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Flexographic Printing: Terminology Explained

No Comments    |    ,     |    February 12, 2024    |    Reading time 5 minutes
Printer operator aligning flexographic stereo printing plate to a roller using a plate mounting machine to attach polymer relief plate on a printing cylinder.

In the ever-evolving world of e-commerce, packaging plays a vital role in the customer experience. One of the key elements in creating attractive and effective packaging is the printing process.

Flexographic printing, often simply referred to as 'flexo', is a popular method used in e-commerce packaging production. This article will delve into the intricate details of flexographic printing, breaking down the terminology and explaining its relevance in the context of e-commerce packaging.

Flexographic printing is a method that uses flexible relief plates to print on a variety of substrates. It's a versatile technique that can be used for printing on paper, plastic, metallic films, and even non-absorbent materials. This makes it an ideal choice for e-commerce packaging, which requires a diverse range of materials to cater to different products and branding requirements.

Table of Contents

Understanding Flexographic Printing

At its core, flexographic printing is a modern version of letterpress printing. It uses a flexible plate to transfer the ink onto the substrate. The process is fast, efficient, and capable of producing high-quality prints, making it a preferred choice for printing packaging for e-commerce businesses.

The flexographic printing process involves several steps, each of which contributes to the final product's quality and appearance. These steps include the creation of the printing plate, the application of ink, and the transfer of the image onto the substrate.

The Printing Plate

The printing plate is a crucial component in flexographic printing. It is made from a flexible material, typically rubber or photopolymer, and carries the image to be printed. The plate is attached to a cylinder, which rotates to apply the image onto the substrate.

The quality of the printing plate directly affects the quality of the print. A well-made plate will produce clear, sharp images, while a poorly made one can result in blurred or distorted prints. Therefore, the creation of the printing plate is a critical step in the flexographic printing process.

For a guide on different types of flexo plate making, click here.

The Inking System

The inking system in flexographic printing is responsible for applying ink to the printing plate. The system typically consists of an ink fountain, an anilox roll, and a doctor blade. The ink fountain holds the ink, the anilox roll picks up the ink and transfers it to the printing plate, and the doctor blade removes excess ink from the anilox roll.

The inking system plays a significant role in controlling the amount of ink applied to the printing plate. This, in turn, affects the intensity and consistency of the print. A well-maintained inking system can ensure high-quality prints with vibrant colours and sharp details.

Flexographic Printing and E-commerce Packaging

Flexographic printing is widely used in the production of e-commerce packaging due to its versatility and efficiency. It can print on a wide range of materials, including corrugated cardboard, plastic films, and paper, making it suitable for various types of packaging.

Furthermore, flexographic printing is capable of producing large volumes of packaging in a short amount of time. This is particularly beneficial for e-commerce businesses, which often need to process large orders quickly to meet customer demand.

Branding and Customisation

Flexographic printing allows for a high degree of customisation, which is essential for e-commerce packaging. Businesses can use this printing method to create packaging that reflects their brand identity, using specific colours, logos, and designs.

Moreover, flexographic printing can be used to print variable data, such as barcodes, QR codes, and personalised messages. This adds an extra layer of functionality to the packaging, enhancing the customer experience and facilitating logistics operations.

Sustainability

With growing awareness about environmental issues, many e-commerce businesses are seeking sustainable packaging solutions. Flexographic printing supports this trend by being compatible with eco-friendly materials, such as recycled paper and biodegradable plastics.

Additionally, flexographic printing uses water-based inks, which are less harmful to the environment than solvent-based inks. This makes flexographic printing a more sustainable choice for e-commerce packaging.

Key Terms in Flexographic Printing

Understanding the terminology used in flexographic printing can help e-commerce businesses make informed decisions about their packaging. Here are some key terms and their explanations.

Substrate

In the context of printing, a substrate refers to the material on which the image is printed. In flexographic printing, the substrate can be a variety of materials, including paper, plastic, and metallic films.

The choice of substrate can greatly affect the appearance and functionality of the packaging. For example, a glossy plastic substrate can give the packaging a premium look, while a corrugated cardboard substrate can provide added protection for the product.

Anilox Roll

The anilox roll is a key component in the inking system of a flexographic printer. It is a metal or ceramic roll with a textured surface, which picks up ink from the ink fountain and transfers it to the printing plate.

The texture of the anilox roll is made up of tiny cells, which hold the ink. The number and size of these cells determine the amount of ink that the roll can carry, affecting the intensity of the print.

Doctor Blade

The doctor blade is a thin, flat piece of metal that is used to remove excess ink from the anilox roll. It ensures that only the right amount of ink is transferred to the printing plate, contributing to the consistency of the print.

The doctor blade needs to be set at the correct angle and pressure to work effectively. If it is set too high, it can remove too much ink, leading to faint prints. If it is set too low, it can leave too much ink, causing smudging or bleeding.

Conclusion

Flexographic printing is a versatile and efficient printing method that is widely used in e-commerce packaging production. It offers a high degree of customisation, supports a range of materials, and is compatible with sustainable practices, making it a suitable choice for many e-commerce businesses.

Understanding the terminology and process of flexographic printing can help businesses make informed decisions about their packaging, enhancing their brand image, customer experience, and environmental impact.

Ready to take your e-commerce packaging to the next level with the precision and customisation of flexographic printing? At The Packaging Club, we specialise in creating bespoke unboxing experiences that not only elevate your brand but also optimise your packaging efficiency. Our partnership with the UK's leading packaging manufacturers ensures that you receive unparalleled print quality, whether it's near photographic flexographic prints, premium lithographic finishes, or vibrant digital prints for short runs.

With our advanced 8 colour flexographic presses, high output lithographic capabilities, and state-of-the-art digital printing, we offer a full spectrum of printing solutions tailored to your exact specifications. Our high-speed gluing processes and special finishing options, including metallic foil and UV varnish, will set your packaging apart, while our commitment to sustainability helps you meet your CSR goals.

Don't let the potential of flexographic printing and its complementary technologies pass you by. Learn more about bespoke packaging with The Packaging Club and discover how we can help you save money, reduce labor, and create a memorable unboxing experience that your customers will love. It's time to transform your e-commerce packaging into a work of art that speaks volumes about your brand.

This article was written by...

EJ Sinclair

I’m a research advisor and writer. I write on a range of topics, and I’m always interested in expanding my fields. My background and Masters degree are in aviation technology, which I can apply to an array of industries.My goal is to provide readers with interesting perspectives that are both informative and engaging.When I'm not writing or working, I like spending time with my family, reading good books, going on interesting walks with my dog, or exploring new cycling paths. Always looking up at the sky.

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