Selecting the Right Linerboard for Eye-catching P-o-p Displays

by Andrew Woodroffe and Diana Campbell
All linerboards are not equal. Knowing your material options will help you create structurally sound and visually exciting displays.
Whether on television, billboards or in magazines, colorful imagery constantly bombards consumers with messages touting a product or service. This imagery extends to the retail setting where point-of-purchase (P-O-P) displays call attention to products.
Achieving vibrant and attractive designs on P-O-P displays is not an easy task. The production process involves many individuals who have specific areas of focus, but often lack knowledge beyond their expertise. Understanding the entire process can reap significant rewards and provide an edge over your competition.
One area you should familiarize yourself with is linerboard. All linerboards are not created equal. They greatly influence the final quality of your corrugated P-O-P displays. Unfortunately, many users often neglect to specify the type of linerboard.
To produce high-end graphics that will grab the attention of shoppers, it’s critical to know what material substrates are available and how they can help you achieve eye-popping designs. 
Types of linerboard
P-O-P displays have one basic purpose: To capture the attention of consumers and, in almost every case, to sell something, whether it’s a product or service. Functionally though, displays have to be structurally sound, as well as graphically appealing. To that end, it’s important to understand the characteristics and limitations of the various types of substrates that are available.
The basic types of linerboards for producing temporary P-O-P displays are:
- Unbleached kraft liner (UBL)
- White top liner (WT)
- Premium white top liner (PWT)
- Solid bleached liner (SBL)
- Lightly coated white top (CWT) or lightly coated bleached liner
- Heavily coated white top or heavily coated bleached (SBS) or heavily coated kraft liner grades (CNK)
Please review the accompanying “Types of Linerboard” table. It outlines in general terms some of the primary attributes and capabilities of each major grouping. P-O-P is an evolving market with display designers and producers constantly testing the boundaries of performance. Despite generalizations, there are distinctions within each product category that offer opportunities.
One example is kraft liner. Historically, kraft liner has been unattractive to designers, other than as a structural material. But recently, a number of kraft liner producers have improved the print surface and appearance, to the point where designers are attempting more challenging graphics.
Liner improvements
Kraft liner grades offer improved smoothness, resulting in better ink coverage and more true reproduction of graphic images. Along with improved printability, kraft liner grades are much lighter in color and provide more contrast in the printed image. Although they aren’t white by any means, they provide the chance for you to open up the color palette while retaining an earthy look. Furthermore, you can use both lighter and standard kraft grades as graphic elements in the same display.
Other linerboard grades offer a variety of design options. White top liner grades were formerly known as “mottled” or “oyster.” Today, these grades provide a very uniform print surface and significantly improved print properties over the blotchy grades of the past.
White top liners come in a range of brightness levels and provide designers the opportunity to choose levels of contrast for a printed image. They also allow for the use of transparent or semi-transparent inks. Kraft liner does not typically use these inks because the substrate will show through and “muddy” the color.
At the higher end of this range are premium white top grades, which offer the highest brightness and the smoothest print surface. These grades often have a matte finish in contrast to coated grades, which offer better gloss contrast.
Consider using UV inks or spot varnishes on these grades to make the graphics “pop” and catch the eye of consumers. This can lead to more “look time” for the display.
Drilling down to find answers
You should not assume that the display manufacturer knows all of the linerboard selections that are available in the marketplace. Actively engage your display manufacturer in conversations about their substrate suppliers. Here are three questions you may want to ask:
1. What is the level of comfort you have with your material supplier?
2. Does the supplier have a solid reputation for consistent product quality?  
3. Is the supplier known to be a provider of innovative or specialty products?  
From these discussions, you may find that there are unique materials available that open up new opportunities for your designs. You can also call linerboard suppliers and ask them detailed questions. Tell them your needs, the types of display items you design, and where they’re used.
By doing this, both you and the supplier benefit. You gain valuable information that can help you create better designs, and the supplier gains insight into the designer’s or end-user’s display demands. BP
Andrew Woodroffe is Vice President of Product Management and Technical Services for Smurfit-Stone’s Board Sales div. Contact Andrew at 877.785.7835 or
Diana Campbell is Marketing Manager for Smurfit-Stone’s Display Group. Contact Diana at 804.727.3031 or

Proofing Issues
Your design may look different on the finished point-of-purchase display vs. what you saw on a proof. Artwork sent to a proofing press may not replicate exactly when pre- or post-printed on corrugated. Why does this happen? There are several reasons, but here’s the most likely one. Your proof often appears on bright, white, coated paper, not linerboard or a corrugated sheet. Since these material’s printing properties are vastly different, your image will vary depending on the substrate selected for proofing. To compensate for the printing differences, several companies offer proofing techniques that provide a more “realistic” sample of how your images will reproduce on linerboard.

Types of linerboard
Product Type Typical Printing Process Print Quality Physical Strength
Unbleached Kraft Liner Post-print Flexo Low Very High
White Top Liner Pre- or Post-print Flexo Good High
Premium White Top Liner Pre- or Post-print Flexo Very Good High
Solid Bleached Liner Pre- or Post-print Flexo Good to Very Good Adequate
Lightly Coated White Top or Bleached Liner Pre- or Post-print Flexo Very Good to Excellent High
Heavily Coated White Top or Bleached Liner Pre-print Flexo or Offset Excellent High
Heavily Coated Kraft Liner Pre-print Flexo or Offset Very Good High