Frequently Asked Questions

The list below should answer most of your questions. If you can't find an answer here, please send your question using the form on our contact page.

General Questions

General capabilities.

  • Bag Sizes - We make film from 3" to 30" wide, in thicknesses between 0.60 mil and 6.0 mil
  • Printing - Up to six spot colors (combined front to back - 6 colors on one side, 3 colors each side, etc)
  • Film Colors - Over two dozen film colors to choose from 
  • Turnaround Time - Most orders ship within 2 to 3 weeks of art approval.
  • Minimum Order - Our minimums are between 3000 and 20,000 bags, depending on specifications. Minimum order also varies based on bag size and thickness, as well as number of print colors.  In general, we need to run at least 100 lbs of film per order. Multiple color print will also require higher minimums, due to setup processes. 

All bags are custom made to your client's specifications. 

If unsure of the size of bag you need, feel free to contact us for help.

It is fairly simple to calculate the size of the bag needed, which starts with the measurements of what is going into the bag.

Here's some basics: 

  • The circumference of a bag without side gussets is  twice the width. A 12" wide bag has a 24" circumference. (12+12)
  • Circumference of a bag WITH side gussets is twice the width, plus twice the gusset. A 12" wide bag with 7" gussets has a 38" circumference. (12+12+7+7)
  • Bags can have gussets either in the side or bottom, but not both.
  • To get an idea of size, most grocery store t-shirt bags are about 12" wide, 22" high, with a 7" side gusset (called a 12x7x22). 

The circumference of the bag should be larger than the circumference of the items going in the bag.  This is generally only a concern when there is a specific size object needing to be bagged. 

If you have a box that is 9" long and 6" wide, its circumference would be 30". (9+9+6+6=30). Half of 30 is 15, so a 15" wide bag would fit perfectly, but it's best to get a slightly larger bag, around 16", to make bagging easier. You could also use a side gusseted bag, like a 10x6x22, which would have a 32" circumference. 

Bottom gussets in bags will help the bag sit flat when expanded, but do not increase the circumference of the bag. for that same 9x6 box, a 16" wide bag with a bottom gusset of 6" will hold the boxes nicely. 

Bags measurements are expressed as the entire width x height (9x12, 15x18, etc) of the flattened bag. If bag has side gussets, the measurement is written as Width x Gusset x Height (12x7x22 is a standard T-shirt bag). If bag has a bottom gusset, the measurement is written as Width x Height + Gusset Width (15x18+4"BG for instance).

It's important to understand that bags with side gussets always have a bottom seal, and bags with bottom gussets will have a side seal. 

Bottom Seal bags are sealed between 1/4" and 1/2" from the very bottom of the bag, while side sealed bags are sealed at the very side edges. 

The height of the bag is measured from the very bottom of bag to the very top, except for Soft Loop Handle bags where the handle is attached and not included in the height measurement. You can see diagrams of bags as well as information about print area on our Print Area Information pages

ALL DIMENSIONS ARE APPROXIMATE.

If your bag needs to hold a specific sized item, please let us know so that we can make sure the bag is sized correctly

TOLERANCES

  • All Dimensions are approximate. Length and width of bag vary within 1/2" ±. Larger bags can vary by as much as 1"
  • Gauge (mil) can vary by up to 10% ± from order to order and/or within the same order.
  • Film and Ink colors may vary from order to order and/or within the same order.
  • For multiple color prints, ideal trapping is 1/16" or greater. Image will shift slightly from bag to bag. 
  • Two sided print alignment can vary by up to 1" front to back.
  • Artwork with screens will be printed at 35 LPI. Uneven ink coverage may result due to dot gain. 
  • Colors on proofs are approximate and may not display accurately on monitors or desktop printers. Inks are matched to Pantone PMS colors. 

While we try to keep overruns and underruns to a minimum, the production process has multiple steps, and the setup time and scrap produced for each step cannot be accurately predicted. This is due to the multiple steps process of extruding, printing, and converting bags, 

Steps to making bags

There are three basic steps to creating your bag, all of which require separate setup routines and create scrap material. All scrap is sent to a recycling center to be converted back into resin.  Here are the steps:

  1. Extruding the film – bags start as small pellets of resin, which are melted in an extruder and blown into a tube that matches the specifications for each order. The film passes through several rollers as it cools and is then flattened and wound on a large roll, ready to print. Scrap is created as the adjustments are made to create the correct film specifications.
  2. Printing – The roll of extruded film is then placed on a printing press. Press setup time and scrap created varies based on the number of colors being printed. Aligning printing plates to assure proper position can be very time consuming. 
  3. Converting – Once printed, the roll of film is moved to a converting machine that seals, cuts, and adds handles onto individual bags, which are then boxed up and prepared for shipping. 

American Plastic is not set up to accept credit cards.  All initial orders are pre-pay by check. For more information, see our terms and conditions page. 

We offer close to 30 different standard colors of film, in both HDPE and LDPE, so we can come close to matching most film colors. We do not provide custom film matches. 

Visit our Film Colors page to see all the colors we offer, downlonad our line card (PDF), or contact us to request film color samples. 

The short answer to this is no.

Pre-production samples (basically a prototype of the finished product) are not practical. Creating a printed bag involves several steps: blowing the film, printing the film, and converting the printed film into bags. All of these steps require hundreds of feet of film to be produced. Creating a sample would require as much time and materials as running several thousand bags. 

We are happy to provide sample bags from previous jobs that have the same (or similar) film color, thickness, and bag style (whenever possible...we don't have samples of all combinations.)

It is also possible to schedule a visit to our plant to do a press check while bags are being made. 

No. Plate charges are a one time charge. Additional charges would only apply if changes are being made to the art. We do not charge a setup fee on any orders.

Plate charges are not charged if you provide your own plates. see our FAQ page about providing your own plates. 

American Plastic takes pride in being able to offer minimums as low as 3,000 bags, but depending on the specs of the bag, that minimum can end up being as high as 20,000.  The reasons for this mainly have to do with setup times, labor, and waste. 

Setup for all jobs takes about the same amount of time, regardless of the size of the bag. There are three basic steps involved in making bags: extruding film, printing, and converting individual bags. 

Extruding Film - This involves loading an extruder with raw resin, melting it, and blowing it into a tube of the specified width and thickness. Before being wound on a roller, the blown film needs to be threaded through a set of rollers, and adjustments made to width and gauge of the film. This process is the same no matter how much material we are making. So for smaller orders, the percentage of setup time compared to the whole run is much higher. On larger runs, the setup time is a very small percentage of the time it takes to run a job.

Printing - Printing setup is also time consuming, and that multiples for each ink color added. Many one color jobs can be printed inline, as the film comes off the extruder, but for bags printed offline, or with more than one color, the film is transferred to a separate printing press. Each color requires its own printing plate, attached to a printing cylinder. Usually workers need to change out the print cylinders to match the bag size being made. The only way to register multiple colors so that they line up correctly is to print some film and make final adjustments as it runs through the press. Running a six color job can require hours of setup time, which makes smaller runs very impractical. 

Converting - The final step in making bags is moving the printed (or unprinted) film to a machine that cuts, seals, and stacks the bags. There is setup time required to wind the film through the converter, adjust digital print sensors, and ensure seals line up properly. 

General rules of thumb on minium orders: 

  • Total weight needs to be at least 100 lbs to justify the setup processes involved.
  • Printing multiple colors will increase minimums
  • Larger, thicker bags have lower minimums than small, thin bags

Because of the complexity of the manufacturing process, we may refuse to quote some jobs if we are unable to offer a competitive price. 

 

The short answer is no. American Plastic, Mfg sells exclusively through a network of distributors. This allows us to keep our prices low by focusing on our production process. Our distributors are knowledgeable about our capabilities and product line, and can suggest products that would be well suited for your business. Please let us know if you would like more information or have questions, or if you are a bag distributor and are interested in setting up an account. 

Printing Questions

Plastic bags are printed using a process called flexography, which uses a flexible relief plate to make imprints. Each color of the print job requires its own plate. We can print a total of up to six colors, combined between both sides of the bag. 6 colors on one side, or 3 colors on each side. 

Flexographic plates can usually be used for many years without any degradation. However, after long use, the plate surface can develop cracks which will affect print quality. When plates do develop cracks, we recommend replacing the plates. When ordering plates through us, we will replace any cracked plates free of charge. 

Our manufacturing process is fairly simple. Film is extruded by heating small resin pellets and blowing the film into a tube, which is then wound onto a large roll. The roll of film is then wound through rollers on the press where it is printed, and then rolled up again as it comes off the machine. The next step is converting the film into bags. Different converting machines make different types of bags. 

Inks are matched to standard Pantone PMS colors found in the Pantone Plus Formula Guide. Coated (C) and Uncoated (U) inks with the same PMS number may appear different both onscreen and when printed. American Plastic only prints with coated inks. When creating your art, we strongly suggest referring to a PMS guide to specify colors. 

Art programs like Photoshop, Illustrator, Corel Draw, and others allow you to select colors from various palettes, and you should be able to select the Pantone Plus Coated palette to design your work. We will always provide a digital proof of your art in the colors specified, but keep in mind that colors may not look the same on screen, or printed on paper from desktop printers. 

 

We do not offer ink drawdowns for a couple of reasons. We match all ink colors to standard Pantone PMS colors. Because of the large number of possible ink colors (close to 2000), accurately mixing small amounts of a ink is very time consuming, and it's difficult to make in small batches with precision.

The other issue with drawdowns is that the method for rolling it on the film does not accurately replicate the way ink is applied on the printing press, so it isn't always possible to get an accurate representation of how the ink will look. 

We match all colors to standard Pantone PMS color numbers. The best method of choosing colors is to refer to a PMS color guide. We stock coated inks only, so refer to PMS "C" colors.

 

For more information about choosing colors, please visit our FAQ page on specifying ink colors.

If you are choosing a film color other than white, see our information about printing on colored film

 

Bold, colorful designs can really make a bag stand out, but it's important to follow some basic guidelines to get the best results.  

All ink colors print well on white film, so if your art has multiple, or bright, colors, the colors will always look great on white.  Most inks - with the exception of white, black, and metallic colors - print translucent or even transparent. This causes the print to pick up the color of the film, or to disappear completely - especially on dark film. For instance, Blue ink on yellow film will become greenish, yellow ink on black film disappears completely, and red ink on beige or buff film will become burgundy. Predicting how different inks will appear on different film colors is also very tricky, and is highly dependent on the ink formula of the chosen color. White ink looks good on dark colors, but picks up the film color slightly. On black film, white looks slightly gray, on navy blue film, white looks light blue, etc. 

We match ink colors using the Pantone PMS Formula Guide. Pantone makes several color guides, with values for matching colors in different uses. RGB and Hex color values are used for computer displays, where colors are created by mixing red, blue, and green light. CMYK definitions are for process printing, where tiny dots of Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, and blacK inks are printed in varying amounts to emulate the final color.  Flexographic printing uses spot color printing, which means different base ink colors are mixed to match the color desired. The Pantone Formula Guide provides the recipe for different color mixes. 

As an example, a popular red color is PMS 185, which has a formula of 75% Warm Red ink, and 25% Rubine Red ink. This prints bright red on white film, but on black film it completely disappears because both Rubine Red and Warm Red are transparent inks. 

So, is it possible to make bright colors show up on dark film? Yes, but predicting the outcome can be very tricky. There are two ways to get transparent inks to print on dark colors: 1) put a white backer behind the colors. This will provide a lighter, neutral base color which will provide a light base for the colors to print on. The downside of this is the necessity for an additional printing plate, and higher printing costs. Because white prints translucently, the final print will still be hard to predict. 2) choose a color that has at least 50% white in the formula. The downside is that the color will print translucently and the color of the underlying film will show through, and the results are impossible to predict with accuracy. 

If we use PMS 185 Red again as an example, a close color match with white ink in the mix is PMS 7625, which has a formula of 27% Rubine Red, 26% Yellow 012, and 47% White. This makes a red that is close to 185, but has enough white in it to provide some opacity. But again, it is impossible to predict how it would print on darker film colors. 

Yes, if you prefer to provide your own printing plates, we can usually use them with no problem. However, we highly recommend having your plates made through us. This streamlines the production process and creates far fewer headaches for you and your customers. Using third party plate makers can result in delays, and cost savings are usually minimal. Especially if plates are made to incorrect specifications, contain errors, or become unusable due to cracking.   

Advantages to having us make your plates :

  • TIME SAVINGS – Our local plate maker delivers daily, and turnaround is usually overnight. Customer provided plates can spend several days in shipping, and if plates arrive damaged, or incorrect, more delays can occur. 
  • PLATE PREPARATION – Plates are attached to printing cylinders with double sided sticky-back tape. The cost for tape and labor is included in our plate cost. If plates arrive without sticky-back tape,  there will be an additional charge for adding it to the plates. 
  • GUARANTEE – Plates made through us are guaranteed to match the art. Customer provided plates are used as-is, and while we will compare to your art, we are not responsible for plate quality or replacement if there are problems.
  • DAMAGE REPLACEMENT – Over time, plates wear out and crack, requiring replacement for future orders. If made through us, there is no charge for replacement. For customer provided plates, the customer bears costs for plate replacement.
  • QUALITY – Our art department makes sure that all art files sent to the plate maker are correctly formatted. Incorrect art files can result in text shifts, fonts changing, incorrect line screens, and trapping issues.

TO PROVIDE YOUR OWN PLATES

Plates must match the specifications listed below. If plates are made differently, we may still be able to use them, but cannot guarantee they will work on our presses.

  • 3M Cyrel .107 plate media
  • Backed with  3M 411DL sticky-back tape
  • Between .050 and .060 relief
  • 1" dead space around perimeter of image area
  • Any raised crop marks (tick marks) must be removed
  • Etched center scribe lines
  • Beveled edges
  • Halftones printed at 35 LPI
  • Provide an art proof (PDF) showing proper art positioning on bag

PLATES WILL BE USED AS RECEIVED

Customer bears responsibility for making sure plates are made correctly. American Plastic assumes no responsibility for print quality due to plate abnormalities, damage, or errors. Additional charges will apply if plates require backing or other adjustments.

Digital proof showing art position on bag MUST be submitted.

COMMON PROBLEMS WITH PLATES 

Improperly made plates can result in poor print quality or incur extra charges. Here's some common issues to be aware of.

  • Plates made from bitmapped images – may result in jagged edges on art.
  • Plates made to incorrect specifications – may result in poor print quality, or may be unusable
  • Plates made with inadequate trapping – may result in poor image quality 
  • Crop marks not trimmed off of plates –  marks will print on bag. Additional charges will apply to remove crop marks.
  • Double sided backing not attached – Backing has to be added. Additional charges will apply
  • Registration marks not included – Multiple color jobs must have centerlines on plates to avoide additional setup charges. 

Art Questions

All art should be submitted electronically, either through email, or by providing us a link to download the art. Contact us for information about where to send art.  

FILE PREPARATION

  • Vector Format Only - If art is not in vector format, we may be able to convert it. See explanation
  • Preferred file format: PDF.  Files should be unlocked. Our artists need to be able to open and make adjustments to art files. 
  • Acceptable file formats: EPS, AI (CS5 or earlier), and CDR (X7 or earlier). NOTE: If sending art in these formats, please provide a PDF proof, and convert all text to curves, and outlines to objects. 
  • File formats that will incur art charges: TIFF, JPG, PSD, and PNG bitmap image files must be converted to vector for printing.
  • Unacceptable file Formats: Word, PowerPoint, Publisher, InDesign and QuarkXPress files cannot be used
  • Printed Art received by mail or fax will need to be converted to digital vector files. Art charges will apply. 
  • All fonts must be converted to outlines (curves)  See explanation
  • Halftones and gradients are printed at 35-lpi, and should be limited to larger areas for best results.
  • Convert lines to objects - if objects have outlined edges, they should be converted into objects. The features of the outline - corners, dotted lines, thickness, etc - can shift. Thick outlines can also cause incorrect measurement of the art. Converting to a filled object will alleviate those issues. If you have questions, please Contact us 
  • TRAPPING - Film shifts up to 1/8" during printing and can cause registration issues. On multiple-color jobs, leave white space between colors if possible. If colors must overlap, trapping should extend by at least 4pt.  When setting trapping, be aware of the print order: lighter colors print first, followed by darker colors, and black will always print on top. If unsure of the order that colors will print on your job, please contact us.
  • ART CHARGES will apply if art needs to be converted to a vector file

Vector images are shapes and lines drawn in an illustration program (like Adobe Illustrator or CorelDraw) that have mathematical dimensions. This allows unlimited scalability without compromising the image quality. Images have smooth edges at all sizes, and file sizes much smaller than bitmap (raster) images. Common vector formats are PDF, Adobe Illustrator - AIEPS, and Corel Draw (CDR).  

While vector files are always saved in these formats, they can contain bitmap images as well. Saving a JPG image as AI or EPS or PDF does not change the image to vector. 

Bitmap images are made up of a series of individually defined pixels and have a fixed resolution. A 1” x 1” bitmap, at 300dpi, is 300 pixels wide and 300 high. Bitmap images CAN'T be made larger without losing quality. For printing, the higher the resolution of bitmap files, the better the image quality. Common bitmap formats are TIFF, JPG, GIF, PNG, BMP.

Why Vector? 

  • Vector art provides much smoother lines and edges to the art. Most bitmap images have smoothing (anti-aliasing) on the edges of the art (a slight gradient around curves to make them look smoother.)  
  • All gradients are printed at 35 lpi, which when applied to shapes with smoothing, will result in blurred/jagged edges.  

Depending on the complexity of the image, converting bitmaps to vector art can be simple or very time consuming. Many times, art can be electronically "traced" in a vector art program. Tracing doesn't work very well with small text and small details can get lost. Converting more complex, or multiple color bitmaps to vector art sometimes requires rebuilding the art from scratch – matching fonts, and redrawing lines.

Placing a bitmap into an illustration program and saving as an EPS or PDF does NOT convert the file to vector. 

We can usually convert your art for you, but art charges may apply. 

A font is a collection of letter defined as a specific typeface. The font file contains mathematical descriptions of the shape of each letter. Fonts can only be edited on computers where the font file is installed. PDF files can have embedded fonts, which will display and print properly, but cannot be edited by computers that don't have the font file installed. When opening the document on a machine that doesn’t have the proper font installed, programs usually substitute another font. Obviously, this can cause problems. Converting fonts to outlines disconnects the font descriptions from the letters, and prevents the shape from changing. The downside of this is that once the type is converted to outlines, it can no longer be edited as text.

To convert text to outlines, an illustration program like Adobe Illustrator or CorelDraw is required. Adobe InDesign is also capable of converting type to outlines. In Illustrator or InDesign, chose “create outlines” from the Type menu. In CorelDraw, select “Convert to Curves” from the Arrange menu. 

Both digital bitmap images and printed images are made up of a series of dots. The terms DPI and PPI are usually confused these days. 

  • DPI – Dots Per Inch –the resolution of a printed image, how many tiny dots of ink printed per inch. The more dots, the finer the print. 
  • PPI – Pixels Per Inch – Most times when people refer to DPI, they really mean PPI.  Simply the number of pixels per inch (vertically and horizontally) in a digital image
  • LPI – Lines Per Inch – refers to the lines of in a halftone or screen - the higher the number, the smaller the screen. These dots are not the same as those defined by in DPI. 

DPI and PPI when referring to a digital image are fairly meaningless without knowing how many inches an image is. The image resolution is determined by the number of pixels in an image. An image that is 10" wide at 300dpi is 3000 pixels wide, could also be defined as 100" at 30dpi, or 1" at 3000dpi. 

In printing, DPI is the number of dots of ink per inch, and is generally a higher number than the image PPI, and the PPI is a higher number than the LPI.

For most commercial printing applications, digital images need to be a minimum of 300 PPI at full size. If there are image areas that will be printed as halftones (not a solid color), the LPI indicates the number of lines of dots per inch. For many print applications, LPI is approximately half the number of the PPI. For the process that we use for plastic bags 35 is the maximum LPI that prints well. This produces fairly large dots compared to offset printing. As an example, most newspapers print images at around 80 LPI, and most magazines at around 150 lpi or higher.  

Below is an image of 50% gray converted to 35, 80, and 150 LPI, click for full size.

After we receive your art, we inspect it to make sure it will print well. If we see any issues with the art, you will be contacted with information about the problem. Common issues involve embedded fonts, incorrect trapping, thin outlines, too much halftoning, and low resolution bitmaps. If you are unable to correct the issues, an art quote will be provided.

If unable to create your art in an illustration program, you will probably need to hire a graphic designer to do the work for you. We do provide design services. If you would like us to prepare the art, let us know and we will give you a quote. 

We provide a digital proof and mockup of the art in PDF format for all new orders. The PDF will show both a proof of the art at 100% size, as well as a mockup of the art on a template of the bag. Mockups and proofs are not provided for reorders except by request. 

Pre-production samples are not available. See this link for more information.

 

 

We'd rather not. 

Before computers and the internet, proofing was done by printing the art on a piece of paper and taping it to a bag. Ah, those were the days. There are several problems with proofing this way - it's far less efficient than emailing a digital proof, costs more in terms of time and money, cannot be depended on for color or print quality accuracy (since it is a completely different type of printing), and doesn't really provide any benefits over a digital proof. 

American Plastic Mfg., Inc. |  526 South Monroe St, Seattle, WA 98108

(888) 763-1055  |  (206) 763-1055  |  FAX (206) 763-3946

Copyright © 2016 • American Plastic Mfg., Inc.

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