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A Guide To Colors On Cardboard

This post was updated on January 21, 2020.

Looking for a custom shipping box option that won’t break the bank? We were too. To help businesses of any size get the custom shipping box they deserve, we created Brandable Box. You can print your logo on a shipping box for free with us. But how will the colors show up on a kraft brown cardboard box?

We also offer mottled white boxes, but sometimes, kraft brown is better. For the purpose of this guide, we'll focus on helping you better understand how colors will print on kraft brown cardboard.

Ready? Let’s dive in.


Color Modes: CMYK vs. RGB

To understand how colors print on kraft brown cardboard, you have to start with your logo file on your computer. The colors you see on your digital screen or monitor are made up of three main colors—red, green and blue, also known as RGB. But when it comes to printing, the colors are composed in a different way.

A printer uses the color mode CMYK to produce colors using four colors—cyan, magenta, yellow and black. When you send your logo file to us, it should be in CMYK color mode. If your file is in RGB mode, it will still print. Our printer converts RGB files to CMYK automatically, but the printer will read the colors slightly differently. CMYK mode will allow your logo colors to print as close as possible to how it shows up on your screen. 

What to Know About Colors on Cardboard

Here’s a crash course on color theory. Remember the color wheel you learned about in elementary school art class? Colors on the wheel are separated by warm and cool colors. Warm colors, like reds, yellows and oranges, are seen as such because they evoke things like the sun and heat. They make us feel warm. Warm colors are vivid and bold.

Cool colors, like blues, greens, purples and pastels, remind us of ice, water and sky. These colors are usually more calming on the eyes. 

But on kraft brown cardboard, these colors tell a different story.  Remember when uploading your logo:

Cooler and more vibrant colors will turn out crisper than warmer or pastel colors on kraft brown materials. Why is this? Our 100% recycled kraft brown cardboard boxes are made with a corrugated interior and a linerboard exterior. The kraft brown paper that goes into making these two pieces of a cardboard box is naturally absorbent. When the ink is absorbed into the kraft brown paper, its color begins to lose saturation, or intensity. In some cases, it even changes the color slightly. 

Use this chart below to see if your logo colors will create contrast when printed.

Cardboard print with all colors printed to display how colors look on cardboard

Spot Colors

Our industrial printer produces color by blending the four CMYK colors we mentioned above. This is also how most colors are produced in color printing. This isn’t always comprehensive of all the colors you see. Sometimes, you need a specific color.

When you need an exact color, such as the red you see on Coca-Cola cans, you'll need to use a spot color. A spot color isn’t created by mixing the four CMYK colors. It’s actually made to order. This also means the printer must make an additional plate for the spot color, which usually makes using a spot color more expensive. White is also considered a spot color.

At this time, our industrial printer does not support spot color applications.

Guidelines for Colors on Kraft Brown Cardboard: 

To wrap things up, here are a few important takeaways for printing colors on cardboard. 

  • Black looks best on kraft

  • Higher saturation and deeper colors, including purples, greens and deep blues, look great

  • Avoid red if you are hoping for a true bright red

  • Yellows and oranges usually won't print as vibrant 

If your logo is white, remember that our printing process cannot support spot color applications for white ink at this time. White elements on your logo will not print onto your box but instead show as the cardboard color. White registers with our 4-color printer as zero values and so the printer does not use any ink in that space.

Our mottled white boxes will work well if you'd really like your colors to pop. White ink still will not print on our mottled white boxes, but since our printer reads white as zero values, your white elements will show as the mottled white background.

Wondering what kind of file format to upload your logo in? Read more here. 

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