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A Simple Guide: What Is Flexography/Flexographic Printing

Home Blogs A Simple Guide: What Is Flexography/Flexographic Printing

Flexographic printing, sometimes called flexo printing or simply flexography, is a roll-feed web printing method that uses a flexible printing plate. This is to produce high-quality prints on various packaging materials, including folding plastic, cartons, metallic films, fabric, paperboard, and corrugated cardboard. Interestingly, it is said to be the present day’s letterpress that can withstand large quantities of packaging products similarly to offset printing, making it the best option if you want rapid printing.

Flexographic printing, whether traditional or enhanced flexo, is commonly used to print on the surface of ice cream cartons, perfume boxes, shopping bags, food packaging, folding cartons, plastic bags, gift wraps, wallpaper, tissue, disposable plates and cups, and more!

Flexographic Printing Process

The initial step in flexography is designing or structuring your artwork. Making a design that fits the specifications required to manufacture the final desired print can be challenging because, if not thoroughly checked, image carriers cannot be replaced or altered, which can result in costly mistakes.

Now, let’s discuss further how flexographic printing works.

In flexographic printing, a photopolymer plate is rolled around a rotating cylinder for each color. Similar to letterpress printing, the text and graphics for each color are raised from the surface, and only the reared areas of the plate are colored. Generally, apart from the ink and substrates that are essential in a flexographic printing press, it also includes four rollers: 

  • fountain roller
  • anilox roller
  • plate cylinder
  • impression cylinder
Operating flexo printing machine
Source: Pinterest

Fountain Roller

The fountain roller serves as the “ink deliverer” that it got from an ink pan. Next, it passes to a ceramic or steel ink-metering or the “anilox” roller until it reaches the plate cylinder. Then, the ink is applied to the substrate as the paper passes between the plate and a polished metal impression cylinder. The latter applies the pressure needed to transfer the ink from the plate to the substrate.

Anilox Roller

Source: Pinterest

The anilox roller is utilized to transmit or supply a uniform ink thickness to the flexible printing plate. Each anilox roller has exquisitely engraved cells that have a particular ink capacity. You can use an optional doctor blade to scrape the anilox roller surface if you want to make sure that the only ink carried to the printing plate comes from the ink in the engraved cells.

Plate Cylinder

The flexographic printing plate cylinder is where the rubber or photopolymer plate is attached. Once inked by the adjacent anilox roller, the substrate moves through the press. Note that a different coating or color is used at each printing deck. Moreover, the drying units between the printing decks make sure that each ink color is totally dried up. Dryers typically use infrared, hot air, or ultraviolet light, depending on the application.

Impression Cylinder

If the printing decks are stacked vertically, then you can press print on both sides of the materials since it travels through the press. On the other hand, the printing decks are situated around a single, huge impression cylinder in a central impression (CI) press. Among the two, CI presses offer great registration.

Inks

Here are the different types of inks used in flexographic packaging printing:

Energy-curable Inks

They are quickly cured either by electron beam (EB) or ultraviolet (UV) light uring system. EB curing systems provide energy directly to the inks through the form of energetic electrons and do not require photoinitiators as UV-curable inks do.

Water-based Inks

Water-based inks are well-known for corrugated printing packaging. This can be used in perfume box printing, chocolates and biscuits packaging, and more.

Solvent-based Inks

Solvent-based inks are utilized for plastic shopping bags and industrial films. In addition, EB and UV curable inks are used to print outer wraps for food packaging.

Substrates

Flexographic presses can print both on coated and uncoated papers, aluminum foil, carton boards, liner boards, and different plastic films, including low-density polypropylene (LDPE),  bio-oriented polypropylene (BOPP), polypropylene (PP), and polyester (PET). Furthermore, they can print on non-woven fabrics, metallic surfaces, and different kinds of laminates.

Flexographic Printing Advantages and Disadvantages

Here are the benefits and downsides of using flexographic printing:

Pros

The advantages of flexography are the following:

  • Uses an extensive variety of ink

It can use solvent-based inks, water-based inks, and  UV curable inks, which are all fast-drying.  This means flexography is sustainable and time-saving.

  • Prints absorbent and non-absorbent substrates

With flexo printing, you can quickly print texts and images on perfume boxes, container plastics, acetate films, brown papers, corrugated boards, fabrics, cellophane, and so on.

  • The process is highly flexible

The process can print tons of impressions and provide a wide range of cylinder types to accommodate clients’ specifications.

  • Low cost and efficiency

This is more cost-effective compared to other types of printing methods.

Cons

The disadvantages of flexography are the following:

  • Generic printing

Flexography cannot make meticulous artwork that other types of printing are capable of, like offset printing.

  • High-cost of equipment and materials

The plates are expensive, and you still need to buy individual plates for different colors.

  • Lacks short-run capabilities

Flexo printing is not viable for short orders.

Vs.a wide Other Printing Method

Flexo printing uses flexible rotary plates to directly print on the substrate, unlike offset printing that indirectly prints through a series of offset plates. Also, porous, non-porous, absorbent, and non-absorbent materials can be printed using flexographic printing, while offset printing only works well with flat and smooth surfaces.

What is Flexography Used For

Flexography is regarded as the most flexible printing process due to its inherent ability for almost any application. They can be used in the following market applications:

Consumer Products

Consumer products like food packaging, non-woven paper, tissue, and the likes use flexo printing. Also, flexography uses non-toxic inks that are guaranteed safe.

Medical and Pharmaceutical Industry

With the ability to print on almost any kind of substrates, flexo printing can accommodate all packaging materials used for medical supplies.

School, Home, and Office Supplies

This type of printing is ideal for printing ruling products, like legal pads, lined notebooks, stationery, steno pads, and graph paper.

Boxes, Product Displays, and Other Marketing Materials 

Any type of enterprise selling products, like cosmetics packaging, perfume box packaging, and the likes that are used in trade show events, can use flexographic printing to make sure their products are sold in aesthetically designed and printed packaging.

Conclusion

Regardless of your business type, flexo printing is perfect for you if you have tons of print needs. Flexography offers limitless and precision printing on almost any substrate. To know more about flexo printing packaging, you can check out our website Hongyi, and we can help you with your all printing needs for your product.

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