Folding Carton and Inkjet

By Pat McGrew / Published:

In the world of packaging, folding carton requirements are in their own lane. While we see more companies offering brightly colored corrugated boxes for primary and secondary uses as well as brilliant pallet wraps for use in warehouse stores, folding carton projects carry a different set of requirements. Printing solutions are available in many configurations and price ranges, from those that print a single box at a time to those supporting high volume production printing. They all share a common goal to produce a package that is functional and ensures the consumer of the brand and product it contains.

The folded carton package is considered a brand extension. The colors on a cereal box are as much a part of the brand identity as the specific blue of a famous jewelry box, and the colors on home appliance boxes. We know the print quality and color vibrance can meet the needs of brand owners, but there are other elements to consider. To meet the precise demands of each client requires a workflow capable of capturing job specifications, collaborating throughout the supply chain, along with an integrated ERP and MIS solution to manage production inputs and processes.

Those workflows exist today in a mature state. Packaging software suites from eProductivity Software (the former efi software group), ESKO, Insoft, Kama, Tharstern, and others are built to provide the infrastructure, but the burden is on the printer to use the features and functions to optimize the path from selling the job to delivering the finished goods. For companies deep into the inkjet production of folding carton work or those considering it as their next expansion opportunity, assess your current workflow state to see if it is optimized to meet the demands of today’s folding carton buyer’s and supply chain.

Evaluating the End-to-End Workflow

Every business has multiple workflows that drive the business and back office, but in the production shop there may be workflows for every type of product. Are your workflows standardized and optimized to eliminate touchpoints? Do they support options that will welcome new equipment to the floor and more products added to the catalog?

When a new project comes in, what are the steps that capture the job specifications? What are the steps in the workflow that generates estimates based on the structural and creative components? Is there a process for creating samples?

Those that do this work regularly know that there are multiple touchpoints and multiple loops in a manually-intensive workflow. Even in workflows that are automated or string together islands of automation there can be manual touchpoints. And because folding carton involves both structural and creative elements, it isn’t unusual for a project to hit a bottleneck when the creative is married to the structural elements and problems emerge.

Those problems can be logos landing in folds or glue areas, text cut off by structural elements, or colors not rendering as expected on the intended substrate. No matter how automated and optimized the front end of the workflow might be, when the print hits the substrate in an unexpected way, fixing the problems will take time. Even with a sample-making process in the workflow, final renderings may expose problems. When this happens, the estimate may no longer be valid, and deadlines are at risk.

Automated workflows help reduce many of the challenges but pay attention to how it is implemented. A job onboarding solution is great, but if it isn’t picking up all the requirements or updated to match capabilities brought by new equipment, you have lost the benefit it originally brought to the table.

Planning and imposition software are time-savers, but they work with information they are given. It is important to keep the software up-to-date, and to update configurations as you add new equipment. If you are moving from sheet-fed offset equipment to a new inkjet environment, or adding digital equipment to augment your shop, layout optimization, step-and-repeat programs, and imposition options should be revisited to ensure you are missing opportunities to optimize.

Are you collecting data? Shop floor data collection is key to understanding your print shop workflow and tuning it. The best practice is to collect data and leverage dashboards to keep everyone informed. Many companies use dashboards from their ERP/MIS vendor or business tools like Microsoft PowerBI to integrate shop floor data and business data to maintain a clear view of their costs, mean project turnaround time, and on-time delivery statistics.

The most important thing to do is assess your folding carton workflow to ensure that you can identify every touchpoint and have a plan to keep them optimized. Evaluate your workflow tools to see if there are gaps. Talk to your vendors and ask for an evaluation of the current state of your workflow.

If you have an innovative folding carton workflow, tell us about it! Have questions? Drop a note!

About the Author

Pat McGrew


Pat is a well-known evangelist for inkjet productivity. At McGrew Group, she uses her decades technical and marketing experience to lead the industry toward optimized business processes and production workflows. She has helped companies to define their five-year plans, audited workflow processes, and developed sales team interventions and education programs. Pat is the Co-Author of 8 industry books, editor of A Guide to the Electronic Document Body of Knowledge, and a regular contributor to Inkjet Insight and

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