Cost-Effectiveness of Combining Flexographic and Digital Printing
When it comes to choosing the best printing process for your label job, it can be confusing to know when to choose flexographic or digital printing. They both have pros and cons individually, but did you know that both processes can be utilized during the same product life cycle to save money?
Flexographic printing utilizes a series of plates, rollers and ink to print and rotary die cut mass quantities of labels (as well as flexible films) on a variety of substrates. Although there is a cost involved for the custom plates and press setup, the price of printing high quantities is economical and cost-effective. Flexographic equipment is designed to run at much higher speeds than digital and the die cutting is done in-line. In contrast, most labels run on digital equipment are die cut (finished) off-line. The ink used is very durable, can match Pantone colors and won’t easily fade in time. This means the product can withstand shelf life without the risk of diminished quality in the label’s eye-catching appeal.
Digital printing offers advantages including its ability to print high-quality graphics, incorporate variable data as well as text/design changes at lower price points for short production runs. Digital printing doesn’t use plates, which eliminates the extra expense. The setup of the press is also much less time and material and thus cheaper for the buyer. If orders are low-to-mid quantity, then printing with digital can be a smart, economical option.
Joining Forces to Reduce Cost and Waste
- Alternate between the two processes based on product’s stage in life cycle
To save money and reduce waste, you can use digital and flexographic printing based on the stage of the product’s life cycle. Digital printing is a great option to use during the introductory phase because it allows fast turnarounds and is especially well-suited to economically producing shorter runs. But their biggest advantage at this phase might be flexibility. Without the need for printing plates, you get true on-demand capabilities. Digital systems are able to easily and cost-effectively change labels as product modifications might occur and can minimize or sometimes even eliminate inventory requirements. Once the product life cycle enters the growth stage and the product is being widely distributed, you could consider switching over to flexographic printing. This will allow mass production of the label or packaging at a lower cost than digital.The last phase of the product life cycle is “decline” characterized by the reduction in market share or a product revision in the near future. For this time frame, it’s recommended to begin switching back to using digital. A purely demand-based, digital printing solution helps minimize inventory and obsolescence costs while providing the lowest cost for small production quantities of labels. You can also focus on optimum run quantities for efficient production and a no frills approach that includes lower cost substrates.
- Products with multiple lines
As mentioned above, companies with a well-established, consistently sold product will likely use flexographic printing for their mass quantity label needs. However, for a “customized/regional” version, there will be a lower quantity and would benefit from using digital. For example, think of a coffee roasting company. They likely have a standard roast, of which consistently high volumes are sold. Flexographic printing would be the best option to ensure that steady inventory levels are maintained at a low cost point. For a seasonal flavor such as pumpkin spice or nutmeg, a smaller run might include customized label and/or packaging designs. For this specialty item, digital printing would be the most time and cost-effective choice.
Digital technologies can be calibrated to appear just like flexographic printing, which can come in handy during the proofing process of a flexographic print job. To save the manufacturer money and time, the label proofs and application needs can be produced with digital presses and then, the job can simply switch over to flexographic for the production run.
When it comes to selecting a printing process it’s best to work with a supplier who offers both flexographic and digital processes. This will allow for creating a project plan that maximizes the benefits of each and will provide cost savings, increase production efficiency and reduce waste.