Package printing comes in many shapes and sizes. Printers and label makers use four main types of printing processes packaging: flexographic, digital, gravure, and offset.
Offset and flexographic printing are two of the most popular printing methods in packaging when high-quality, consistent, and long-run jobs are a must. Let's compare flexo vs. offset printing to see where they're interchangeable and where one stands out above the other.
Flexo Vs. Offset Printing: The Similarities
But before we get into the key differences, let's first take a look at the similarities between flexo and offset:
- Each involves the creation and use of a printing plate or other image carrier.
- Both processes work with wet inks.
- Both are able to print on a wide variety of substrates.
- Because of lengthy setup times and plate/ other image carrier creation, both processes are ideal for long-run jobs.
However, these two methods differ in process and various other factors.
Basics of Flexo Printing
Flexo typically uses a polymer or elastomer image carrier such as sleeves, cylinders, and plates. The image carrier is engraved to create the raised design of the final desired print. Ink is then transferred from the inkwell via an anilox roller onto the image carrier, where it is then printed onto the substrate.
Flexo printing is more commonly associated with uses in flexible plastics and other non-porous materials such as film, labels, foil, and other packaging.
What Is Offset Printing?
How does offset printing work differently than flexo? The offset printing process also uses a plate, usually made of metal, and the printing ink is transferred via the plate to a rubber piece (often called a "blanket") and then to the printing surface.
Printers most commonly use offset on paper (think newspapers and magazines), applications where a flat and smooth surface is paramount to success.
Offset Printing vs Flexo Printing: Key Differences
There are also several important difference between offset and flexo printing.
Flexo is able to operate with many more types of inks.
The offset printing method generally works with inks that are oil-based along with using some water-based and UV curable inks.
One thing to consider about offset printing technology is that the plates used in the process are susceptible to oxidation if they're not cared for properly. For this reason, extra maintenance is often necessary to ensure plate quality.
Flexo image carriers are generally a bit cheaper to create, and they also are typically more durable than the plates used for offset -- meaning they can be re-used a few times before replacement is necessary.
What's more is the wider range of inks that flexo works with (notably the faster drying times with low viscosity inks and UV inks) can accelerate print jobs and increase job profit.
Remember what offset printing is used for -- there's a reason it only turns out good results on a smooth, flat surface. Flexo, on the other hand, can print on a wide variety of substrates, making it a more convenient choice for many.
Combine this with flexo’s ability to use many more types of ink and the ease of printing larger-scale tasks, it's often the path of least resistance.
Flexo Printing Vs. Offset Printing: The Verdict
So, which process is right for you? It largely depends on the job, substrate and a variety of other factors of the job you're printing.
Offset printing quality will suffer on the wrong surface. Flexo printing techniques can do most of what offset can, but with baked-in convenience and versatility.
You can learn more about the pros and cons of flexo vs. several other printing methods below:
(Editor's note: This article was originally published in August 2018 and was recently updated.)