Digital vs. Flexo Printing: It All Comes Down to Plates

Expensive Dinner Plates

In the past, all label and sticker printing was done on big, mechanical flexographic printing presses. With the advent of digital printing presses, consumers suddenly had more options. And, in some cases, more confusion. While certain types of printing jobs are more appropriate for flexographic printing, digital printing has many advantages over more traditional printing methods. When it comes to printing high-quality custom labels and stickers, digital printing is the best option for many consumers.

I’m going to take this opportunity to list the main differences between digital and flexographic printing so that you can decide for yourself which type of technology works best for you.

Flexo vs. Digital Printing: Key Differences

1. Speed

With no plates to create, and very little setup of the machine, a custom label job printed on a digital printing press can be printed in minutes. In contrast, many flexographic printing presses can take several hours to set up for a four color process job. Flexographic printing is a complex process that  involves outputting your artwork to film in order to create flexographic printing plates. These plates are then loaded on to the printing press, the inks are mixed and the machine is calibrated. All this must take place before you can print a single label or sticker. As such, digital print shops can turn jobs around much faster than flexo print shops. At Lightning Labels, the average turnaround time for orders is only three business days once the final press proof is approved.

2. Image Quality

Our digital printing presses can print at 230 line screen, whereas most flexographic presses print at 133 or 150 line screen. You can really see the difference in the custom label’s detail and color. If you are selling your products at the retail level, you should consider digital printing based on the quality of the label it produces. If your labels will only be used exclusively in-house, then quality is probably not as big of an issue for you. If this is the case, flexographic printing might meet your needs, depending on how soon you need your labels, the size of your order, and other factors.

3. Cost

Because there are no plates to create, no film to output, and minimal machine setup, fixed costs for digital printing are very low in comparison with flexographic printing. This means that if you want to print a relatively small number of custom labels or stickers (i.e., less than 25,000), you should get a better price from a digital printer than a flexo shop. If you need to need to order in extremely large quantities, however, you might be able to find lower pricing at a flexo shop.

Furthermore, custom label designs and content can change frequently. With flexographic printing, new plates must be made every time  a change is made to a label or sticker. With plate charges running around $230 per set for each design, design changes can be very expensive at a flexo shop. Of course, if your designs never change, this is not an issue. But if you need product labels, it is almost inevitable that will update your product label designs on an annual basis at minimum.

4. Flexibility

Perhaps digital printing’s greatest strength is its flexibility. With digital printing you can print 1,000 custom labels and every label can contain different data. Whether you want to include names from a database, consecutive numbers, multiple barcodes, or just several versions of the same label, digital printing can handle it. Flexographic printing just can’t.

Know why flexographic printing can’t compete with digital printing when it comes to flexibility? That’s right — all those plates get in the way. And they also get in the way when competing with digital printing in terms of speed, image quality, and cost.

7 thoughts on “Digital vs. Flexo Printing: It All Comes Down to Plates

  1. Fred Iseri

    Amazing blog! Is your theme custom made or did you download it from somewhere? A design like yours with a few simple tweeks would really make my blog stand out. Please let me know where you got your design. Kudos

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  3. Allison

    I really believe digital printing is going to cause a ripple effect of momentous changes for the printing industry. It is certainly something to monitor going forward.

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  5. thabo

    I live in South Africa and am busy contemplating getting into the label printing industry. your info has been most enlightening as i was not sure about the differences between flexo and digital.

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