Flexographic vs digital printing

At First Impression Labels, we have all your label printing needs covered. We use both flexographic and digital printing methods. Whether you are looking for a large run of shrink sleeves or a quick batch of self-adhesive labels, we can print the perfect face for your brand. Are you still unsure which printing method is right for you? Here are the differences between flexographic and digital printing:


Flexographic printing


Flexographic printing uses plates, made of rubber or plastic, and cylinders coated with ink to transfer an image onto the printing surface. The substrate (material printed on) passes between the plate and the impression roller, marking it with the desired image.  It is a common label printing technique used for many different label types.


Pros of flexographic printing


Increased durability: Flexographic printing can be used to print on a wide range of substrates, including heat-sensitive surfaces. Labels printed with this method last longer and are better suited for outdoor use.

Production speed: Fast-drying inks are used, speeding up the printing process and allowing presses to add one colour after the next almost immediately. Large rolls of material can be printed every minute.  A single production line includes a number of procedures, such as lamination and die-cutting, making the printing process quicker.

Colour precision: Flexographic printing yields vibrant colours. Metallic inks can be used, adding extra quality and complexity to your labels. The use of Pantone colours allows for specific colours to be matched, meaning your labels will look as close to the design as possible.

Affordable large runs: Flexographic printing is a low-cost option for large run print jobs because it is high-speed and high-volume. The more you need to print, the cheaper it becomes. There is little need for labour between the start and finish of the process, reducing costs.  


Cons of flexographic printing


Cost of plates: Printing plates are expensive. A separate plate needs to be purchased for each colour. Short runs end up being very expensive due to the cost of the plates.   

Cost of image: Wrapping the image around a cylinder causes it to distort. To prevent a warped label, the images need to be distorted before creating the plates. This process is a once off fee, like the plates, and can be costly for short runs.

Registration: This is the method of coordinating overlapping colours to create a single image. Overlapping the colours perfectly is impossible, due to the movement of the plates. Traps and bleeds need to be used to ensure minor alignment problems go unnoticed.


Digital Printing


Digital printing transfers an image by depositing toner onto the substrate and bonding it with the use of heat. The toner creates a thin layer on the surface of the material without permeating it.


Pros of digital printing


Quick process: Digital print jobs can be performed quickly and easily, as no plates need to be created and the image doesn’t require distorting.

Image quality: Registration and colour overlap is eliminated with digital printing. The digital image is printed all in one go. Plates of different colours are not required, allowing for higher quality images.

Affordable short runs: While the cost per label is higher with digital printing, there are still significant savings from not having to purchase plates or distortion. This makes short runs an affordable option.

Flexibility: Images are easy to update or change with digital printing.


Cons of digital printing


Expensive large runs: The higher cost per label makes large runs an expensive option. Flexographic printing becomes cheaper with volume, while digital printing costs increase.

Less durable: Digitally printed labels are only printed on the surface of the material. This means they aren’t designed to last for a long time or withstand outdoor use. Lamination increases durability, but this adds an additional step to the production process.

Less accurate colour selection: Digital printing uses CMYK colours (cyan, magenta, yellow, and black) to build an image, limiting the colour range. They are able to get close, but cannot match an exact Pantone Colour.

Additional steps: Digital presses can only perform one task – printing. Any additional processes, such as lamination, die-cutting, and cold foiling, must be run separately after the label has been printed. This requires additional labour, increasing costs and production time.

Limited materials: Digital printing cannot be used for heat-sensitive materials, as it uses a heat process to combine the image with the substrate.

The choice between flexographic or digital printing will depend on the type of label you require and the volume needing to be printed. Whichever your requirement, First Impression Labels can fulfil your printing needs by supplying your brand with high-quality labels. Contact us here for a quote.