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The Flexo-to-Digital Revolution in Label Printing


Digital durable label printing presses are faster, better for short runs and more sustainable than flexographic flexo durable label printing presses.

Our recent blog on the differences between flexo, digital and hybrid label presses briefly touched on the pros and cons of these competing technologies. As we learned, each label printing technology has an inherent “sweet spot” that makes the proper matching of print job to printing press so critical.

This time around, we take a closer look at the flexographic printing process for durable labels. In particular, we’ll explore some of the advantages that come from changing to digital label printing – advantages you may be missing if you haven’t evaluated your durable label program in a while.

3 Key Advantages of Digital Label Printing Over Flexo

1: Quicker Turnaround Times

Flexographic (a.k.a. “flexo”) label production relies on flexible printing plates and ink to generate images on the substrate being imprinted. Flexo is typically the go-to technology whenever you need a large quantity of the exact same label. Just set the press up once and let it fly to obtain the lowest possible cost per unit.

However, what happens when you need those labels right now? Flexo printing is at a distinct disadvantage whenever turnaround time is a prime consideration. No matter how large or small the production run, setup time on a flexographic press is significant. The press must be cleaned between jobs. Plates and ink colors must be changed out. And, the printed image itself must be calibrated until it falls within the required specifications.

All of this takes time – sometimes a half-day or more. Setup on a digital label press, by comparison, is quite simple. In less than an hour, a digital press can be producing durable labels with crystal-clear imaging and amazing color consistency.

Recommendation: Flexo label presses are tremendously efficient when operated within their sweet spot. However, if you need the labels fast, digital technology will likely get the finished product to you faster and prevent a potential line-down crisis.

2: Cost-Effective Short Runs

The changeover tasks required by a flexo press also work against it whenever multiple versions of a label are required. With each label version comes a printing plate change, cleanup and calibration. Not only is this labor-intensive, it takes the press offline for hours and requires the creation of new plates for each version. As a result, the cost per piece soars as the print quantity shrinks. 

For a flexo press, printing a quantity of 50,000 labels in one version is very different from producing 5,000 pieces of 10 label versions. However, for a digital label press, it’s just another print job. There are no plate charges, no cleanup tasks and minimal downtime regardless of how many versions are required. Plus, a digital press opens the door to 1:1 customization of each label including sequential numbering and variable messaging – things that are impossible with flexographic technology.

Recommendation: Here again, it’s all about the sweet spot of the technology. Unless the quantities required of each label version are quite large, a digital label press will likely be a more cost-effective solution for a multi-version print job.

3: Sustainability

The flexographic process has become more environmentally friendly in recent years. Water-based inks and water-washable plates have eliminated many of the solvent-based chemicals and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) of “old-school” flexography. However, flexo label presses still leave much to be desired from a sustainability standpoint.

Printing plates must be created and disposed of for each job. Cleanup waste, while not as toxic as before, ends up in a landfill somewhere. A significant quantity of substrate is still consumed during the initial setup process. None of these things is true of a digital label press.

There is also the matter of print overages. With a flexo press, the cost-intensive changeover process naturally leads to larger overages on print quantities. Far better to have 10,000 too many of a given printed part than to come up 100 short.

With a digital press, print quantities can be dialed in much more precisely. A digital label press can also be used for “on-demand” production, further reducing the obsolescence waste that results from printing in mass quantities.

Recommendation: From the absence of plate and cleanup waste to the ability to reduce obsolescence waste, digital label presses have significant sustainability advantages over flexo label presses. Unless the built-in environmental impact of flexo technology can be spread over a massive print quantity, a digital press is almost certainly the greener way to go.

Taylor: The Digital Impact Analysis for Durable Label Production


A leading provider of durable labels to manufacturers in a variety of industries, Taylor uses a mixture of flexo, digital and hybrid flexo + digital label presses. As noted above, it’s all about matching the print job to the printing press to find that sweet spot.

To assist us in that process, Taylor has developed a proprietary Digital Impact Analysis for durable label production. This comprehensive analysis looks at label requirements and digital durable label production technology to identify situations where digital can do it better than flexo. This results in:

  •   Faster turn times
  •   Improved production quality
  •   Reduced inventory levels
  •   Lower total cost per unit

Still printing your durable labels via a flexographic process? You may be missing out. Contact Taylor to learn more about our Digital Impact Analysis. 

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