How Digital Can Printing is Changing the Game for Craft Brewery Design

May 02, 2023
Digital Printing Directly on Cans

Direct-to-can flexo printing is out of reach for most craft breweries and beverage manufacturers. I often hear about the 1 truckload, or even up to 5 truckload minimum quantities per SKU!

Not only that, but the lead time is significantly longer than ordering a label or shrink sleeve and having it ready in a couple of weeks.

These are some of the reasons that small to mid-size breweries have kept with the classic label or shrink-sleeve options. And these are still great options!

But beverage manufacturers now have another option, digital printing directly to the can. And at first glance, it looks pretty rad.

I'm not going to get into the technical details of digital can printing run speeds, equipment, or anything like that. But I wanted to share some photos and thoughts on the digitally printed cans I have recently come across.

Let's have a look.

Sober Carpenter

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Digitally Printed Can for Sober Carpenter

This was the first one that I came across. I knew it was digitally printed the moment I picked it up.

Their other SKUs are traditional flexo printing and you could feel the difference between the digital and flexo versions just by holding them in your hand.

I didn't have the opportunity to ask anyone at Sober Carpenter why this one version was printed digitally, but I have a pretty strong feeling it was the "limited edition" factor.

Either they couldn't wait for flexo-printed cans to arrive, or the quantities were too small to go with the traditional can-printing method.

Being a print fan, I didn't just have a quick glance at these digital cans, I grabbed my printers loupe and got right in there.
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A close-up of the digital print using a printer's loupe.

You can see in the closeup that there are some print lines. This could be from the direction of print as this line effect is on a few of the other examples I have too. They really stood out in the greens.

But to sum it up, it looks pretty good. The print is not as sharp as digital label printing would be. Not as good as high-end flexo shrink sleeves. But not bad.

Longslice Brewery

This one takes me back to the ol' Jones Soda days. Remember how they had all those different black-and-white photos on the labels?

Longslice has their staple beers in digitally printed cans which would give them a shorter delivery time and the ability to still produce 100,000 or more of each SKU cost-effectively.

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Some examples of the staple beers that stick around longer

But taking full advantage of the digital print world, they have partnered with Old Toronto to show photos from the history of Toronto on their special release collectible cans.

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Examples from the collaboration with Old Toronto featuring photos from Toronto's history. 

A new one every month.

You could use a dozen different images and 2000 of each can in 1 order. No need to worry about any plate costs or dieline costs. Just send the files in!

I also wanted to share these because they show the image quality when printing photos on digital cans. Keep in mind that these are older photos and likely lower on the resolution side, but they look pretty good.

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Close up with my loupe at the digital can print 
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Through the loupe

I haven't even touched on the recyclability aspect of things.

It depends to some degree on your city's recycling program, but in general, cans printed directly are the most recyclable, followed by cans with labels, and lastly cans with shrink sleeves.

This technology opens up a new avenue for breweries and other small to mid-size beverage manufacturers. Especially great for startups or testing new products!

A graphic designer could build a portfolio of digitally printed cans to showcase their work. One print of each can artwork. I can think of so many opportunities with this.

It looks like digitally printed cans are available in 2 sizes right now, standard 355ml and 473ml. No slim cans...yet. I'm sure there will be other can size options available in the near future further opening up this segment to more beverages.

eg. Most canned wines I've seen are in smaller 187ml or 250ml cans.

I'm not sure if it makes sense for beverage manufacturers to have their own digital can printer installed, or if more label printers will just add this to their capabilities.

Either way, new tech making print more approachable to businesses is a big plus in my books.

Digital Can Print PROS:

  • quick turnaround time
  • no minimum order
  • very recyclable
  • no plate or die costs
  • multiple versions printed at the same time with ease and little to no setup costs

Digital Can Print CONS:

  • print quality is not as high as labels or shrink sleeves
  • not many suppliers have digital can print equipment
  • only 355ml and 473ml can sizes available right now

Question: Have you seen digitally printed cans in the marketplace yet? Or have you used digitally printed cans?