Choosing the right production process to scale order quantities

inke packaging — March 11, 2021

Whether you’re a small business shipping a few hundred orders per year, a start-up business in the early stages of product development, or a fully established brand with thousands of customers, we’re sure we have a solution that efficiently meets your packaging requirements so that you can spend more time focusing on your business and less time trying to manage your inventory.

If this is your first time ordering packaging or you’ve done it before but not sure where to start or what means what, don’t worry. We’ll explain it all below as and clearly as we can so that you can see a clear breakdown of the different production methods available and the results that come with each.

Digital printing (online store)

Gone are the days of being restricted from purchasing custom packaging for your brand due to high minimum order quantities (MOQs) from manufacturers.

Of course, there are many valid reasons why MOQs exist; thanks to modern technological advancements, we’ve got the facilities to support you when you can’t justify an investment that may not suit your cash flow.

When you place an order online using our platform, your boxes are printed using a sustainable and state of the art production method called digital printing. This allows you to take advantage of smaller on-demand orders (from as little as *1 unit) without paying any artwork setup fees, giving you the freedom to design whatever you like!

Think of it as your printer at home or office (however, on a much, much bigger scale). To put things simply, it is the process of printing an electronic file (PDF) directly to the substrates (material) surface.

Using our platform and the sizes listed on our online store, you’ll gain access to instant pricing on thousands of packaging options whilst waving goodbye to paying for any production setup fees, which in industry terms is called a ‘forme’.

Formes are a cutting tool that is custom made to the flat size of your packaging. These are then used to quickly and efficiently cut your boxes into assembling ready format. For custom sizes, these will usually range between $1-3k (depending on the specifications) as a once-off fee on your initial order. However, for online orders, we cover the costs so that you don’t have to.

What method is right for me?

For brands who require above 3000 units or are planning on purchasing this kind of volume on a repeat or regular basis each month, then we’d suggest contacting our sales team to discuss using either a WaterPress or PlatePress production method instead (commonly known as Flexographic and Lithographic) to fulfil your order demands with a greater return on investment.

Under 3000 units

  • CMYK Digital printing - Suitable production method for low to medium volume orders (1-3000 units). Offering on-demand, sustainable printing, waste reduction, and flexibility to print any design with no artwork set up costs.
  • Production time: 3 weeks
  • Artwork set up fee: No
  • Forme set up fee: No *When using sizes from our online store.

Over 3000 units (Cheapest option)

  • WaterPress (Flexographic) - The most economical method of production available when cost efficiency is the most important factor. Commonly used for printing high volumes of basic design prints (like logos or barcodes) in up to 4 colours with lower quality results.
  • Production time: 4-6 weeks
  • Artwork set up fee: Yes
  • Forme set up fee: Yes

Over 3000 units (Premium option)

  • PlatePress (Lithographic) - Used to ensure specific printing results are achieved. Suitable for printing ultra high-quality packaging designs with stunning results using specific solid Pantone brand colours. Best return on investment is achieved when ordering in high volume.
  • Production time: 4-6 weeks
  • Artwork set up fee: Yes
  • Forme set up fee: Yes

Breaking it down

CMYK Digital

This is when printing an electronic file (your PDF design) directly to the cardboard materials surface.

CMYK provides a sustainable and cost-efficient way to order on-demand packaging at low to medium volumes. This concept makes it a great option for start-up businesses not looking to ‘mortgage the house’ on huge minimum orders and set up costs and looking to speed up delivery times as an alternative to traditional production methods, as explained below.

Using digital printing, you can print any design you like without any additional fees. However, note as it is a digital process, it does not print solid PMS (Pantone) colours as other methods can. Printing in Pantone is only an available option when ordering above 3000 units using a Lithographic or Flexographic process. But don’t worry, as all PMS colours as converted to their nearest CMYK equivalent, the results as near-identical when designed right, which you can read more about here.


WaterPress, more commonly known as Flexographic, is the process of roll-feed web printing direct to board through up to 6 colour plates and water-based inks.

Flexographic is considered one of the most traditional production methods available and popular amongst brands ordering packaging in high volumes when reducing the overall quality of the print is favourable to achieve a lower cost per unit and better return on investment.

When ordering above 3000 units or planning to do so a few times over, it’s worth considering the cost comparison of Flexographic to that of Digital production as it can be a more efficient production method when in higher volumes. Custom orders using this process will incur a setup fee on an initial order for both plates and forme contributions, which can range between $2-5k depending on your requirements.

Once you have placed your first order, all future orders will exclude any setup fees and allow us to offer much more cost-effective rates to that of the products listed on our online store (e.g. $1 per unit *depending on the specifications).

  • A common example of Flexographic print which you may recognise is Wine or Craft Beer packaging when their print isn’t necessarily sharp and the bleed of the ink is visible. Whilst it can still look great, you can clearly see the results are not comparable to that of digital or lithographic production. However, you can understand why the brand has chosen this method to achieve better overall pricing.


PlatePress, more commonly known as Lithographic, is printing directly to a coated paper substrate in a high-quality manner that is then mounted onto the corrugated (cardboard) surface, providing stunning and ultra-high-quality results (like what you would see in a magazine!)

Most commonly used when printing a specific Pantone colour is required and or when branding needs to be printed exactly to the specifications of your design file.

Whilst it sounds like a no-brainer to choose this method, it requires a minimum order of 3000 units to make it a feasible option by offsetting the setup costs on your first order, as explained above. These higher minimum orders don’t make it an effective choice of production for all brands, especially those just starting.

To achieve the best return on investment using this process, brands will need to look to higher quantities such as 5000 and above units. Whilst it is only marginally more expensive than the flexographic option, it does offer a much higher result.


Below is a comparison image between PlatePress and Digital using the same artwork.

Can you notice any difference in the print quality and overall finish? When the right colours are used, the results can be near identical!

On-time inventory

Once you have found your fit with production and are in the rhythm of making orders to keep up with your customer demands, we suggest that you implement a Just-In-Time (JIT) inventory into your ordering schedule, which is essentially an order-on-delivery basis.

That way, you’ll stay ahead of the curve knowing that as your new packaging is running out the door to your customers, your new ones are being printed at the same time, which means that by the time you run out of inventory, you’ll have a fresh batch of packaging delivered just in time (excuse the pun).

For orders using WaterPress and PlatePress production, allow between 4-6 weeks from your order date for production and delivery in full *depending on your requirements, of course.

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