– Packaging Colors


I’ve always noticed packaging for products will include little circles or boxes that have the colors used on the packaging. Why is that?

In: 2

Those are often used by the printers as a way to check the ink levels. They have a device that scans those boxes and circles and compares them to what they are supposed to look like, so that if one of the ink levels is low, they’d immediately be able to tell and not accidentally print tons of copies without red ink for instance.

They are test patterns to check the print quality on the manufacturing line. Individual colors to make sure none are running out of ink. Overlaid colors to make sure there are no left/right up/down shifts between colors.

They’re typically test patches for the different inks used on the packaging. It’s usually done that all of one colour will be printed on the package, then all of the next. Having a circle that’s just meant to be one colour of a set intensity makes it really easy to tell if somethings going wrong with the ink or something

In addition to what has been said, the black boxes and rectangles are for the machine that feeds the cardboard box through to align with the die cutter so the machine can cut the box in the right spots… They’re essentially used for squaring and positioning the packing before cutting

Additional: A densitometer can read the color swatches to determine the ink thickness of that specific color, which determines the color quality of the image being printed.

An example would be that if the thickness of the magenta ink is too thick (reads as 4.0 and should be 3.5) everything will print with a red-ish cast. Adjusting the magenta ink to the proper thickness will correct the problem, allowing the image to print as intended.

There are usually additional symbols and graphics to assist with registration (aligning the individual color plates to each other), trim and fold marks, color identification symbology (the cyan plate has the word “cyan” or just “c” for example), and specialized “progressive” color structures (cyan+magenta, yellow+magenta, etc.) used for custom applications.

Edit: This assumes that the printing method is offset lithography or similar method (Heliogravure, for example). Improving technologies (such as variable data and in-run digital imaging) and the practical economy of scale have created shorter run niche markets for inkjet and xerography (A.K.A. digital printing) to be a cost effective alternative to traditional printing methodologies for packaging. While both Inkjet and xerography both use “multi-colored dithering” (ink or toner) to effectuate a similar result, adjustments to image quality in order achieve optimal image fidelity is managed via specialized software, rather than adjusting ink density, as is done on an offset press during a production run. You will likely not see registration marks or color swatches on materials printed this way.