For years Rotogravure printing was the gold standard in label making, but lately its negative impact on the environment and technological advances in other printing techniques has brought attention back to two competing printing techniques- Offset Lithography and Flexography.
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A brand management perspective
Most brand managers are keenly aware of the importance of labels. First, they offer valuable real estate to display product information and brand identification symbols compactly. Second, they often initiate a consumer's brand experience and directly impact the buying decision. Third, regulations require them in many cases, so they are here to stay. As a result, brand managers become experts on label materials and graphics; unfortunately, too many ignore the printing process itself, which affects (usually adversely) the look and feel of the printed label.
To be fair, till quite recently the choice of printing process was the printer's domain. However, as artwork management has returned to brand managers, it makes sense for them to understand the differences between printing techniques that can help them make a smart choice. Introduction to Printing techniques
Commercial printing balances three main aspects:
- High productivity
- Cost advantage
There are five main techniques to print labels: Offset lithography, Rotogravure, Flexographic printing, Screen printing and Digital printing, each best suited to different combinations of label material (substrate), colors, cost, volume, and speed.
Doubtless Rotogravure printing is the gold standard in producing labels, especially on flexible plastic materials. However, rotogravure uses chemically etched cylinders. These are expensive, dirty and very slow (up to a week) to make, with one cylinder required for each color.
Meanwhile, Offset Lithography and Flexography, two techniques much older than Rotogravure have seen fantastic technological improvements in platemaking and digitization over the years and emerged as very real options to rotogravure for label making. In this article we compare the pros and cons of Offset and Flexography techniques. i. Offset Lithography (Offset Printing)
In offset lithography process, the image is applied from an aluminum printing plate onto the substrate through a medium, usually a rubber blanket. Offset is mainly applicable for paper and carton substrates. ii. Flexography Printing
In flexography (commonly known as flexo) printing process, a photopolymer plate is used to transfer the ink directly (i.e. without a blanket) onto the substrate via the flexo plate coated with a quick drying ink. It can be used for almost any type of substrate like plastic, metallic films, cellophane etc.