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Flexographic Printing: Versatility, Techniques and Applications

Flexographic printing is a versatile printing technique utilized for a wide variety of applications. 
This article provides an overview of the flexographic process, starting from the design phase and encompassing all the steps that lead to the final printed piece. 
Successful flexographic printing requires a smooth workflow and a thorough understanding of the specific techniques and elements associated with this printing method.

Flexographic printing

Flexographic printing is a widely used and versatile printing process that is commonly used for packaging materials and labels.

It is a form of relief printing, which means the inked image stands up in relief on the printing plate, transferring the image to the substrate.

This process is particularly suitable for large-scale printing of continuous rolls, making it ideal for high-volume production.

overview of the flexographic printing process

Printing Plates : Flexographic printing utilizes flexible polymer plates with raised images.
These plates are mounted onto a cylinder, which is then attached to the printing press.
The raised areas on the plate represent the parts of the image that will be printed onto the substrate.

Inking System : Flexographic printing uses liquid ink that is transferred onto the printing plates.
An anilox roller, which has a pattern of tiny cells engraved on its surface, is responsible for transferring a precise amount of ink onto the printing plates.
The cells' depth determines the amount of ink that is transferred, and this can be adjusted to control ink density.

Substrate Feed : The substrate, such as paper, plastic, or film, is fed through the printing press.
The press consists of multiple cylinders, including the plate cylinder carrying the printing plate, the impression cylinder, and other rollers.

Printing Process : As the substrate moves through the press, the inked printing plates rotate and come into contact with the substrate.
The inked raised areas on the plates transfer the image onto the substrate as it passes between the plate and impression cylinders.

Drying/Curing : Once the image is printed onto the substrate, it needs to dry or cure. For water-based inks, drying is usually sufficient.
However, for some inks, especially solvent-based or UV-curable inks, additional curing processes may be required to ensure the ink adheres properly to the substrate.

Repeat Process : Flexographic printing is capable of high-speed production, making it well-suited for large print runs.
After the first color is printed, the substrate may pass through additional print stations with different plates and inks to achieve multi-color designs.

Advantages of Flexographic Printing

  • Suitable for various substrates, including paper, plastic, metal, and more.
  • High-speed production, making it cost-effective for large quantities.
  • Can handle a wide range of ink types, including water-based, solvent-based, and UV-curable inks.
  • Ideal for continuous rolls, such as in packaging and labeling applications.
  • Supports various finishing processes, such as laminating, die-cutting, and embossing.

Flexographic printing is prevalent in the packaging industry due to its efficiency, versatility, and ability to produce high-quality images on different materials.

It plays a crucial role in producing a wide range of products we encounter daily, including food packaging, labels, newspapers, and more.

Flexographic printing

Basic Elements of Flexography

The key players involved in the flexographic printing process include a team of professionals comprising a graphic designer, print buyer, structural engineer (in the case of package design), and printer. 
Together, they collaborate to select the appropriate printing method based on the project's requirements. 
Factors such as whether it will be a line job, contain screens, or involve full process-color printing are taken into consideration. 
Design considerations are essential, focusing on the product and product image, space utilization, brand identity, typography, and color usage.

Artwork Design and Prepress

Preparing the design and production art for flexographic printing follows a similar process to other printing methods. 
However, some distinctions must be considered. 
With the advent of computer graphics and digital imaging, the actual design may not be fully visible until it is printed on the package. 
To ensure accurate representation, various proofs, including conceptual proofs and contract proofs, are employed to assess the layout and final colors.
To achieve high-quality results, designers and production artists must be well-versed in the requirements of the flexographic printing process and understand how it differs from other printing methods. 
This includes making informed decisions about the appropriate printing plate (molded or photopolymer, thick or thin, solid or flexible, digital or traditional) based on distortion characteristics, shrinkage, line screens, print-element growth, press design, inking system, and substrate type.


The choice of inks is crucial in flexography. Low-viscosity inks that dry quickly between print stations are commonly used. 
Flexographic inks come in various types, including solvent-based, water-based, and UV-curable inks, each catering to specific requirements. 
The ink's properties, such as viscosity, drying speed, pigment strength, and adhesion, play a significant role in the printing process.

Differences between Molded and Photopolymer Plates

Molded Plates: These plates are made from materials that can be molded and require special molds for their creation. 
They are known for their precision and stability during printing, making them suitable for intricate designs and high-detail prints.

Photopolymer Plates: These plates are created using light exposure, with the plate being dried after exposure to UV light. 
They are more cost-effective and easier to manufacture than molded plates, but they may offer slightly less precision.

Differences between Thick and Thin Plates

Thick Plates: Thick plates have greater thickness, allowing them to hold larger amounts of ink. 
They are suitable for printing on various surfaces and materials.

Thin Plates: Thin plates have less thickness, enabling them to achieve precise and high-resolution prints, making them ideal for applications that require fine details and thin lines.

Differences between Solid and Flexible Plates

Solid Plates: Solid plates are rigid and strong, making them suitable for printing on rough and durable surfaces.
Flexible Plates: Flexible plates are more malleable and pliable, making them suitable for printing on soft and flexible surfaces.

Differences between Digital and Traditional Plates

Digital Plates: Digital plates are created using modern digital techniques, allowing for high accuracy, easy modifications, and reusability.
Traditional Plates: Traditional plates are made using conventional methods, involving more time and manual work, but they may be suitable for certain traditional applications.

selecting the appropriate printing method in flexography requires careful consideration of various elements and collaboration among the team members involved. 
By understanding and addressing the specific technicalities, flexographic printing can deliver exceptional results and meet the diverse needs of different printing projects.