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How To Begin Your Pre-Roll Production Process - Ultimate Guide

How To Begin Your Pre-Roll Production Process - Ultimate Guide

Posted by Custom Cones USA on Feb 15th 2021

Welcome! If your planning to start a pre-roll brand or expand your current pre-roll products, then this guide covers everything you will need to know.

We will walk you through all aspects of the pre-roll production process. We, at Custom Cones USA, prepared this guide in partnership with our clients to help you produce the best possible pre-rolls in the most efficient process. So let’s jump right in!

The pre-roll production process can be broken down into three parts:

  1. Selecting your pre-rolled cones
  2. Preparing your flower
  3. Packing your pre-rolls

Before we get into any single part too deeply it would behoove you to think about how you want to position your pre-roll brand. Is this a low-cost, grab-and-go multi-pack pre-roll brand or a high-end, full-flower joint for special occasions?

This will help you understand which type of cones to use, which flower strains to use, which grinding process to use, what kind of filling machine to use and more. You should also temper your expectations and stay realistic. Keep your budget in mind and don't deviate from your business plan.

Now that you’ve given some thought to your pre-roll brand and settled on a vision for your brand position and price point. The first step is to choose the pre-rolled cones or pre roll tubes you will use.

Part 1: Choosing Your Pre-Rolled Cones and Pre-Roll Tubes

There are a whole range of pre-rolled cones and tubes you can use to create your pre-roll. Your main variables are paper type, size, shape, filter type, and branding options. Let’s start with paper types. Custom Cones USA has five types of paper you can choose from:

  1. Refined White
  2. Unrefined Brown
  3. Hemp Wrap

Hemp, refined white, and unrefined brown are the more basic papers. These are your standard rolling paper options which range between 12 – 14 GSM.

GSM stands for grams per square meter and it's how the paper industry compares different paper stocks. For our industry, you can think of GSM as how much paper material you will smoke, which will, in turn, impact how much smoke you get per puff. This is also known the "burn rate."

Refined white paper is also referred to as “rice paper” in the industry and colloquially, despite its , being made from rice at all! The misconception that rice paper is made from rice dates back to the 1900s when Europeans believed paper coming out of Taiwan was made from rice and further popularized by the brand Elements.

The difference between the white and brown rolling papers, even our organic hemp papers, is how refined the paper pulp is during production.

You may have heard people refer to white paper as bleached and hemp papers as unbleached, but this is an old, outdated term, as bleach has not been using in rolling papers for decades. The whitening process is done by refining the paper pulp, using only water, mechanical agitation, and carbon filtering. This refining process strips all the other plant components, leaving only pure plant cellulose, which is the building block of all paper products.

The white, brown, and hemp papers are all refined, but the brown and hemp papers are less refined, leaving a few natural plant components, which leave the brown with its natural brown or tan looking color.

Refined “white” rolling paper tends to have less paper taste and a cleaner smoke than unrefined “brown” papers – this is because the whitening process removes as much other plant material as possible. The lignins which give the rolling paper its color, adds some slight flavor, but it is very minute. Some even theorize that lignin in the wood is what gives Mesquite BBQ its distinctive smoky taste! So if you want the cleanest burning and lightest tasting paper, the refined white paper is actually the best option.

All these variables come together to create your unique brand and the associated smoking experience. For example, the unrefined brown paper is better suited for natural, organic brands with kraft packaging, while the refined white paper lends itself more to a clean, modern-looking brand.

If you are trying to create more a cigar-smoking experience, a hemp wrap cone or blunt will align nicely with your brand.

It is important you spend the time to taste test the paper grades to see which will work best for your branding, audience, and strains. Once you have a better understanding of which paper type you will use for your pre-rolls – it is time to move on to your pre-roll shape and size.

Cone v. Tube: What's the difference?

We have close to unlimited pre rolled cones and pre roll tubes shape and size options. We can make any top diameter, bottom diameter, cone/tube length, or filter length. What's important to keep in mind when making your decision is your branding, the smoking experience you are going after, packaging, and how much material you want to fit into the cone or tube.

Let’s first start with pre-rolled cones vs pre-rolled tubes. What is the difference? Well first and foremost is the shape. The pre-rolled cone is more like your classic joint with a larger diameter at the top and a smaller diameter at the bottom, creating a cone shape.

The pre-rolled tube is the classic cigarette shape with a diameter at the bottom which is equal to the diameter at the top. The tube shape is a newer offering for the cannabis industry, but some of the benefits, which are a less harsh and more consistent smoking experience, as well as a look that is familiar to smokers.

The next most noticeable difference between pre-rolled cones and pre-rolled tubes is the packing process. There are lots of cone-filling machines, but not so many filling machines that accommodate tubes. It is important to keep in mind as you develop your pre-roll brand that there is a proven process for packing pre-rolled cones, while the pre-rolled tubes market is still developing a better technique.

The next angle to look at in your comparison is which will look better in your packaging, branding, and product displays. If you plan to use cigarette boxes for your pre-roll packaging it can be a strong pairing to use the pre-rolled tubes because this creates familiar experience for tobacco smokers who are venturing into cannabis.

Size Matters

Whether you use pre-rolled cones or pre-rolled tubes you can further customize either option by changing the diameter, filter length, or paper length. It is best to think about how much cannabis material you want to put into the pre-roll before deciding on a size.

Are you planning on a single pack offering? If so, you probably want to offer at least a .75-gram pre-roll or more. This will allow you to offer better value to the customer on the single pack; whereas, if you are offering a 5 or 10-pack, then you most likely want to offer half-gram pre-rolls or less. This will help you make the multi-pack more affordable.

Just like with everything else, the size of your cone or tube helps to create the image you want for your brand. Seventy millimeter  Dogwalker cones are fast and efficient smokes for a brand catering to the on-the-go lifestyle. The 98mm Reefer-style cone is tall and statuesque like a Virginia Slim. While it appears longer, it holds the same amount as a regular 98mm cone. The Tendu Rollies scream "great outdoors." The size of the paper is yet another variable that culminates in your final product.

Filter Types and Cooling Tips

Changing the length of the filter will also change the smoking experience – the shorter the filter the more direct the smoke and the less filtration it will receive resulting in stronger, harsher hits. The longer the filter the less direct the smoke and the further away the ember from your mouth resulting in lighter, cooler hits.

You can further customize the smoking experience of a cone by changing the bottom diameter of the cone. By changing the bottom diameter, you can control the flow and amount of smoke the consumer gets per puff. The more smoke the consumer gets per puff – the faster the joint will burn, the stronger the hit, and the thicker the smoke.

The less smoke the consumer gets per puff – the slower the joint will burn, the lighter the hit, and the thinner the smoke. Like everything in life – consumers have many different preferences and so by using many of the variables discussed above you can finely control the smoking experience for specific types of consumers. If you want to further control the smoking experience for your customers, you can use different filters to alter the smoke. This is what we will cover in the next part of our guide.

Choosing the filter type for your pre-rolled cones

At Custom Cones USA we offer a variety of filter tips to help you further customize your pre-roll brand. There are 5 main filter options we provide:

  • Standard ‘W’ Tip
  • Spiral Tip
  • Bio-Cooling Tip
  • Glass Tip
  • Wood Tip

The W tip, spiral tip, and bio-cooling tips are our economical filter options which can be added onto any pre-roll brand. The W tip is your standard offering that if you have experience with pre-rolled cones you should be familiar with. The W tip comes standard on all our pre-rolled cones and is superior to cones which use a filter tip with a straight line down the middle. The W filter will block more loose material from getting into your mouth when sucking the joint as compared to filters with a straight line down the middle.

If you want a slightly more premium option, we offer the spiral tips which come standard with our pre-rolled tubes and can be added on to our pre-rolled cones. The spiral tip is better at preventing loose material from getting into your mouth and slightly alters the amount of flow through the filter. The spiral tip increases the draw resistance of the joint as compared with a W filter - this helps to cool the smoke and creates a pleasing feeling for the smoker.

There are small perforations in the filter material in order to allow the smoke to permeate and filtrate through the material to reduce harshness. The filter is also a high-flow style filter – this means as compared with a traditional cigarette filter this style of tip does not filter out as much. The consumer you can still expect to receive the full effects of the pre-roll. Last but not least there is the bio-cooling tip. The bio-cooling tip is named as such because it is 100% biodegradable and was made to cool down smoke. These attributes make it not only important to eco-friendly businesses, but it has a smoking benefit to customers.

If you want to elevate your pre-roll to an even higher level, we offer glass and wood tips. The glass tips have several distinct features which help to alter the pre-roll experience. First, the glass is cool to the touch so as the consumer puts the pre-roll on their lips there is a nice sensation of coolness. The hardness and smoothness of the filter also creates a nice tactile feel for the consumer.

As the glass tip starts with larger hole and ends with smaller hole at the tip – it helps to concentrate the smoke allowing for larger and milkier hits. The glass tips have two notches at the top to prevent material from being sucked into the consumer’s mouth.

The wood tips are similar to the glass tips however being made from wood they offer a more natural feel and complement craft type brands better. We recommend our premium filters tips for pre-rolls which cost more than $10 at retail.

How to Brand Your Pre-Rolled Cones & Tubes

At Custom Cones USA we have 4 ways to brand your pre-rolled cones or tubes. We can do direct printing on the filter tip, external wrap, cigar band, and printed rolling papers. Let’s start with our most common option – direct printing on the filter tip.

Direct printing is the easiest and lowest cost way to get branding on your pre-rolls. When we brand via the direct printing method we print your design directly on the filter tip. We can print edge-edge and in full color via our 4 color offset printing process.

When you print directly on the filter tip it is important to know that the branding will be underneath a piece of rolling paper. This means that the different paper grades we offer will affect the visibility of the design. The white paper is the most transparent, then brown, and our hemp rolling paper grade is the least transparent.

When branding via the direct printing method you may want to darken or brighten the colors in your logo to get the exact look you want. An easy way to figure out how you need to change your colors is to print your logo in various shades of your colors and then lay a piece of rolling paper over the printed logo. This will show you how exactly the rolling paper will affect the design.

The next option is the external wrap – this is a full sticker wrap around the crutch. The benefit of this branding style is absolute clarity of your logo. Since this is wrapped around the outside of the paper there is no color dilution from the rolling paper being rolled over it. Further, the material used for the external wrap can be made glossy for an extra shine.

A variation of the external wrap is the cigar style band for pre-rolled cones or tubes. The cigar band style is a die cut sticker wrap which is rolled around the outside of the rolling paper/crutch. You can die cut this wrap into any specific shape you like. This is just another way we can make your pre-roll brand stand out on the shelf.

With the hemp wrap and palm leaf blunt cones you are limited to the external wrap and cigar style band as the paper grade used to produce these cones is opaque. Meaning you cannot see through the paper to the crutch as with the rolling paper and direct print branding.

The last branding option is our newest offering. This is where we directly print on the actual rolling paper itself with food safe inks. Unlike other suppliers of printed papers who have to increase the GSM of the rolling paper as you increase the # of colors in the design, our technology allows us to maintain the same GSM (~14 gsm) of rolling paper, even when up to 4 colors are used in the design. This branding option requires you to order at least 50,000 pre-rolled cones per design.

When it comes down to choosing how to brand your pre-roll it comes down to the price point of your pre-roll at retail, your financial budget, and how you want the final product to look. It is most important to first understand what is your budget, so you don’t spend time developing a brand which cannot profitably sell a pre-roll.

Summary of Part 1: Pre-Rolled Cone Selection

If you have made it this far, congratulations! You clearly care about creating a quality pre-roll brand. As you can see choosing your pre-rolled cone is not a simple decision – there are a multitude of factors which will affect your final choice.

The factors you must think about first:

  • Is this a premium luxury pre-roll or an affordable everyday pre-roll?
  • Is this a single pack or multi-pack pre-roll offering?
  • What will my pre-roll sell for at retail? At wholesale?
  • What are my costs to produce the pre-roll?
  • What does my branding look like? What does my customer look like?
  • What is the unique selling point of my pre-roll?

Once you better understand your brand, financials, and positioning you can begin to answer the technical questions around your pre-roll:

  • Which rolling paper grade to use?
  • Do you want a pre-rolled cone or tube?
  • What size cone or tube should I use?
  • What is your targeted final weight?
  • What should the top/bottom diameter be?
  • What should the filter/crutch length be?
  • What filter tip should I use?
  • How should I brand my pre-rolled cone?

You can attempt to answer all these questions on your own or with just your team. But we would argue it is most important to get feedback from the buyers and consumers who will be using your pre-roll products. If you test, get feedback and refine your product you cannot go wrong. You will be making a pre-roll product people in your market want.

Part 2: Preparing the Flower for Your Pre-Rolls

Even before you finalized your cone choice above you had a general idea of your budget and retail price point. This is generally what will define your choice of flower. If you plan to enter the market with a $25 price-point at retail, and your plan is to use a glass tipped cone with a custom cigar band and all you have available to fill the pre-rolled cones is trim you won’t last long in the market.

On the other hand, if you are trying to create a $5 1-gram pre-roll and you plan to use premium indoor flower either your growing miracle plants or you don’t understand the true cost of producing that flower.

Choosing Your Flower – Full Flower, Trim or Blend?

So what is it that you plan to pack into your pre-rolls? Your choices essentially breaks down into the following choices: A-buds, B-buds, smalls, and trim. A-buds are generally reserved for bags and jars as they have the best retail appeal. B-Buds and smalls are most often used for full-flower pre-rolls. Trim is usually reserved for value-driven pre-rolls, infused pre-rolls, or extraction.

We would recommend you never use 100% trim for your pre-rolls as this will produce a harsh smoking experience. If you must produce a cheap pre-roll for retail, it would be best to use a measured ratio of trim to flower – in some cases blending a small amount of trim material between 10-20% can improve the smoking experience of a full-flower pre-roll. The reason being the drier trim will help make the joint burn more evenly.

However, you must be careful not add too much trim as the dry material burns hotter creating a harsher smoke. Whatever you choose as always you must test and develop your own process according to how you want your pre-roll to smoke and it may vary by strain.

You must also consider the costs and availability of sourcing each grade of material. When a new state legalizes it generally takes 2-3 years for supply levels to normalize and for there to be consistent material which can readily be purchased from wholesale farms. There is the added challenge of strains – if you want to keep a consistent offering of strains you need to make sure that your farms will continue to produce that strain for multiple harvest seasons.

Some ways pre-roll brands offset the variability in material is by creating blends of multiple strains. For instance, you could call a blend of multiple strains your energetic blend. This won’t go over great with purists who want to get the full effects of a single strain but it can definitely be a great offering for newer cannabis consumers who want to understand how a specific product will make them feel.

Regardless what flower material you choose, you will need to grind it down to a smaller particle size in order to fill your pre-rolled cones, which leads us to our next chapter!

Grinding Process

Now it is time to consider the grinding process. It is important to choose the right option for you, otherwise you may overspend for what you need or you may use a sub-par solution, which will end up costing you more on the back end. You pretty much have 3 levels of options here: Low-Volume, Mid-Volume, and High-Volume cannabis milling machines.

If you are on a budget you are pretty much limited to a low-volume grinder and these will be any type of blender or food processor. These can be picked up from any home goods store for $50 - $350. They will grind your flower down as their only use.

There are a few issues with using a blender/food processor as your grinder, first you are limited by the container size of the blender/food processor. The next big issue is particle size control. When you grind in a blender or food processor you have no control over what is the final size of the cannabis. You will end up with some dust, some small particles, and some larger clumps.

The issue with not having good control over the final particle size of your cannabis is that when you go to fill your pre-rolls, you won’t have control over the final weight. This will mean more re-work to either add or remove cannabis from your pre-rolls before twisting. The last issue with using a blender/food processor is heat generation - the blender/food processor uses a high-RPM motor, which whips around the blades at a very high rate. This high speed action generates heat which can damage terpenes and trichomes on the flower.

If you can spend $2,000+ on a grinder, then you can begin to look at some of the mid-volume grinders. There are two main options currently; a weed whacker style grinder and our industrial grinder. The weed whacker style grinder use a high-RPM motor to whip around blades and grind down the cannabis.

The pros to this style grinder is high speed grinding – with a large enough container you can grind down 2-3 pounds per batch, within 50-60 seconds. The drawbacks to this style grinder are the same as the blender/food processor. There is limited control over particle size, you are limited by container-size, and heat generation due to the high RPM motor.

Our  industrial grinder on the other hand uses a low-RPM high-torque motor, which means the blades move around slower, creating less heat. The design of the grinder is based on screens; the blade grinds the cannabis through a specific sized screen – allowing you to control the final particle size of the cannabis.

If you can spend $10,000-$25,000 on a grinding machine, you can purchase a higher volume machine capable of grinding 200-300lbs per hour like our  Mega Industrial Cannabis Grinder. Currently these machines are mostly reserved for hemp processors who need a very high output for processing extracts.

So now that you have chosen your flower and your grinding process, you need to start filling your pre-rolled cones!

Part 3: Pre-Roll Filling Machines

Instead of packing pre-rolls by hand, which can be rather tedious and involve human error, a pre-roll filling machine is a device which allows for rapid filling of pre-rolled cones. While an individual may be able to package a handful of cones per minute, a pre roll filling machine, also known as a knockbox, can fill 100 or more pre rolls every few minutes.

Pre-Roll Machines: Filling your Pre-Rolled Cones

So, how does a pre-roll filling machine work? To simplify things, let’s break it down into 3 parts: the Vibratory (base) level, the Lower, and the Upper filling level.

Firstly, pre rolled cones are loaded (crutch side down) into individual compartments at the lower level of the machine. Secondly, ground flower is placed in the upper tray, with an opening for each cone. Once the tray is filled with ground material, it is placed above the pre rolled cones. The pre-roll roll filling machine now has pre rolled cones at the lower level, with ground material ready to be loaded at the top level.

The third step, once all levels are properly assembled, is to start vibrations, which causes the ground material to fall perfectly through aligned openings into the individual pre rolled cones. The upper level is replaced with ground material and the process repeats itself until the cones are properly filled.

To put it bluntly, a pre-roll machine uses vibratory shear forces, gravity, and volumetric filling to load the desired material into pre-loaded cones.

Once you have filled your pre-rolled cones in the machine you will now need to weigh them in order to make sure that the final weight of the pre-rolled cone is within regulation. For most states the final weight can be off by between 5-10%. Right now this is a manual process and you must weigh each pre-roll adding or subtracting cannabis as is necessary.

Once you have finished weighing the pre-roll and getting it to the correct you may want to do a final tamp on the pre-roll to tighten the pack a little more than the machine itself will do. Pre-roll manufacturers will generally just use a small metal rod to do the additional tamping. Or if you purchase the  Fill n Fold Starter Kit - there is a folding/tamping tool which allows you to fold down over 11 pre-rolled cones at once. Check out the King Kone and our Fill N' Fold selection.

Finishing Your Pre-Roll with Final Touches

Once you have finished your pre-roll you generally have 2 finishing options for sealing off the pre-roll. First and the easiest is to twist the top of the pre-roll until you twist all the excess paper into a sort of tail. If you twist too much you can make the top of pre-roll very tight. This will make it hard for the customer to get the initial light on their joint and may end up causing the joint to canoe.

The second option is to do what is often called a ‘dutch crown’ this is when you fold down the excess paper into the center of the joint. It takes slightly longer to do but creates a more professional final pre-roll.

In Summary

As has probably become apparent, there are many variable factors that go into building your own pre-rolled brand, however the possibilities are endless with what can be created. There is enough space to differentiate yourself from the market and give the specific experience the customer is looking forward.

Here at Custom Cones USA we strongly advocate feedback and putting time into creating a brand that can thrive in the market. Our team is available for any questions, concerns, and advice in the case you are creating your own brand. We also offer samples for you to try out the different options in your quest and work hand in hand to create the vision you want!

Be sure to check out our shop and to reach out to any of our team members. Good luck!

If you're planning to start a pre-roll brand, then this guide covers everything you'll need to know.