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Flexographic vs Lithographic Printing: What Fits Your Budget?

Flexographic printing, or Flexo, is a technique for bulk printing using flexible relief plates. Lithographic printing or Litho is a method of printing, initially based on the unmixable materials of oil and water. Lithography is used for anything that needs vibrant colours and is printed in large quantities.

If you package your product in a box, get out of the box.

A corrugated box does not need to be standard/boring. Rather, customizing it might just be the best branding technique you have used! Imagine lakhs of corrugated boxes with your brand logo on it moving around the world!

However, the printing method you’re employing needs to be useful as well as cost-effective. For custom printing, flexographic vs lithographic is an age-old debate, as these two are conventional methods in the printing and packaging industry.

Nonetheless, when we speak of corrugated boxes, we need then in bulk. Bulk printing is a tedious task and does require some level of optimization. Factors like budget at hand, time constraints, quality of the print, and how boxes are going to be used - shipping or retail come into play.

So, if you are ordering custom corrugated box, then here is a guide to solving the flexography vs lithography confusion.

Flexographic Printing

Flexographic printing, or Flexo, is a technique for bulk printing using flexible relief plates. The manufacturer applies the ink first on the plate and then on the surface. This is a low-cost printing method, and it has progressed much since 1970 after direct laser engraving was introduced.

Flexographic Printing - Printer
Image Courtesy: jaymar.co.uk

Printing Process

Flexographic printing requires an initial setup cost. Flexo uses flexible plates mounted on a cylinder. The manufacturer uses a partially immersed ink roller to apply ink on an anilox roll. The anilox roll is a hard cylinder, usually made from steel or aluminium with a ceramic outer layer that comes with many dimples. The manufacturer uses the anilox to distribute the ink on the flexo printing plate uniformly.

The corrugated boards run directly between the impression cylinder and the paint roller. Finally, the manufacturer runs the substrate through a dryer to prevent smudging.

Flexographic vs Lithographic Printing
Image Courtesy: expert-print.ro

Advantages:

  • Flexographic printing is an economical option as manufacturers can print and cut the boxes in a single run.
  • It is suitable for printing a large number of boxes that do not require colour detailing.
  • Versatile - can be used on any non-absorbent material.
  • Compatible with both water-based as well as oil-based inks.

Disadvantages:

  • Not advanced enough to produce complicated and extensive artwork
  • Increasing the number of colours increases the number of stages, thereby increasing the cost.

Lithography Printing

Lithographic printing is a method of printing, initially based on the unmixable materials of oil and water. This method was invented in 1796 by a German author Alois Senefelder. His purpose was to find a cheap way of publishing theatrical works. Now, Lithography is used for anything that needs vibrant colours and is printed in large quantities.

Printing Process

Lithography printing also uses a printing plate. The ink is first applied on the printing plate and then, from the printing plate to a rubber blanket. To print the substrate, the rubber plate is transferred to it. However, while printing boxes, the procedure is not direct.

Lithographic lamination is the second process used for box printing. Here, first, the print is made on paper and is then laminated on the box. This gives the boxes glossy and premium finish.

Advantages:

  • Lithographic printing allows high colour detailing.
  • Excellent image quality at low cost.
  • Flexible - not limited to paper, can print on a variety of surfaces.
  • Widely available.

Lithographic Printing - Printer
Image Courtesy: www.designprintdigital.com

Disadvantages:

  • The print takes on wear and tear, as it is printed on a paper surface.
  • High costs.
  • Can only be used on flat materials.
  • Colour variation can be seen due to the water/ink mixture.

However, lithographic printing does have a downside. Often, the print takes on wear and tear, as it is printed on a paper surface. In addition, lithographic printing for boxes also means higher cost.

How to Choose in Between Flexographic vs Lithographic?

The printing process you will eventually choose should solely depend on the design you have. If it is minimalistic with bright solid colours, then flexographic will be the ideal choice. However, if the design has photographs or intricate details that require full-colour prints, then go ahead with lithographic printing.

Flexographic vs Lithographic is definitely an interesting topic to have a discussion on but, both of them have their share of pros and cons. Hence, once you are clear about parameters like a number of boxes to print, your budget, quality requirements and time in hand,  you can make an informed decision.

Are you rather looking for solutions regarding printing on cartons? Then this guide might help you out.

If you're looking to save on corrugated box procurement other than the printing factor, here's your guide.

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