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Digital vs offset print mailer boxes: a comprehensive guide

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Branded digital print and offset print mailer boxes.

Choosing between a digital print mailer box and an offset print mailer box (also known as a premium mailer box) is a big decision, with each having its own effect on your artwork, your packaging and ultimately your customer experience. In this article, we’ll help you navigate the differences and make the best decision for your brand.

What are digital print mailer boxes?

Digital print mailer boxes are mailer boxes that are printed on using a digital process that applies ink directly onto your mailer box. Digital printing is quick, efficient and cost-effective, meaning it’s an excellent choice for almost any brand. As your artwork is printed directly onto the mailer box, there’s no need for printing plates, meaning faster turnarounds and lower costs for short to medium print runs. It also means more flexibility to change designs without incurring extra costs. If you often update your designs or run seasonal campaigns, this is a big benefit.

What are offset print mailer boxes?

Offset print mailer boxes are mailer boxes that are printed on using the offset printing method, also known as offset lithography. This involves transferring your artwork from a digital file onto a printing plate, then to a rubber blanket and finally onto your mailer box. It’s this indirect process that gives offset printing its name. Whilst it is a more complicated (and expensive) process, offset printing is renowned for producing sharp lines, high-quality typography including small fonts, ultra-detailed artwork and photorealistic images. Plus Pantone colour matching is possible — an important feature for brand consistency.

Digital print mailer box vs offset print mailer box: a comparison

Print quality

Whilst digital printing has improved significantly, it doesn’t come close to the quality of offset printing on corrugated board, especially for intricate designs like fine text or logos. And when it comes to printing images, it’s the same story: offset printing offers superior print quality with sharper lines and the ability to print photorealistic images.

The winner: offset print mailer box

Offset print mailer box vs. digital print mailer box
Offset print mailer box vs. digital print mailer box
Offset print mailer box vs. digital print mailer box

Colour vibrancy

Offset printing offers excellent colour reproduction and, as we’ve mentioned, Pantone colour matching. As for digital printing, you can achieve a near-perfect colour match, but it’s not as accurate as offset printing. Colours can also often appear muted or faded with the cardboard beneath occasionally showing through the ink.

The winner: offset print mailer box

Offset print mailer box vs digital print mailer box

Flood printing

Flood printing is when one colour covers the entire surface of a material. And between offset print mailer boxes and digital print mailer boxes, offset performs much better in this area. In fact, we don't recommend flood printing on digital print mailer boxes. If you do, you run the same risk of the corrugated board showing through your flood print. if you want a full-colour artwork with digital printing, we recommend using an image, gradient or multi-coloured artwork as your background.

The winner: offset print mailer box

Speed and flexibility

This is where digital print mailer boxes shine. With printing plates out of the picture, you can easily and quickly change your designs, making digital print mailer boxes the ideal choice if you’re frequently updating your packaging for seasonal campaigns or product launches.

Offset printing, however, does use printing plates, so any new design will need new plates making before you can get back on the road. This takes time and resources (including costs).

The winner: digital print mailer box

Cost

For small print runs, digital print mailer boxes have the upper hand as there are no printing plates or other setup costs. That said, offset printing is highly cost-effective for large-volume orders (2500+ units). This is because once your printing plates are made, they can be used hundreds of times. In other words, your setup costs are a one-off.

The winner: digital print mailer box for small print runs / offset print mailer box for large print runs

Sustainability

Both digital print mailer boxes and premium mailer boxes are made from FSC-certified, 100% kerbside recyclable cardboard. So from a material perspective, they’re equal. But when you include the printing processes behind each mailer box, the picture is a little different.

On the one hand, digital printing doesn’t require producing, transporting or disposing of printing plates, all of which create emissions. It also uses a relatively small amount of energy.

On the other hand, offset printing does require producing printing plates and uses much more energy. In fact, offset print mailer boxes can have a carbon footprint that’s 50-90% larger than our digital print mailer boxes. If sustainability is a top priority for your brand, this could be make or break.

The winner: digital print mailer box

When to choose a digital print mailer box

Here are some use cases where we'd recommend a digital print mailer box:

  1. Simple designs (just a logo and/or simple text)
  2. Multi-colour designs
  3. Designs with background colour gradients
  4. Designs with an image as the backdrop
  5. White print on kraft

And here are some use cases where we wouldn't recommend a digital print mailer box:

  1. Single flood printing
  2. Photo-realistic images with vibrant colours
  3. Pantone matched colours (close match only)
  4. Ultra-fine text and intricate details

When to choose an offset print mailer box

Here are some use cases where we'd recommend an offset print mailer box:

  1. Photo-realistic images
  2. Fine lines and text
  3. Pantone matched colours (exact match)
  4. Flood printing
  5. Designs with special finishes (UV varnish, gold foiling etc.)

Tip: Offset print mailer boxes also perform well at everything that a digital print mailer box does well, like background colour gradients and multi-colour designs. It will just usually cost more and take longer.

And here are some use cases where we wouldn't recommend an offset print mailer box:

  1. Low-volume print runs

Which is the best mailer box?

It’s a cliche — but it depends. If you have a complex design where print quality and colour vibrancy are your top priorities, we’d recommend an offset print mailer box (often known as a premium mailer box). But if you have a simple design and flexibility, cost and sustainability are non-negotiables, we’d recommend a digital print mailer box. Put another way, it all starts with your brand.

Need more help deciding? Let us know.

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