How to print onto plastic? Printing onto plastic material has become an increasingly popular method for creating various products, ranging from packaging materials to promotional items.
The ability to print directly onto plastic surfaces opens up numerous opportunities for customization and branding.
This article explores the process of printing on plastic material, the different printing methods and technologies involved, as well as the applications and benefits of this versatile printing technique.
Methods of printing on plastic
Let’s discuss several printing process methods that are used to produce high-quality prints on plastic material.
Screen printing is a widely used printing method to create high-quality images. Screen printing involves creating a stencil or screen and forcing ink through it onto the plastic substrate. The screen printing technique is suitable for both flat and curved surfaces, making it ideal for a wide range of plastic products.
Screen printing is a versatile and widely utilized method for printing onto plastic surfaces. Screen printing involves a multi-step printing process that begins with creating a stencil, also known as a screen or mesh.
Digital printing has revolutionized the printing industry, and it is also highly effective for plastic.
The digital printing process utilizes digital files to directly transfer ink onto the plastic surface, allowing for precise and vibrant prints. This printing method offers flexibility, quick turnaround times, and the ability to print high-quality images.
Digital inkjet printing
Digital inkjet printing operates by utilizing a digital file that contains the image or design. This file is sent directly to the printer, which interprets the digital information and transfers it onto the plastic material.
One of the key advantages of digital inkjet printing is its ability to produce precise and vibrant prints. The technology allows for high-resolution images with sharp details, vibrant colors, and smooth gradients. This makes inkjet printing particularly suitable for applications where intricate designs, photographic images, or complex graphics are required.
Flexographic printing (flexo printing)
The flexographic printing method, or flexo printing, is commonly used for high-volume printing onto plastic materials. It involves a flexible relief plate that transfers ink onto the plastic substrate.
This printing method is well-suited for flexible plastics, such as print-finished plastic bags and films, and it can achieve a high-quality durable print with excellent registration.
Offset printing, although primarily used for paper, can also be adapted for plastic. It involves transferring ink from printing plates to a rubber blanket, which then applies the ink onto the surface.
This method is suitable for large print runs and can produce sharp and detailed images.
Pad printing is a specialized method that involves printing onto three-dimensional plastic objects, such as toys or electronic devices.
It uses a silicone pad to transfer ink from etched printing plates onto the plastic substrate. Pad printing allows for precise placement of the print and is commonly used for intricate designs.
Laser printing, commonly associated with a standard office laser printer, is primarily used for printing on paper but can also be adapted for certain types of plastic. A laser printer utilizes a laser beam to create static charges on a drum or a toner-coated surface.
In the laser printing process, the charged areas attract toner particles, which are then transferred onto the substrate.
While laser printing is generally limited to certain types of plastics that can withstand the heat and pressure involved in the process, it can be a viable option for simple designs or text-based prints.
UV litho printing
UV litho printing is a specialized printing technique that utilizes ultraviolet (UV) light to cure the ink. In UV litho printing, UV-curable ink is applied to the plastic substrate using a printing plate.
This method provides fast and efficient printing on plastic to produce high-quality images, as the cured ink dries instantly, eliminating the need for additional drying time.
Hot stamping is another popular method for printing, particularly for decorative or branding purposes.
The hot stamping method involves the use of a heated die or plate that presses a foil or pre-printed film onto the plastic surface. Hot stamping is commonly used in printing services for printing on plastic items such as plastic bags, cards, and promotional products.
Preparing the plastic surface
Surface cleaning. Before printing, it is crucial to ensure the surface is clean and free from any dust, oils, or contaminants. Cleaning methods can include wiping the surface with a solvent or using specialized cleaning solutions designed for plastic.
Surface treatment. To enhance ink adhesion, some plastic surfaces may require pre-treatment. Common methods include corona treatment, flame treatment, or using chemical primers. These treatments create micro-level changes on the surface, improving ink adhesion and print quality.
Primer application. Applying a primer to the plastic surface can further enhance ink adhesion and print durability. Primers are specifically formulated to bond with both the substrate and the ink, creating a strong and beautiful print.
UV-curable inks. UV-curable inks have gained popularity due to their fast curing time and excellent adhesion properties. These inks are cured using UV light, resulting in prints that are instantly dry and resistant to scratches and fading.
Solvent-based inks. These inks are commonly used for printing onto plastic. They contain pigments or dyes dissolved in a solvent, which evaporate during the drying process. These inks offer good adhesion and durability, making them suitable for various plastic substrates.
Water-based inks. They are environmentally friendly options. They contain pigments or dyes suspended in water, and they are generally low in VOCs (volatile organic compounds). Water-based inks require longer drying times and may require additional coatings for improved durability.
Packaging materials. Printing is extensively used in the production of packaging materials, including bottles, plastic bags, containers, and films. It allows for branding, labeling, and the inclusion of product information, enhancing shelf appeal and consumer engagement.
Promotional items. Printed plastic items such as pens, keychains, and phone cases serve as effective promotional tools. Printing logos, slogans, promotional golf balls, or artwork onto these items helps businesses increase brand visibility and reach a wider audience.
Point-of-purchase displays. Printed plastic materials are often used for point-of-purchase displays, such as standees, signage, and shelf talkers. These displays catch the attention of customers, convey promotional messages, and contribute to overall brand recognition.
ID cards and name badges. Printing onto plastic is commonly utilized for creating identification cards and name badges. The durable and waterproof nature of plastic makes it ideal for these applications, ensuring longevity and easy maintenance.
Benefits of printing onto plastic
Versatility. Printing onto plastic offers a wide range of options in terms of surface finishes, colors, and textures. This versatility allows for creative designs and customized prints that meet specific branding or product requirements.
Durability. Plastic is known for its durability, making it suitable for various applications where prints need to withstand wear and tear. Printed plastic items can withstand exposure to moisture, UV radiation, and other environmental factors without fading or deteriorating.
Cost-effective. Printing onto plastic can be a cost-effective solution for both small and large print runs. The ability to mass-produce plastic items, coupled with efficient printing methods, helps reduce production costs and increase profitability.
If you have some questions related to the topic “how to print onto plastic“, we are glad to answer them.
Can you print on plastic with a regular printer?
No, you typically cannot print directly onto the plastic with a regular printer.
Regular printers, such as inkjet or laser printers, are designed to print on paper and are not equipped to handle plastic materials. Specialized printers and printing methods are required for printing onto these surfaces.
How do you print on plastic with a printer?
To print on plastic with a printer, you will need a printer specifically designed for printing on plastic substrates. These printers utilize different technologies and inks that are compatible with plastic materials.
Can I print on plastic with an inkjet printer?
Yes, it is possible to print on plastic using ink-jet printing, but it requires certain considerations. Inkjet printers can be used to print on plastic by using specialized inkjet-compatible plastic sheets or films.
Does printer ink stick to plastic?
Printer ink can stick to plastic surfaces under the right conditions. However, not all printer inks are suitable for printing on plastic, as these surfaces can be non-porous and require inks with specific adhesion properties. Some inks, such as UV-curable inks or solvent-based inks, are formulated to adhere well to plastic and provide good print durability.
Printing onto plastic opens up a world of possibilities in terms of customization, branding, and product personalization. With various printing methods, surface preparation techniques, and ink options available, businesses can create beautiful prints for anything you can imagine. Whether it’s packaging materials, promotional items, or point-of-purchase displays, printing onto plastic offers versatility, durability, and cost-effectiveness.
Hi, I’m artist and sublimation printing expert. Born and raised in Anchorage, Alaska, I had passion for photography and painting from my childhood. I started my career as a sublimation print operator for a local printing company in 2012. The role exposed gave me lots of practical knowledge about printing process, from managing color profiles to ensuring print quality on various materials.