What’s the Difference Between Digital Printing and Flexographic Printing?

February 14, 2017 10:15 am0 commentsViews: 172

It’s important to understand the variables in different types of printing technology. What makes packaging look more attractive, may not be as viable for long-lasting printing. The following will discuss the difference between flexographic printing and digital printing so you know which type to use for your specific needs.

Digital Printing and Flexographic Printing

Flexographic Printing

Flexographic printing is a process that utilizes flexible rubber or plastic printing plates. Each printing plate is designed to rotate on a cylinder and gets coated with quick-drying ink. The material used for printing passes between the printing plate and an impression roller. This process is used mostly for printing product and direct thermal labels.

Since all printing methods come with pros and cons, here are the benefits and drawbacks of flexographic printing vs digital printing.

The benefits of flexographic printing:

  • Improved durability
  • Ideal for printed labels that require longer shelf life stability
  • Better for products that are used outdoors
  • It can be used on almost any kind of material
  • It provides speed of production
  • It uses fast-drying inks that can withstand further presses for adding more colors to the material
  • Low printing costs
  • Works well with die-cutting, cold foiling, and laminating technology integration
  • Offers continuous printing production
  • Provides precision colors

The drawbacks of flexographic printing:

  • Plates are costly because they must be purchased for every color in an image
  • It costs more for short print runs
  • The time and cost of ensuring the image isn’t distorted in the final printing
  • The movement between plates can cause issues with high definition graphics

Some of the drawbacks are resolved by only taking large runs for printing over short ones and by using traps and bleeds, you can offset high definition issues.

Digital Printing

The digital printing process simply deposits ink toner on a material that doesn’t permeate the material, but creates a thick layer of printing the surface through heat.

The benefits of digital printing:

  • Digital printing provides a fast turn around
  • No plates are required to create images or manage distortion
  • Setting up for a print job is faster and minimal
  • Digital printing provides higher image quality
  • Digital images are printed as one image as opposed to layers as in flexographic printing
  • Lower costs for short print runs over other forms of printing
  • Flexibility for changing labels without adding expense

The drawbacks of digital printing:

  • Large print runs cost more
  • Individual printed labels are more expensive
  • Less durable than flexographic labels
  • Cannot be used outdoors
  • Color selection is less precise – color range is limited
  • Separate processes to make it more durable are necessary (i.e. laminating and cold foil)
  • You’re limited on the materials upon which you can print – not good for thermal labels

Not much can be done to overcome the limitations of digital printing for specialty labels.

If you have a business that prints labels, or you are considering starting one, it’s important to know and understand these differences so you can make an informed decision on what kind of printer you need for your purposes. It mostly depends on the types of labels you plan to print and the industrial inks you plan to use.


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