Offset printing has traditionally been the most commonly employed commercial printing method in use. It is readily available in many towns and cities and is reasonably inexpensive, making it a feasible option for large volume, high-quality prints. Even today, offset printing remains the most popular printing method in most areas.
But flexographic or flexo printing is becoming increasingly popular, capturing a significant portion of the offset printing market. Like offset printing, flexo printing offers the ability to produce high-volume print runs of consistently high quality. Let’s take a look at what each printing method has to offer.
What is Flexo Printing?
Flexographic printing utilizes flexible relief sheets made of polymer on which the image is imprinted. It is a versatile printing process that can be used on a wide range of materials, including many used in offset printing. Flexo printing is especially effective with non-porous surfaces such as plastic, food-grade paper, and other flexible materials.
What is Offset Printing?
Offset printing utilizes metal sheets or printing plates to hold the image. From the plate, the ink is transferred to a rubber sheet known as a ‘blanket’ before being transferred to the printing surface.
Unlike other printing methods, the image isn’t transferred directly from the plate to the print medium. This is why the process is referred to as “offset printing”.
Similarities Between Flexo and Offset Printing
Although flexo printing and offset printing are quite different, they do have some similarities. Here’s a list of the qualities that both printing methods have in common:
- Both processes utilize printing ‘plates’ on which the image is engraved
- Both methods use wet inks
- Both printing techniques support a wide range of substrates
- Both are ideally suited for long-run printing jobs
- Both printing methods require long setup times
Differences Between Flexo and Offset Printing
In many other ways, flexo printing and offset printing are more different than they are similar. Both printing methods differ in the following factors:
Offset printing is known for the wide variety of inks that it supports. From the full range of oil-based inks, Pantone colors, and even metallic inks, offset printing supports almost every ink used in commercial printing. Flexographic printing, on the other hand, utilizes water-based or UV curable inks, as well as solvent-based inks.
Offset printing plates require considerably more maintenance than the polymer sheets used in flexo printing. Offset plates are made of aluminum, which is prone to oxidation if they aren’t properly cared for. If plates with oxidation buildup are used, ink may appear on the printed page where it isn’t supposed to.
On the other hand, flexo printing utilizes flexible photopolymer sheets, which do not oxidize. For this reason, flexo printing requires much less maintenance than offset printing.
Flexo image carriers are not only lower maintenance than offset printing plates. They are also more durable and can be used many more times. All other factors being equal, photopolymer sheets will have a longer usable life than offset printing plates.
Other factors affect the cost of flexo printing and make it a cheaper alternative to offset printing. The inks typically used for flexographic printing dry much more quickly than offset inks. This results in faster turnaround times and, ultimately, increased profits due to the possibility to work on more printing jobs.
Offset printing is a fairly versatile printing method allowing a wide variety of printing mediums. It can be used on paper, cardboard, cloth, and even plastic.
But flexo printing is even more versatile, allowing the use of surfaces that aren’t necessarily smooth or flat. In terms of versatility, flexo printing has the edge over offset printing.
Which Printing Method Should You Choose?
Flexo printing and offset printing are versatile and effective printing methods, with each having distinct advantages and disadvantages. Which method is ideal for your next printing job? The answer depends on many factors, including the project requirements and your preferred substrate.
If fast turnaround times and quality is a primary consideration, flexographic printing is the better option. You should also go for flexo printing if you want to print your image on non-porous material.
Offset printing is the better option if you are doing large runs on print mediums with smooth and flat surfaces such as paper and cardboard. Keep in mind that most printers are already set up to use offset printing, although more and more companies are shifting to flexo printing.