Rotogravure: The Printing Process For High-Quality Coffee Packaging

Janice Kanniah
March 24, 2021

Durable, low cost, and recognised for its high-quality image reproduction, rotogravure (or gravure for short) is a popular printing process used in everything from media to packaging. Despite the process being more than a hundred years old, its ability to transfer more ink to materials than most other printing processes has maintained its status as a favourite among manufacturers.

For coffee packaging, it’s important to choose the best printing process available. To appeal to consumers, images and text not only need to be clear, they also need to stand out on the shelf. While flexography and digital printing are widely used, research shows that rotogravure retains widespread appeal thanks to its quick turnover, low cost and high reproduction quality.

To find out more about the benefits of rotogravure printing for coffee packaging, I spoke with Senior Account Manager at MTPak Coffee, Corina Ye.

See also: Flexography: Sustainable Printing For Coffee Packaging

rotogravure printing

Rotogravure Printing: What Is It & How Does It Work?

Invented in the 19th century following a number of developments in photography, rotogravure (or gravure) printing is a process that involves a rotary press with engraved cylinders.

Despite advancements in technology, the process used today is largely unchanged. Noted for its extraordinary density range (light to shadow) it is the printing process of choice for everything from magazines to packaging designs.

“Rotogravure is a system of printing based on the transfer of fluid ink from depressions in a printing plate onto paper,” Corina explains. “The depressions are formed by lasers, machines, or acids.

“To begin the process, a design is etched or engraved below the surface of the printing plate. Ink is applied before the surface of the ink-covered plate is wiped clean. When paper presses against the inked plate, the paper penetrates the sunken parts and the ink transfers to the paper.”

One plate is engraved per colour, with the engraving depth dependent on the colour intensity required; deeper or larger cells will produce more intense colours than smaller cells. Rotogravure cylinders are usually made of steel and plated with copper. However, other materials, such as ceramics can also be used.

Corina tells me that compared to flexographic and digital printing, the start-up costs for rotogravure printing are high. “Together, the plate-making and printing are relatively expensive,” she says. “Therefore, it’s not suitable for a small number of diversified prints.”

Flexographic printing (or flexography) uses raised surface plates to directly print onto materials. This makes its printing process faster and more affordable than rotogravure printing. Digital printing, on the other hand, uses toner instead of plates for printing, making it a better option for limited print runs.

However, rotogravure offers a great option for roasteries running high volume production due to its low per-unit costs and durable printing cylinders. While the start-up costs may be substantial, it’s unlikely roasters will have to pay for new cylinders again once they’ve been made.

“It’s an investment in the future of your business,” Corina explains. “For example, MTPak Coffee only charges for the cost of the printing plate you use. You’ll only ever need to pay for another one if you change your packaging design.”

sustainable coffee packaging

How Rotogravure Printing Can Improve Customer Satisfaction

According to recent research, the quality of a product’s packaging can have a significant bearing on customer satisfaction. A 2014 paper on the impact of packaging quality found that when a product’s packaging coherently communicates a brand and its message, customers will evaluate it more positively.

Rotogravure offers specialty coffee roasters a form of printing that clearly displays designs and product information on packaging. Because it transfers more ink to the printing surface (substrate) than any other printing process, it creates rich and attractive coffee bags, which will increase customer satisfaction. It can quickly and precisely register inks on the press for more precise printing, doing away with any fear of smudged or unintelligible designs.

Corina explains that rotogravure is particularly useful for roasters with colourful coffee bags carrying intricate artworks.
“The ink is thick, the colour tone is rich, and its printing is convex,” she says. “It means that the printed product is exquisite and makes it suitable for the reproduction of colour artwork.”

Yet it’s not just rotogravure printing’s visual impact that adds to customer satisfaction; its accuracy means that the product consumers see online is reflected by what they hold in their hands. In today’s specialty coffee market, in which a large percentage of sales are conducted online, this is exceedingly important for bolstering customer satisfaction and enhancing brand loyalty. 

sustainable inks

Is Rotogravure Printing Sustainable?

In recent years, sustainability has become a priority for people across all levels of the coffee supply chain. Encompassing everything from deforestation to carbon emissions, it’s now widely accepted that the implementation of sustainable practices are crucial for the future of the industry.

While packaging makes up only a small part of the coffee supply chain, it’s important for roasters to ensure their product is as environmentally friendly as possible. As well as the materials of the coffee bags, this involves the printing process.

According to Corina, rotogravure is one of the most sustainable forms of printing thanks to the durability of the cylindrical printing plates. While the initial cost is undoubtedly high, some experts believe a single rotogravure cylinder can be used more than 20 million times before it needs replacing. Providing roasters don’t regularly change their packaging design, this helps to reduce the raw materials used for producing plates.

Additionally, it’s thought that rotogravure requires less energy per square metre when compared to alternative printing processes. In the long run, this can have a significant impact on the amount of carbon emissions involved in printing designs onto packaging.

Besides the process itself, one of the chief concerns surrounding printing is the recyclability of inks. Many specialty roasters go to great lengths to procure sustainable materials for their packaging, such as kraft paper or polylactic acid (PLA), but if the inks cannot be removed, it can make it difficult to recycle them.

MTPak Coffee uses sustainable water-based inks that are all low in volatile organic compounds (VOC) and work well on compostable paper substrates. Because they’re made from organic substances, water-based inks break down completely when disposed of correctly, without releasing any harmful toxins into the environment.

recyclable coffee bags

At MTPak Coffee, we offer rotogravure printing (intaglio printing) for coffee packaging and printed rewind rolls. Precise, efficient, and environmentally friendly, it produces attractive packaging with incredibly quick turnaround times.

Rotogravure also allows us to include high-definition designs on both the inside and outside layers of packaging, which means you can be as creative as you want when designing your coffee bags.

For more information on our sustainable coffee packaging, contact our team here.

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Janice Kanniah
Janice Kanniah

Janice is freelance writer based in South Africa and has written for MTPak Coffee since 2020. Her interests are in writing about sustainability, the circular economy, and the future of the environment.

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