Posted on April 24, 2023 by Dennis Salazar

Custom Printed E-commerce boxes FAQ Regarding Ink Rub Off

If you know our work and have read posts on this blog before, you know we specialize in flexographic printing for corrugated boxes. Flexo, as the industry calls it, delivers excellent results and the lowest possible cost per unit. Technology keeps improving and today we are producing image quality and achieving special combinations and effects that were not possible just a few years ago.

However, one of the problems we occasionally see is referred to as ink rub off or ink transfer. That is when the flexographic inks transfer from the printed box or printed insert surface to the packer’s hand or clothes or worse yet, end up transferring to the products/items being packed and shipped. Here are a few of the most common questions that are asked:

What product and ink combinations are a potential problem? 

Most definitely, light, or white colored product(s) and dark colored graphics, especially high ink coverage such as flood coats or over 75% ink coverage. A perfect example is a white bottle or container, shipping in a dark blue flood coat insert and box. That type of combination is one we would want to take a closer look at prior to production to avoid any problems.  No two situations and applications are identical so if in doubt, ask before you commit, and certainly before you print.

Aren’t there inks available that solve this problem?

Some ink suppliers are able to provide “low rub” or “no rub” type inks. There is also a difference between coated and uncoated PMS colors. Standard and display inks are available as well. However, none of these ink options are going to be 100% guaranteed to totally eliminate rub off. The actual ink color as well as ink coverage definitely determine how minimal or severe the problem is. .

If modifying ink formulations cannot guarantee 100% no rub, why do them? 

That is a great question, and the answer is because they are inexpensive options that in many cases will solve or minimize the problem. If you really require 100% transfer free, it can be achieved but they will substantially increase the cost of the packaging. In an effort to minimize box and insert cost for our customers, so, we always try to solve any potential problem with the lowest cost option that works.

What about varnish or coating options, over the ink?

This is an option we offer on many applications, and it can “seal” the color to eliminate or minimize and rub off. To learn more about varnishes, we suggest you read the first post in the “related posts” section below. There we discuss the different types of coatings. Today most of these are water based and add little cost unless the company running them for you does not have the right equipment. We have been most successful applying coating on newer presses with dryers so we can apply ink, dry that ink coat thoroughly, and then apply the varnish coating in line. On the wrong or outdated equipment this may require a second or even third pass and that cost adds up.

Is digital printing an option that eliminates ink transfer?

Yes, it is but it may be more complicated and costly. We are not anti-digital, and we do offer that as a solution. Check out our digital site: Digital inks and equipment vary, but most do not rub-off, and produce printing that is clean and well-sealed. The main drawback is cost which can be double or more, when compared to flexographic printing. The higher cost per unit may be a deterrent but it is an available option and solution.

What about using litho labels to 100% prevent ink rub-off?

Litho printing on labels over corrugated are absolutely 100% ink transfer free, because the ink is sealed with a laminated layer of poly. There are numerous types of laminates including low luster satin, high gloss, and even soft touch. Ask us for sample swatches, and we will gladly provide them. Much like the digital printing option above, litho labels can be very expensive, especially when produced in smaller quantities. See second related post below.


Approximately 14 years ago we started working with one of the very first snack subscription boxes, Conscious Box. The owners were terrific guys, and well ahead of their time. Soon after we started producing boxes for them, We were shocked when they sent us photos of their packers, in their nice, white, company tee shirts. By the end of the workday, every packer had green ink transfer on their hands and shirts.

We quickly helped to solve their problem as we will for you if you see any signs of what we describe in this post. However, what we really are good at is recognizing and eliminating the potential problem before we print the first box. That experience we gained over the years can help save you time, frustration and a lot of money.

Call us at 630-551-1700 or contact us through this site. We are eager to help you produce the best-looking box at the lowest possible cost.


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