Along your path to flexographic printing perfection you’ll have a choice between elastomer blend sleeves and photopolymer. Get it right and you’re sure to reap the financial benefits of return customers and repeat sales.
The Choice: Elastomer Blend vs. Photopolymer
The elastomer blend vs. photopolymer decision involves a number of factors, as each technology has its own individual strengths.
Elastomer refers to a variety of polymer composite materials. In general, printing elastomers are tough substances able to be formed into seamless cylinders and imaged by direct laser ablation. Many additional specialized properties are available with different blends. Elastomer's high strength, seamless manufacture, and wide range of properties make it an ideal choice for jobs involving:
- Long runs
- Bright color
- Specialty or adhesive inks
- High accuracy
- Abrasive substrates
- Large format wide web designs
- Varying repeats
- Tight registration
- High temperature
- High solvents
- Foil stamping
Elastomer also has some limitations. Most notably, some ink and substrate combinations make it difficult to produce very light vignettes, and there can be a learning curve for people used to printing with photopolymer.
Photopolymer refers to a class of materials that change their solubility properties through exposure to ultraviolet light. Printing photopolymers are manufactured as a flat plate and imaged through a UV light exposure-washout process. Plates can be adhered to a printing sleeve permanently during manufacture, or can be mounted by use of a sticky back at press. Photopolymer is often a good choice for work involving:
- Quick turnaround
- Many design changes
- Short one time runs
- Very light vignettes
Photopolymer plates also have some weaknesses which are not shared by elastomers.
- Swelling or premature wear from aggressive inks
- Plate lift
- Distorted images
- Seams or breaks in image
- Ease of damage during mounting
Why Choose Elastomer Over Photopolymer?
Elastomer Blends Achieve Efficiency
Efficiency in printing comes down to getting excellent product out, at the lowest cost. A lot of expenses eat into this.
Elastomer blend sleeves save time and money on setup, as they come press ready. No precision plate alignment or mounting is required. Once on press elastomers are very durable and long lasting. Typically, several plate changes can be eliminated maximizing press uptime.
Also due to their in-the-round, precision balanced construction, elastomer sleeves can spin at extremely high speed maximizing productivity, and profits throughout every run.
Elastomer Blends Boost Quality
Elastomer is an outstanding choice for many of the demanding quality requirements of modern printing. A wide range of specially designed materials provides solutions for maximum ink transfer with any ink-substrate combination, guaranteeing highly saturated colors and crisp, halo-free fine type and lines. Halftone dots are always flat topped for maximum accuracy and definition.
In-the-round construction also insures that elements are always precisely where you want them, and never crooked or distorted. These physical features combined with super fine direct laser imaging makes elastomer the ideal choice for the most exacting customer requirements.
The Choice: Elastomer Blend vs. Photopolymer
Here are some additional key points about elastomer and photopolymer.
- Directly imaged
- Comes in many materials and surface tension ranges (here are specific examples)
- Compatible with a large variety of inks and substrates
- Exceptional ink transfer
- Good for continuous designs like wallpapers, gift wraps, food wraps, table covers, and bag or pouch items
- Works well for varnishes and coatings
- Line weights down to .001”
- Good for parts of designs, such as backgrounds with drop out windows
- Best for long-running designs and repeat design printing
- Varying design repeats
- Design patterns with non-print areas for seams
- Off the shelf commodity provides fast turn around
- Produced in house by many printers
- Good for parts of designs, such as ingredients that may change often
- Best for short runs and one-time print orders
- Good for light vignettes and process color
Find a good sleeve, cylinder, and plate manufacturer that’ll work with you to identify the ideal materials for final products, graphic, physical, and chemical requirements.
Editor's Note: This blog post was originally published in July of 2017, and was republished in August of 2021 to reflect updated insight and information.