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Return to Pail Selection and Usage Index

Guidelines for the Selection and Use of Plastic Pails:
Labeling and Printing

When looking for that extra edge in the market place, consider that the smooth surface of a plastic pail is conducive to either the printing of high-quality graphics and text or the application of a pre-printed label. Graphic designers can incorporate a customer's logo, illustrations, directions, warnings, ingredients and UPC code into an eye-catching package that will fit the pail manufacturer's die-line specifications. The artwork is then translated into color-separated negatives through the latest in digital prepress technology and plates are prepared for the appropriate press.

•  Printing: Plastic industry printers employ the dry offset method of printing on "flamed-treated" pails. Pails are "flame-treated" at the beginning of the printing process by exposing the entire surface of the molded pail to an oxidizing flame. This oxidation allows the printer to improve the ink adhesion to the pail. Pail printing presses are equipped with four reservoirs from which the premixed spot-color inks are drawn. After passing through a series of distribution-adjusting rollers, the inks are transferred to the raised portions of the four metal-backed polymer or rubber plates. Each plate, in turn, applies its ink to a single blanket in the offset cylinder. The blanket then transfers the full-color image to the pail in just one revolution. The printed pail is then ejected from the press and passes rapidly through an ultraviolet light station where the ink is cured and dried.

Silk Screen: Silk screening is the original direct-to-pail printing method. Silk screen printing, primarily replaced with offset systems today, is a slow process that still has its place.  Silk screening lays down a heavier thickness of inks, and therefore is sometimes needed when printing light-colored or white ink on a dark-colored or black pail. Silk screens are easily changed with little time lost between print jobs, so this method is also used by some fillers in plants for screening small quantities of a certain label at a time.

Labeling: Two styles of preprinted labels can be used on pails - wet glue and pressure sensitive. When using wet glue labels, ensure that the manufacturer has "flame-treated"  the pails or the label may not bond properly. Labels can be printed on various paper stock, including flat, glossy and film laminated. Label manufacturers utilize regular and UV flexographic presses, rotary letterpresses and silk screen presses and the variety of presses allows the flexibility of up 12 PMS colors or four-color process printing. The application of these pre-printed labels to the pails is the responsibility of the customer and the label manufacturers sell applicator machines and integrated systems for this purpose.

• Sleeve Labels: Printed poly sleeve labels are also a pail-decorating alternative.  Sleeve labels are normally friction fit onto the pail and can be applied manually or with semi-automatic or automatic machinery.

• Other Decorating Systems: Some other print systems evolving include heat-transfer labels, in-mold labeling, hot-stamp printing and pad printing. These printing processes are usually very specialized and normally fit best with large volume single-print jobs.

General Information
What determines the best method for printing or labeling is dependent on marketing needs as well as other important factors.  Each method of printing and labeling has its pros and cons and should be explored in regard to an individual customer’s requirements. Factors to be considered are:

• Volume requirements  

• Number of labels or print jobs

• Turns of inventory by label or print job

• Plant operation and layout (one fill line vs. many small fill lines, etc.)

Contact a pail manufacturer for guidance in this area and what system or systems best fit your needs.


Pails that range in size from 4-gallon to 6-gallon should display an infant drowning warning label.  If pails are purchased which are not printed by the pail manufacturer, they will come with this label applied or printed automatically.  If pails are printed or if the manufacturer applies full wraparound labels, the infant drowning warning label should be incorporated into the artwork.  The exact label artwork can normally be obtained from your pail manufacturer, and should be of a size and in a location as outlined in ASTM Designation: F1615-95 (re-approved 1999).  Without this label, the pail will not be in compliance with the voluntary labeling standard agreed upon by the pail industry.  In certain cases, your product package could be cited as defective by certain governmental agencies.  To obtain the ASTM Standard, it must be purchased from ASTM.  The exact document needed is:   Click here for more information and to download /print Free warning posters.

ASTM Designation:  F1615

Standard Specification for Cautionary Labeling for Five-Gallon Open-Head Plastic Containers