What is Flexographic Printing?

Flexographic Printing

Many people wonder what flexographic printing is. Flexography is a method of printing that uses rotary in-line features. Therefore, you can print things on flexible materials, such as paper, plastic, cellophane, and metallic film. With flexo printing (as it is often called), you can have different repeat lengths, use various inks, and more.

Flexography was derived from rubber stamp printing, which became prevalent in the early 1900s. When the FDA deemed the inks being used for the process as unsafe for food packaging, it’s main use case at the time, changes were made to the inks being used and the process was renamed. 

Although the original use of flexographic printing was almost entirely for food packaging, time and technological advancements have made it available for many other applications now. About 60 percent of the packaging industry uses flexographic printing in some way.

Pre-press

The pre-press process is extremely important for flexographic printing. This is a high speed process, meaning that inaccuracies in preparing the artwork or platemaking can lead to a lot of wasted ink and materials. 

It’s important to keep in mind that the plate will likely lead to image enlargement as a result of the flexible plate being stretched when attached to the plate cylinder.

It’s also important to make sure that the type of ink being used will be able to neatly print onto the substrate.

Printing

Each press has multiple printing stations, depending on how many colors are needed. Each station prints a single color. Therefore, the substrate has to pass through many printing stations

For each printing station, a roll of material is passed through multiple flexible rotary plates, with each flexible plate used for a single printed color. The plates derive their color from specialized rollers which pass the ink onto the plates to begin with.

The types of rollers used by a flexographic printing press include:

  1. The fountain roller which is responsible for passing the proper colored ink to the anilox roller.
  2. The anilox roller usually comprises of material such as aluminum or steel, shaped as a hard cylinder. The surface of anilox rolls are covered with many fine pores, and allow the roller to pass precise amounts of ink onto the printing plate cylinder.
  3.  The plate cylinder and impression cylinder are used in tandem to apply pressure to the passing-through substrate in order to transfer the ink from the plate itself to the printable material.
Flexography Process

What is Flexography Used For?

Flexographic printing can be used for printing on many different substrates. Coated or uncoated paper, corrugated cardboard, metal, plastic film and more substrates can be printed on with flexography. 

The capability of printing on so many different substrates has led to the wide use of flexography for printing many common items. Some examples include:

  • Foil
  • Labels
  • Business forms
  • Wallpaper
  • Envelopes
  • Food/beverage packaging
  • Newspapers
  • Folding cartons

How is Flexo Printing Different?

Flexography is one of the fastest-growing segments in the printing industry. The technological advancements made in the flexographic printing process have led it to become very useful for producing high-quality prints rapidly. 

The major differences between flexographic printing and other printing methods are detailed below:

Flexographic vs. Offset Printing

Flexographic and offset printing are used to produce many of the same types of prints. Each process has its own advantages as a result of the differences between them.

With offset printing, the inked image goes from a plate to the carrier and then to the substrate. It isn’t directly transferred from the plate to the substrate as with flexo printing. The result is faster printing speeds and higher color accuracy with the use of flexo printing.

Furthermore, flexography opens the door to printing on all kinds of substrates, whereas offset printing is restricted to printing on smooth substrates.

Flexographic vs. Gravure Printing

For gravure printing, the image has to be transferred to the substrate with a metal plate. It’s got a sunken surface where ink is applied and then wiped off before it’s applied. 

Generally, flexographic printing uses rubber plates with raised images. It’s more versatile and diverse than gravure printing.

Flexographic vs. Digital Printing

You’ve also got digital printing, where printing plates aren’t necessary. Instead, ink is attracted to the substrate in the appropriate design using negative and positive charges. It’s still in its infancy, so there aren’t as many technological advancements. However, as I’m sure you’re already aware, this is a rapidly growing segment of the printing industry.

Advantages of Flexographic Printing

Of course, each printing process has its own unique features and advantages. Still, flexo printing is a leader in the industry. Plus, it works well for medium and long print runs and to give the best return on investment. Consider the many benefits:

  • Versatile. Flexography allows for many substrates and inks to be used. Of course, the ink you choose depends on the substrate, but you can use solvent-based, water-based, and UV-curable ink. Plus, non-porous and porous materials can be printed on.
  • Quicker production. A flexographic press offers speeds of up to 300 meters a minute. Though it does take some time to set-up, the rate at which you can print offsets this. With new developments happening frequently, set-up times are reduced, too.
  • Automation. Die-cutting, lamination, and sheeting are all processes that can be integrated up until the finishing stage. When they are set up, it’s faster and automated, making it an excellent choice for many printing companies. The possibility for automating the process here and implementing print shop management software makes for a highly efficient business!
  • Little maintenance. The machines and equipment used in flexographic printing don’t need to be maintained as much. Therefore, costs are reduced, and it is quite economical.
  • Low-cost supplies. The packaging materials and flexographic inks are relatively low in price. Though the cost to buy the initial plate is a bit high, prices per unit are low. Therefore, it balances out, and you’ve got a cost-effective solution that gives a fast ROI.
  • Environmentally-friendly. You can make flexo printing eco-friendly if you use recycled inks, water-based products, and water-washable plates. There are fewer solvents and toxins used to produce the printed material. Plus, it’s user-friendly, as well.
  • Color palette. Most flexo printers use the four primary colors: Cyan, Yellow, Black, and Magenta (CMYK). However, they can also accommodate up to 10 different colors. Therefore, you can print something in any color imaginable.

Conclusion

If you are thinking about moving to flexographic printing methods, it could be an excellent time to do so. Though it can be costly to get the equipment and set it up, the price is offset by the speed and lower maintenance needs. It’s essential to weigh the pros and cons, but you could benefit the entire company, as well as your customers. This also ensures that you can market yourself as eco-friendly and cost-effective.

The Pre-press part is what happens before the printing. This department makes sure the press has what it needs to run. That includes plate making and mounting. Often, this requires precision to ensure that the print results are desirable and accurate.

Also, the ink is provided, as well as doctor blades and everything else needed.

About Printmatics

Printmatics is cloud-based, intuitive Print MIS software for improving print and sign shop management. Every business has their own way of doing things, and Printmatics designed to be flexible to meet the needs of your unique way of doing business. 

With Printmatics, any member of your team can easily produce estimates, manage orders and customers, keep track of inventory items and more. Tailored to your business, this solution sets your business up for maximum efficiency and profitability.

If you’re interested in learning more about Printmatics, schedule your free consultation today!

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