Commercial printing is changing rapidly, and the processes that produce the consumer goods we all see
everyday are growing and changing as quickly as we are.
That’s why we thought it was time to take a fresh look at two different methods – flexo printing and litho printing – and see how they compare today.
In case you missed it, we’ve also spent some time comparing flexo with some other popular printing methods:
Flexo Printing vs Litho Printing: The Similarities
Both flexo and litho printing can produce reliable prints in very high volumes. They can be used to produce quality product packaging, labels, and a wide variety of printed paper materials.
While lithographic printing might dominate some markets, flexo printing has increasingly gained popularity since the 1970s with the introduction of direct laser engraving.
Flexo Printing: The Basics
Flexo typically utilizes an elastomer or polymer image carrier such as sleeves, cylinders, and plates. The image carrier is engraved or imaged to create the design for the final desired product. Ink is transferred from the ink pan via an anilox roll onto the image carrier, where it is then printed onto the substrate.
Flexo printing is most commonly associated with uses in flexible packaging and labels, utilizing a variety of substrates including film, paper, foil and non-woven.
Litho Printing: The Basics
Litho printing is an offset process which uses a printing plate. The ink is first applied onto the printing plate and then transferred to a rubber blanket through multiple ink rolls, and finally applied to the substrate from the blanket.
This means the image is not printed directly onto the substrate from the plate.
Flexo vs. Litho: Key Differences
The main areas to compare flexo printing and lithographic printing are:
- Image quality
How much this affects your operation is largely dependent on the types of final prints you're hoping to accomplish.
Litho can accommodate foil stamping, spot gloss, embossing, and other embellishments, but these options also come at a higher cost.
Additionally, since the only way to print with litho is through an indirect pre-print, this guarantees an additional step in production and thusly raises costs.
Both processes can be very cost-effective when printing large runs with basic needs. With proper maintenance and storage, as well as an investment in durable image carrier materials, flexo image carriers can be reused many times before they need to be replaced.
Litho is generally limited to printing on smooth, flat surfaces as the image must be pressed onto the substrate. Printing on corrugated substrates requires an additional step in production where the images are first printed onto linerboard, which is then attached to the corrugated substrate.
Flexo can print on both porous and non-porous surfaces, making it ideal for a wider variety of substrates, including coated linerboard and paper.
Litho generally uses oil-based inks, and printing usually consists of the four process colors, each requiring a dedicated printing station.
Flexo also utilizes one image carrier per color and can use oil-based inks; it additionally accommodates printing with a wide variety of other inks -- including water-based, solvent-based, and UV inks. Curable inks, such as UV, afford faster drying times. Faster drying can lead to faster production runs.
Flexo is noted for producing superior print with fine line and text detail.
Making the final decision whether to print using the flexo or litho process depends on the substrate, budget considerations, and a number of other production requirements.
Editor's Note: This blog post was originally published in 2018, and was revised to reflect recent information and insight.