So you’ve designed and proofed your new product labels that are sure to catch the eyes of your customers. But if you choose the wrong printing technique, your crisp, attention-grabbing design may not have the aesthetic appeal you envisioned. In this article, we do an in-depth analysis of flexo vs. digital printing methods to help you make the best decision for your business and label application.
Flexographic and digital printing are two of the most common printing methods used in label and packaging production today. Both offer advantages and drawbacks depending on the specific needs of the job. Understanding the critical differences between flexo and digital printing can help businesses select the best option for their project.
Flexographic printing uses flexible relief plates made of photopolymer to transfer images onto substrates. The plates are wrapped around a cylinder and rotated through a series of inking rollers before moving the image onto materials like plastic, foil, and paper. Flexo uses quick-drying inks that work on many surfaces.
Flexo is ideal for high-volume, high-speed printing jobs like packaging, labels, newspapers, and retail promotional materials. It works well for long runs with minimal color variation. Flexo handles a wide variety of substrates, from thin films to corrugated cardboard.
Digital printing refers to methods that allow direct printing from a digital source without needing plates or screens. Most digital printers use toner or inkjet technology to apply images and text onto materials one page at a time.
Digital excels at variable data printing, allowing customization of each piece. It also makes short runs and fast turnarounds cost-effective. The on-demand nature of digital printing reduces warehousing needs and waste. Digital printers use CMYK, Pantone colors, white, and clear toner or ink.
When considering print quality, digital printing often excels over flexo, offering sharper details, precision in fine text, and superior color accuracy. Digital prints at higher resolutions with minimal dot gain. However, flexo quality has seen advancements with the introduction of HD plates and stringent process controls. Although there are differences, they are generally indistinguishable for most applications.
For projects demanding Pantone color matching, digital printing offers superior accuracy. Flexo presses can face challenges in color matching due to ink mixing and dot gain. Digital printing applies each color individually without blending or gaining between halftone dots.
For extensive print runs, flexo printing proves to be more cost-effective than digital. While flexo incurs high initial plate costs, the per-piece cost becomes significantly low once the press operates. Digital printing does not require plates but involves high click charges per impression.
Long print runs are more efficient with flexo due to its continuous workflow. Very brief runs, typically under 500 pieces, can be more economical on digital printers. The tipping point between digital and flexo depends on run length, materials, setup expenses, and other factors.
Digital printing offers exceptional versatility, allowing swift transitions between jobs. Plates or screens are unnecessary, enabling new files to be sent directly to the printer. Moreover, digital printing facilitates mass customization within a print run-through variable data printing. For example, if you create labels for various spices, you can easily keep the design template and adjust the copy to reflect the product inside correctly.
Flexo printing requires downtime for job changeovers and setup time but maintains rapid output speeds once operational. For extended flexo press runs, it can outpace digital printing, which processes one page at a time. Digital printing is advantageous for versioned labels or personalized packaging due to its flexibility.
In flexo label printing, economical inks are commonly used, albeit with a higher content of volatile organic compounds (VOCs). These inks require rapid drying on press, often involving heat processes that release these compounds, impacting their environmental friendliness.
In contrast, digital printing has embraced ink innovations for enhanced durability. Many digital printers now employ eco-solvent, latex, and UV-curable inks, offering reduced emissions. Additionally, the industry has seen the emergence of water-based and soy-based eco-friendly inks specifically designed for digital printing. To expedite drying and conserve energy, inline UV and LED curing methods are deployed, ensuring longevity and resistance to external elements.
For over 30 years, Accu-Label has helped businesses design, proof, and print labels using flexographic and digital printing methods. Learn more about our comprehensive labeling services.
Let’s examine how businesses throughout various sectors use flexo vs. digital printing methods.
For the food and beverage industry, packaging appearance is critical. Consumers make split-second purchase decisions based on the label’s graphics, colors, and shelf appeal. Flexographic printing offers bold, vibrant results essential for these products. It also withstands humidity, condensation, and freezing temperatures for labels on soda bottles, canned goods, frozen foods, etc.
At the same time, digital printing facilitates limited edition trials, seasonal flavors, and region-specific products. Beverage brands use it for targeted marketing efforts, like personalized tea or soda bottles.
Alcoholic beverage labels must convey product attributes at retail. Flexo printing provides color consistency and durability for wine, beer, and spirit labels. Label finishings like metal embellishments, foil stamping, embossing, and specialty varnishes are also easy to integrate.
Meanwhile, digital printing lets printers print data like barcodes, QR codes, and product details and collect tracking numbers. This facilitates organization initiatives like the IOB-International Organization of Vine and Wine’s traceability program.
Automotive suppliers use flexo to print high-quality graphics on components and promotional materials. The durability also suits harsh under-the-hood conditions. At the same time, digital printing facilitates mass customization of components and maintenance labels.
For automotive packaging, flexo printing allows attractive product labels, boxes, and displays. Digital enables quick turn prototyping and versioning for packaging.
Chemical container labels require the utmost durability to withstand factors like sun, moisture, and cleaning agents. Flexo printing provides water-fast, chemical-resistant results. The costs also remain manageable for large production runs.
Digital printing facilitates versioned labels, like batch-specific hazard communication. Inline finishing minimizes human errors in label application. Variable elements like barcodes and serial numbers integrate seamlessly.
Don’t leave your next printing run to fate—turn to the experts at Accu-Label to help you choose the best method for your job. Our family-owned and operated business takes pride in making sure each of our customers receives the highest quality labels produced with the quickest, most efficient, and rapid turnaround times possible without ever sacrificing quality. Contact us today to discuss our flexographic and digital printing services to start your next project.