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.

Wofford Student Conducts Timestudy

Century Printing & Packaging has been committed to the community for over 25 years and ensures a strong future for manufacturing in the Upstate of South Carolina by hiring high school and college students for part-time positions or internships. One of these students, John Bailey Moore, is a Junior at Wofford College, majoring in finance. He participated in a semester-long program designed to give students like JB opportunities to engage in work experiences outside of mainstream classes.

Interim at Wofford started in 1968 as an opportunity to explore possible career paths and find internship programs and independent studies that pique their interest. It gives students the liberty to explore and innovate, study something new, or leave their comfort zone when the semester schedules aren’t in the way.

In choosing an interim, JB sought first-hand experience and exposure to a real-world business environment. Getting an inside look at the inner workings of a successful organization was what motivated JB to pick an interim in this industry.

John Bailey decided to reach out to CP&P about an opportunity with Ben and Neil. They assigned and presented him with two different tasks to take place over a month during his interim period–

The first was a time study on production equipment. This analytical examination would allow the team to better understand what each employee was doing on the production line and how specific equipment was used precisely during the day. This information is valuable for decision-making in running an efficient business and productive team.

For the first eight days of the study, JB was on the floor at 6 am with the production team. JB’s drive and commitment could be seen from day one– as he started when the machines were turned on and left when they were turned off. In great detail, JB would walk from each press to log the data on the job order, time of day, and press performance.

This pinpointed data was collected 400 times a day, and by the first week, JB had already collected vital metrics and data for the Century Management team. Not only was JB engaging in such a precise process of data collection, but he was also learning about the presses along the way. He learned about the differences between hybrid, digital, and flexo printing purposes and procedures to gain more profound knowledge within his study.

Digital printing is an ideal choice for jobs that require multiple SKUs or multiple versions. This type of printing provides consistency in production with computerized color management. So that label to label, the colors are uniform with no variation between operators.

Flexo printing is fit for longer runs with a minimal number of SKUs. It uses printing plates and inks that must be changed for each job requirement, thus requiring more manual work and time for setup.

In hybrid printing, the two types of print are combined, bridging the gap between them. The hybrid model can produce longer runs and higher label counts while maintaining consistency, repeatability, and efficiency benefits from job to job.

After the data was collected, JB diligently took the weighted averages of each data set and turned them into actionable numbers for Ben and Neil. Looking at the daily averages, weekly averages, and specific data points, like which machine ran the longest, gave CP&P vital statistics and takeaways.

The second section of JB’s project involved an in-depth water usage analysis. This task asked, “how much water was being used daily?” As businesses take a more environmentally friendly approach to usage and waste, the importance of water sits near the top of the list.

JB examined how the team used water after jobs and where the areas for reducing water were within the processes throughout the day. Four of 5 presses owned by CP&P use water-based inks, primarily what the water and washouts are for.

JB would check in with the managers every time they’d run the water system or turn on the sinks and, in doing so– developed an estimate of how much water the sinks could hold and how full they were at the end of each day.

As a result of JB’s study, CP&P has done two things to improve the efficiency of their business as they continue to scale. Ben and Neil decided to purchase a parts washer, which is now routinely being implemented to recycle water so that the team uses less water when cleaning parts at the end of a production day. This has resulted in cost savings, increased efficiency, and better use of water as a resource.

Because of the numbers that JB collected while on the production line, Ben and Neil can now integrate real-time data into their pricing models. This specificity of his data has provided better insights to pull from when determining current and future business and financial endeavors. The Century Management team is currently integrating this real-world data into their pricing models to ensure their costs are accurate and they can offer customers competitive pricing.

“If my data can help Ben and Neil better price job orders, I feel like I contributed to his business,” John Bailey said as he realized how much relevancy his data and study brought to the overall operations of CP&P. During this season of inflation, obtaining real-world data over estimations is crucial to maintain realistic costs and remain dialed into the current economy.

According to JB, the conversations with Ben and Neil were more valuable and relevant than any class he had taken. John Bailey enjoyed asking questions about the business and the “why” behind Ben and Neil’s decisions while he was there and getting thoughtful, in-demand answers in return.

“My favorite part was when I got to tie what I was looking at for 7, 8, 9 hours a day, and how it applied to my finance major,” says JB.

John Bailey focused his attention on all aspects of Century’s business operations that make it a success, including its morning huddles and how its employees maintain high business standards every day. From the production meetings to the sales meetings, JB saw firsthand how Ben and Neil ensured that quality was the same on every single job. JB appreciated that anyone in the office, on the floor, or running the presses was kind and open to helping and explaining different aspects of the business to him.

Ben and Neil are building a vision for their employees to sell to their customers. Seeing that vision come to life was a significant takeaway from JB’s interim experience at CP&P.

Being a part of the surrounding community is a priority for Ben and Neil as they work to stay connected with the next generation of young professionals. CP&P will continue to offer opportunities like this to students in the area. Exposure and experience are invaluable to anyone looking to uplevel their career or personal development like JB.