There are opportunities in product labels today which are often missed by manufacturers accustomed to flexographic labels. It has to do with the perceived differences in flexo vs digital label printing.
The problem is that digitally printed labels are frequently dismissed as a workable alternative to flexo labels. Today, the digital product label is often the better, faster and more profitable alternative.
What is the Difference Between Flexo and Digital Label Printing?
First, a brief background on the differences between flexographic and digital label processes.
Digital printing is the reproduction of an image on a substrate via electronic means, without the use of printing plates. The digital image prints directly from the computer onto the roll of paper, film or foil via inkjet or toner.
Flexographic printing, also called flexo, is the reproduction of an image on a substrate via a flexible rubber or photopolymer printing plate. A rubber plate is created for each color which the operator mounts in a rotary printing machine. During the flexo printing process, inks transfer from the ink fountain to the plates, to the substrate.
One reason for the aversion to digital labels is that the difference in digital print quality versus flexo used to be significant. Digital printing was easy to spot with the naked eye. Substrates were limited.
At the dawn of digital print production, these quality issues created a resistance to digital printing for high-end label jobs.
- Digital printing technology today has improved to the point that digital label quality is often better than flexo.
- Digital presses can handle dozens of substrates.
- Digital workflows are better and more collaborative than in the early days.
Another reason for resistance to digital is tradition. Flexo printing has been around since the late 1800’s. Along with offset lithography, it became the go-to source for print buyers.
Digital printing technology, however, only started to come into its own in the nineties.
The reality is that digitally printed labels today are often preferred by clients who used to be “flexo only” or “offset only.”
More Benefits of Digital Labels vs Flexo Labels
There are also other reasons why customers rely more on digital labels today.
Rapid turnaround times
Digital label presses don’t need plates or the setup time of flexo presses. The on-demand nature of the digital printing process means that labels can ship before the flexo press is even set up.
No charge for version changes and variable data capability
Since digital printing needs no plates, version changes are faster and easier. There is usually no cost for these changes so long as label size and materials are the same. It’s even possible to do endless versions on the fly, which isn’t possible with flexography.
This variable data capability is perfect for products with many seasonal varieties, flavors, colors, SKU’s, or promotional campaigns.
The reprint advantage – no charge for copy changes
Since digital labels don’t require plates, there is usually no cost for copy changes with reprints. With flexo labels, you pay. Even the smallest copy changes require a new set of expensive plates.
Low volume digital labels are profitable and practical
Pricing has always been the primary advantage of short-run digital printing. The costs for short flexo runs are prohibitive due to expensive plates and long, costly machine setups, neither of which applies to digital labels.
That, combined with the high quality levels of modern digital technology, means digital short-run labels have become are the wiser choice for even the most demanding health and beauty packaging companies.
High volume digital labels are practical and competitive in price
Digital is not just for short runs. With current technology, digital labels are practical and price-competitive for quantities from 1,000 into the millions, depending on size. As mentioned earlier, they ship faster than flexo labels and typically have better quality than flexo.
CMYK and Pantone® colors
Digital labels print in CMYK and can be used with opaque white and metallic foil colors.
Most Pantone® colors can be closely simulated with CMYK. There are some that can’t be simulated, such as certain neon and metallic Pantone® colors. In that case, flexo is best.
Label Finishes and coatings
Gloss or matte coatings (including spot coatings), gloss or matt lamination, and metallic foil are all available on both digital and flexo.
3 Opportunities in Digital Labels
The bottom line is clients find that digitally printed labels are often the best choice when compared to flexo, for three reasons.
- It opens opportunities to produce product labels and variations that are not possible with a “flexo only” mind set.
- It reduces production time.
- It’s an opportunity to reduce costs on product labels that are currently done via flexo printing.
Digital labels are hard to beat with their fast turnaround, no-cost version changes, color options, and finishing options.
Of course, flexo is the better choice when very long runs are required, or when hard-to-match Pantone® colors or metallic inks are specified.
The important thing today is to consider both flexo and digitally printed labels for your manufacturing needs.
Take advantage of our digital and flexo label expertise to help you determine which option is best for your current jobs.
And be sure to check out our comprehensive guide to product labeling for bottles, jars, and components here.
Contact Us here for a label quote or call us at 818-709-1220. You might be surprised at how much time and money can be saved, and how much your label’s print quality can be improved with a digital.