Mastering the Science of Flexo Press Set-Up

Achieving impeccable results in labeling demands creativity, design finesse, and meticulous attention to the technical aspects of the printing process. Among the various printing methods, flexography, or flexo printing, stands out for its versatility and efficiency in producing high-quality labels. However, mastering the setup of a flexo press run is essential to harness the full potential of flexo printing

Flexography is a modern printing technique that utilizes flexible relief plates to transfer ink onto substrates, such as paper, film, or metallic foil. This method is favored for label printing and unsupported films because it can accommodate various materials and produce vibrant, durable, impactful prints. When running a flexo press, preparation is critical to ensure a successful outcome.

At Clemson University, one of my professors, Page Crouch, taught me a simple yet powerful statement that has stuck with me: “Design for success.” This statement holds a lot of significance, emphasizing the importance of careful planning and consideration in every step of the label process. It means that every decision, from the smallest details to the big picture, should be made with the ultimate goal of achieving success.

At every pre-press stage, optimization for the best outcome is key. Preparing the artwork starts with the label design for flexo printing. This involves carefully selecting appropriate colors, defining trapping and overprinting settings (which refer to the techniques used to prevent gaps or overlaps between adjacent colors in a print), using printable fonts and point size, and setting up dieline and bleed specifications. A dieline is a graphic element that serves as a template or guide to create a die, which is then used to cut or shape the label substrate.

When preparing for the flexo printing process, creating high-quality flexographic plates is crucial to reproduce the design elements accurately. Laser engraving is commonly used to make these plates, as it can achieve curves and other specifications that result in precise and accurate prints on the press. This translates to a high-quality, impactful final print that meets the design and application requirements.

Consistency in color is also critical in flexo printing. Color management practices are implemented to achieve this, including calibrating color profiles and performing color proofs to verify color accuracy before printing. Ensuring the desired effect in the print is achieved when the ink hits the substrate results in consistent color across different printing runs.

After the prepress steps have been performed, the next order of business is setting up the press. This stage involves choosing the appropriate label substrate based on the application requirements and selecting ink formulations compatible with the preferred substrate. These first steps ensure that the substrate is clean, free from dust or debris, and properly conditioned to minimize static electricity. Ink viscosity adjustments are also conducted to achieve optimal ink transfer and color density to meet desired color specifications.

Next, the press setup agenda involves carefully mounting the flexographic plates onto the printing cylinders to ensure proper alignment with the cutting die. Once the plates are firmly secured using tapes or adhesive materials, it’s time to choose the appropriate anilox rolls based on the desired ink coverage and resolution requirements. Fine-tuning the printing pressure settings to achieve optimal contact between the plates, anilox rolls, and substrate is a prerequisite to avoiding excessive pressure, which can lead to plate distortion, wrong color, or substrate deformation.

When printing labels with multiple colors, meticulous calibration of the registration settings is essential to maintain accurate alignment. This prevents design elements from shifting and compromising the final product’s quality. Regularly monitoring and adjustment of ink density levels ensure consistent color intensity and coverage. Quality inspections, including the use of cameras to zoom in and monitor print quality, are a must throughout the press setup process to identify misregistration, color variations, or print imperfections.

Post-press setup is just as important as the prepress and press setup stages. Regular maintenance tasks, such as cleaning ink chambers, doctor blades, and anilox rolls, prevent ink buildup and maintain printing consistency. Replacing worn-out or damaged components as needed is a proactive measure to avoid production disruptions. By performing these tasks regularly, you can keep your equipment in top shape, extend its lifespan, and maximize its performance for each label job.

At Century Printing and Packaging, we believe in fostering a culture of continuous learning and knowledge sharing among our team. We understand the importance of mastering the art of flexo press setup for label printing, as it unlocks the full potential of flexography and enables us to deliver outstanding results that meet the highest standards of quality and efficiency. Our team is trained to focus on every aspect of flexo press setup, from selecting the proper plates and inks to ensuring optimal ink transfer, registration, and consistency. Our commitment to due diligence ensures we deliver exceptional results with every label job, from pre-press preparation to press setup procedures to post-setup optimization.

Flexo Plate Services

Over time the nature of flexographic printing has become a more refined and precise method of rubber stamping. As it’s evolved, it’s become widely popular in the consumer product and the printing and packaging industries.

Typically, flexographic printing involves a polymer image carrier that is engraved to create the design for the label. These image carriers can include, cylinders, sleeves, and plates to achieve the desired look. The beauty of this type of printing is that it allows for a continuous process with high speeds and maintained accuracy.

However, as the demand for rendering high-resolution images for specific labels has grown, Digital printing has become a great option for smaller-volume jobs that are not required to be repeated over and over again. Currently, Century Packaging & Printing utilizes both digital and flexographic printing to meet customer needs and requirements.

Over the past 25 years of being in the printing industry, CP&P has invested in making its own plates, but with the evolution of the digital press, they no longer need as many plates as they used to. At one point, CP&P was heavily involved in the newspaper business with over 60% of their annual sales coming from this portion of the business. This meant that a large majority of their resources went toward the newspaper market.

One complexity of printing advertising labels for newspapers lies in the fact that they do not often repeat. This process is fundamentally built around a “one and done” thought process and need. After the plate is run once to create the label for the advertiser, it is no longer used again.

As the majority of our society has pivoted digitally to obtain their daily news sources, the number of front pages available for advertising labels has steadily declined. CP&P has adapted to this downturn in demand for advertising labels by pivoting to the food, beverage, and other key markets. They have also leveraged the power of their hybrid press, added in 2022, which has opened up their capacity in plate making.

At this time, CP&P is in a place in their business where they are excited to share the expertise they have accumulated over the last 25 years with other printers in need of a high-quality source of plates. CP&P has put in the time and effort to become distinguished in the plate-making domain.

A significant piece of their success stems from the contract work that was done with Carol Jones– a renowned expert in plate making. Carol worked at Clemson for over 32 years and taught in their graphic communications department. She specialized in Flexography and Electronic Prepress and was devoted to testing and research associated with printing processes and products. Due to their dedication and commitment to putting forth the highest standards, Ben and Neil contracted Carol’s help to strengthen their proficiency in plate making. She came in and standardized their current plate-making process with quality checks to ensure that the quality was not only up to CP&P’s specifications but also held up to high-standard industry specifications. As CP&P’s mastery and aptitude in the world of plate-making grew, they purchased new equipment and established new procedures that would differentiate them from other printers.

Another unique hallmark of CP&P’s plate-making process is that they do not use chemicals. As part of their continued commitment to excellence, CP&P remains clean and environmentally sound with a promise to reduce waste anywhere they can.

The team at CP&P is more than ready to share their knowledge with other printers in the area and will gladly be a resource to anyone who is on the search for a new plate manufacturer. Instead of relying on contracting out to plate-making companies who may not have the same standards as CP&P, Ben and Neil are working diligently on selling their plates to those who are looking for a new plate-making partner.