Labels, Packaging and Design

Digital or Flexographic? Questions to Answer Before Your Next Printing Job

When you’ve got a new label or package, choosing between digital printing and flexographic can take some careful thought and deliberation. Especially if you’re new to the manufacturing, labels, and packaging game. Typically, you’re going to have to decide between digital or flexographic printing.

So…what choice best suits your packaging needs? As with so many decisions in life, the only answer that’s both quick and correct is “it depends!”

Truly, the best approach is to connect with a label and packaging specialist who can guide you. But in the meantime, here are the basic facts, and a few helpful questions to ask yourself.

First: How Digital Printing & Flexographic work?

Examples of Flexographic Packaging
Examples of Flexographic Packaging

The name flexographic comes from the way this printing process works. You create flexible plates with raised plastic or rubber that stamp your graphic onto your substrate (e.g., a corrugated cardboard box). You mount what are essentially large rubber stamps, called plates, onto cylinders that roll the ink onto whatever is being printed. We use flexographic printing for a wide variety of printing applications, including corrugated boxes and displays, flexible packaging, labels, and a lot more.

Beer Labels - Strathcona Beer Company
Digital Printing | Beer Labels – Strathcona Beer Company

Believe it or not, a commercial digital printer is pretty much just like your home printer, just way bigger. It prints by spraying millions of ink dots in different colour combinations directly onto the substrate, no plates or stamps required. Digital printing is used on a wide variety of substrates as well, including corrugated boxes, folding cartons, labels, and flexible packaging.

Questions to ask yourself

How to decide between digital printing and flexographic? Here are a few questions to get you started:

  1. How big is your job?

Is this a new product in a limited run or a seasonal small run? Or is this a big run? If you’re printing tens of thousands of units, flexographic is probably going to be faster and more cost-effective. But if you need the flexibility of printing a smaller run, digital is likely your best choice. Remember that with flexographic, plates will need to be created that will print the graphic onto your substrate. With digital, you skip that step.

  1. How many colours are in the graphic?

Are we talking about a simple logo printed onto a box? Or is this an elaborate full-colour label? If it’s more elaborate, digital might be best. Digital printing matches up to 97% of the Pantone colour spectrum—and if you find you want to make adjustments once you see the final product, digital gives you that flexibility.

  1. How much time you do have for set up?

If you can’t spare time for setting up plates, digital could be your best bet. However, remember that if your print job is a large and relatively simple one, flexographic could still be faster.

  1. Do you need any customization?

With most print jobs, you just want multiple units of an identical graphic. But what if you’re running, for example, a subscription business that prints the name of the customer on a box of products? This type of customization calls for digital.

Digitally Printed Seasonal Wine Carriers
Digitally Printed Seasonal Wine Carriers

Flexographic or digital? Truly, one method is not universally better than the other. And figuring out which style is best for your labels and packaging starts with answering a few good questions.

As with any other aspect of running a business, organizing and optimizing your printing timelines, costs, and outcomes is no small feat. That’s why we always recommend connecting with a label and packaging specialist when it comes time to print your label or packaging needs. We’re always here to help you save time and money while you absolutely nail your labels and packaging.

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