What’s the best printing method for coffee packaging?

Jane Merchant
May 31, 2021
Printed, colorful coffee bags in a coffee shop.

When it comes to marketing your coffee, there are few better options available than packaging. As well as being the first point of contact consumers have with a brand, good packaging can also help shape brand identity and reveal a whole host of information about the coffee.

However, in order to be effective, all images, text, and logos must not only be eligible, but also stand out and accurately showcase a brand’s designs. To do this requires a reliable printing method that’s compatible with chosen packaging materials, fits within budgets, and meets sustainability requirements.

But which printing method is best? We run through the three most popular, including flexographic, UV, and rotogravure.

Read next: What are low minimum order quantities (MOQs) for packaging?

flexographic printing

What is flexographic printing?

Flexography, or flexographic printing, is a form of relief printing that’s been in use since the 1800s. It involves applying ink to a raised image on a flexible plate, which is then impressed onto a substrate (material surface). Moving rolls of material (or blank stickers) pass through several flexible plates, with each plate adding a different coloured ink.

Flexography allows printing on both absorbent (porous) and non-absorbent (non-porous) surfaces, from foil to cardboard. It can laminate or emboss these materials without requiring extra production steps, saving both time and money.

As each flexography plate prints just one colour, printing accuracy is generally high. Each material passes through the system only once, so production is quick, affordable, and scalable. Flexographic printing can reach speeds of up to 750 metres per minute.

While the machines required for flexographic printing aren’t costly, they’re complex and take time to set up. This means it’s poorly suited to small job runs where a quick turnaround is required.

Why choose flexographic printing for your coffee packaging?

Flexographic printing uses different plates to apply different colours, which is why it excels at block printing. Changing these plates between runs can take a lot of time. 

This makes flexographic printing suitable for businesses just beginning to package and sell their coffee. A single, large print run using one colour and simple graphics/text is a great option for roasters wanting to package and sell their coffee affordably and quickly.

uv printing

What is UV printing?

In UV printing, liquid ink is digitally printed on a surface, drying immediately into a solid. LED printers and UV light evaporate the ink’s solvents in a photomechanical process, helping it adhere to the surface and create an image.

Because the ink dries instantly, it creates a photorealistic high-resolution finish with sharp edges and no bleeding or smudging. It also supports full-colour printing in cyan, magenta, yellow, and black. What’s more, it can print on almost any substrate, including non-porous surfaces.

UV printing’s superior print quality and quick turnaround come with a relatively high price tag, making it costlier compared to other forms of printing.

Why choose UV printing for your coffee packaging?

UV printing might cost more than other printing methods, but its benefits are limitless. One of the central appeals for specialty roasters is its low impact on the environment. 

The absence of mercury lamps to dry the ink means it requires less electricity, while it doesn’t use inks containing volatile organic compounds (VOCs), a byproduct of inks that pollute the atmosphere.

For micro roasters, UV printing opens up unique opportunities to print custom coffee packaging with a minimum order quantity (MOQ) of 500 units. Because flexographic and rotogravure printing methods require custom-made rollers to print designs on packaging, manufacturers tend to set MOQs significantly higher to cover the costs of production.

However, with UV printing there is no such barrier. Low quantities of customised packaging can be produced at no loss to the manufacturer. Therefore, roasters selling limited edition or micro lot coffee can take advantage of this and order just 500 bags, avoiding the need to bulk order.


What is rotogravure printing?

Like flexographic printing, rotogravure printing uses direct transfer to apply ink to a surface. It does this with a printing press equipped with a laser engraved sleeve or cylinder.

Each press has cells that store ink in the size and pattern required for the image. Pressure and rotation then release these inks onto a surface. A blade will remove the ink from parts of the cylinder that don’t require it as well as where there’s excess. Once the ink has dried the process can be repeated to add another ink colour or final finish.

Thanks to its excellent printing precision, rotogravure printing creates higher quality images than flexographic printing. Its cylinders can be reused multiple times, making it more cost-effective the longer it’s used. It’s particularly well-suited to printing continuous tone images at high speeds.

Why choose rotogravure printing for your coffee packaging?

Rotogravure printing may be considered a step up from flexographic printing as it can typically produce higher quality printed images with greater detail and precision.

Despite this, its quality isn’t as high as that produced by UV printing. It also requires investment in separate cylinders for each printed colour. Unless planning high volume runs, it can be difficult to recoup the cost of an investment in creating custom rotogravure rollers.

sustainable coffee packaging

When it comes to printing, there is no such thing as one-size-fits-all. Each specialty roaster has their own set of needs, which will ultimately determine the best printing method for their packaging.

For example, you might want to explore customer preferences for eco-friendly packaging. UV printing can help you print a small volume of recyclable packaging so that you can gauge the market response to it before investing in a full print run.

Alternatively, you might be looking for a no-frills way to package thousands of coffee bags which you’ll sell to cafés and consumers. Here, flexographic printing can create simple, single colour packaging at an affordable cost. 

If you’re still unsure about the best printing option for your roastery, we can help. At MTPak Coffee, we have years of experience catering to small, medium, and large-scale roasters, putting us in a great position to advise on what will suit your needs.

For information about our sustainable coffee packaging options, contact our team.

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