Finding opportunity alongside other print methods
It’s no surprise to any designer or converter that brand owners have become very savvy about packaging, and grasp its value in the marketing mix. Quality and consistency in packaging is imperative, along with pressure to reduce packaging costs, while working with shorter print runs.
Flexo converters have come a long way improving efficiency, consistency, cost and quality and over the past few years have reached a standard level that allows them to compete against other print methods—gravure and offset. According to PIRA, flexo is the only analog print method that is growing globally. Flexographic printing and converting can often be performed entirely inline, on many materials and substrates, resulting in little waste.
This is confirmed by our customers, of whom some report to have made substantial inroads in gravure or offset markets and experienced significant growth.
Gravure has been the logical alternative to flexography because of its legacy of print quality and cost effectiveness for large runs—but not shorter ones. And, gravure is not an environmentally friendly print method. For example, printing flexible packaging on a flexo press instead of gravure reduces energy use and CO2 emissions by as much as 50 percent, according to DuPont research. Flexo is also significantly less expensive when considering total cost of ownership against offset. Flexo presses and inks are cheaper, and the costs of operating a flexo press are less expensive than that of an offset press.
The reason for all of the recent interest in flexo is exceptional platemaking that can take advantage of developments in new flexo press technology and high line-screen anilox rolls. Great advancements in flexo offer print quality that rivals any other method, cost-effectively.
Esko has played a significant part in this trend. Since 2009, hundreds of companies have adopted HD Flexo technology. With HD Flexo, the screen rulings in flexo printing can be increased, while at the same time reducing the size of the smallest printable dot. This is achieved using a special screening technology and 4,000 dpi imaging resolution, resulting in sharper images, smoother tints and a greater color gamut. It also delivers exceptional print quality in highlights, midtones, shadows and solids. High-resolution imaging also creates a textured surface on the plate, improving ink lay-down and increasing ink density on the final print. It raises flexo print quality to a level comparable to gravure, digital print and even offset.
Now, with new and further advanced Full HD Flexo technology, enabling the formation of different dot structures in one single plate, the combination of smooth highlight printing and gravure-like solid ink laydown can be achieved.
Lurking ahead, one of the challenges to flexo is digital print, where technical and cost advances allow it to compete on longer runs than in the past. We see it happening with labels. However, even here Esko can be helpful. Our front-end system is the preferred ‘driver’ for many digital presses for labels and packaging. Along with matching print quality with HD Flexo, it gives a printer a tactical advantage. The converter can postpone its decision to print a job digitally or conventionally very late in the process depending upon available presses and economics, without any degradation in quality or running the job through prepress again.
The best news for flexo is that by working with companies like Esko, quality and economics make it a very viable print technology. And, we intend to keep it that way.