In fact, research firm Technavio predicts that the market for package printing will top $575 billion globally by 2020—with flexography well positioned as the number one platform of choice. The firm’s 2016 study, Global Printing Market for Packaging 2016—2020, estimates the market for flexography at around $150 billion today and growing.
According to Dr. John Anderson, director of worldwide business development for Kodak’s flexographic packaging division, the flexo printing industry is not only growing, but is also transforming —dynamics driven in part by advances in platemaking technology.
“Consumer demands and the highly competitive environment that major consumer goods companies find themselves in have driven a need for higher quality, reduced costs, shorter run lengths, and faster time to market,” he said. “Flexo, as the most widely used process in package printing, needed to respond.”
And, it has, says Rory Marsoun, vice president of business development for Esko. “Flexo continues to evolve,” he said. “The quality we achieve today was unimaginable a few years back. One of the biggest trends we see right now is a simplification of the platemaking workflow, due to new materials and technologies.”
Where flexo shines
Marsoun notes that the rise of flexo is very closely tied to the platform’s expansive substrate support – from corrugated materials to foils, films, and both uncoated and coated papers. “Direct print corrugated is a huge industry,” he said. “There are also thousands of label printers across the country, and almost of that business is flexo.”
Anderson adds, “Brands are choosing flexo for the widest range of product packaging needs—from labels, bags, pouches, product wraps, and shrink sleeves to cartons, paper bags, and corrugated boxes.”
The digital age of platemaking
While flexography’s substrate versatility alone makes it a home run for labeling and packaging applications, advances in platemaking technology have make the platform even more precise and efficient as well.
“Right now in the industry, it has been established that for flexographic printing a flat-top dot is optimal,” said Marsoun. “Over the past few years, we have developed different ways of achieving this.” One of those methods, he adds, leverages innovations like Esko’s CDI Crystal XPS LED technology.
“LED is more consistent than conventional exposure technology,” he said. “It also enables us to hold a finer detail on the plate—and do the back and main exposure simultaneously, within seconds. LED will be the future of flexo platemaking.”
LED diodes also last up to 10,000 hours or more—versus 500 to 800 hours for conventional exposure systems, says Marsoun—with no degradation of the diode, which further ensures print quality.
According to Anderson, new digital technologies allow plate makers to optimize ink transfer and laydown, expand tonal range reproduction, increase print contrast, produce finer reverse type and lines, and increase color vibrancy across a breadth of flexo print applications.
“Patented Kodak imaging technology controls ink flow at the edge of objects,” he said. “The ink release properties, combined with a plate that has the appropriate flat-top dot structure, allow for lighter impression pressure. This yields finer highlights and enables press operators to stop and clean the plates less often, reducing substrate waste and extending plate life.”