, the takeaway is simple. If you’re designing a glass or cup, as CAVA marketers did, research custom screen printing, digital inkjet, and even direct-to-shape printing. Your printer may have connections, vendors they trust. This is not a job everyone can do well. It requires special equipment and skill. So, as is always the case, get referrals but also request samples. The technology options are out there. You just need to look.


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