What is Flexographic Printing – A Guide

02 February 2021 Pippa Walsh

Flexographic printing, usually referred to as “Flexo printing” is a printing technique that provides optimal efficiency, flexibility, and consistency. Because it is so versatile, flexo printing can be used to print designs and labels on various substrates, including plastic, paper, and cellophane. Below, is all you need about employing this technology to bring your Food & Beverage company’s packaging to the next level. 

What Is Flexographic Printing?

Flexographic printing uses flexible photopolymer printing plates to print high-resolution images on a variety of substrates. 

These plates, which are made of rubber, are imprinted with a raised image and then wrapped around cylinders mounted on a web press. As they rotate at high speeds, the inked plates transfer the ink from the roll to the substrate, creating high line count images. Each colour still requires a different plate.

Aside from this technique’s high efficiency, Flexo printing is also appreciated because it delivers high-resolution images on a wide variety of materials. Additionally, flexo printing can use a range of inks such as water-based and UV inks, making this technique suitable for particular industries such as Food & Beverage, where some inks cannot be used.

Flexographic printing is not a new technology as the basic process behind this modern technique dates back to the end of the 19th century when it was known as letterpress or rubber stamp. At the time, this printing process was extremely rudimentary, not precise, and presented faults, especially due to the basic materials and designs. 

However, since then, the technology behind flexography has been steadily developing, today offering the chance to print complex, precise, and versatile designs. The integration of innovations such as Direct Laser Engraving and the development of materials have made flexographic printing extremely popular in various industries, including the Food & Beverage, Pharmaceuticals, and Publishing industries.

How Does Flexographic Printing Work?

Flexo printing employs an efficient technology that involves creating an image in relief on polymer image carriers such as plates and sleeves. These are wrapped around the cylinders, and the ink is transferred from a pan to the plate through an anilox roll. Here’s how it works.

Creating The Design

The client will propose an artwork to be printed. Once the artwork is designed, it needs to be optimized for the flexographic printing press. Since the image carriers or plates can not be changed once produced, the original artwork must be perfectly designed. 

One of the crucial aspects to consider is that an image designed on a flat surface won’t look the same when placed on a round cylinder. In this case, you might opt for in-the-round image carriers that are distortion-free. 

Pick the Substrate and Feed It To The Press

Once you are happy with your design, you will need to pick appropriate ink and substrate. Your labelling and packaging company will be able to help you identify the right one for your needs. Nonetheless, it is worth keeping in mind the regulations for your specific industry. For example, in the Food & Beverage industry, you will need non-porous materials and non-toxic ink. 

Once you have picked these components, they will be fed into the flexo printing press. The machine’s setup will enable a continuous printing process that allows you to obtain fast and accurate results.  

Because the flexo printing press works at high speeds and guarantees accurate results, it is suitable for large orders or printing requirements.  

Drying and Finishing

Once the relief image on the plate has been transferred onto the substrate, this will continue to move through sections of the machine that are plate-less. Doing so will dry the ink, which will fix the image and prevent faults. Lastly, the substrate is extracted from the machine and rolled up again to be transferred into the cutting section, the part of the process that will separate the individual prints from each other. 

What Are Flexo Print Plates?

Flexo print plates are photopolymer plates that are flexible and used to transfer ink from an anilox into a flexible substrate. The plates are designed in relief and, when mounted on the cylinders, the image engraved on them will be imprinted on the substrate, whether this is plastic, film, or paper. The flexo print plates are a crucial aspect of the flexo printing process. Indeed, the quality of the resulting image is a direct consequence of the quality of the flexo plates used. 

Since the plates will carry the image to be printed, they need to be designed accurately. Indeed, once the image is designed, these plates can be reused many times. At the same time, having to modify the design once this has been imprinted can be quicker and more cost-effective than litho or gravure print processes as the plates can be quicker and cheaper to produce.

What Is Flexographic Printing Used For?

Flexographic printing is among the most popular technologies used by industries such as Pharmaceutical and Food and Beverage, in which certain standards must be met. This technique is usually preferred to print high volumes of packaging and labels because it guarantees precision, speed, and accuracy. Indeed, flexographic printing presses can cover over 500ft to 2000ft per minute, printing on various materials including foils, cellophane, paperboards, and plastic. 

The food and beverage industry largely uses flexographic printing for labels and packaging and represents one of the main receivers of this technology. Indeed, this sector operates under strict regulations regarding what ink or substrate to use for their packaging. For example, the variety of materials on which flexo printing can operate represents a viable solution for some food packaging that cannot contain porous substrates.

“The flexographic printing machine market is expected to register a CAGR of 11.3% during the forecast period (2021 – 2026)

Modor Intelligence

Advantages of Flexographic Printing

There are a variety of printing techniques on the market, but flexo printing is still the most popular within the Food and Beverage industry because:

  • The press runs at high speeds, creating high volumes of labels and packages within short timeframes
  • It can print on various materials and substrates, which offer you a viable alternative to comply with national and international regulations. 
  • It produces minimal waste in terms of materials, time, and resources
  • It allows you to obtain consistent and high-quality results
  • It requires minimal costs and can deliver high returns on investment

For more information on Flexographic printing check out our specialist Brand Flex website

About The Author

Pippa Walsh

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