Digital vs. Flexographic Printing: What You Need To Know

Aug. 10, 2021

There is no definitive answer to this question. In fact, "contrast" is the wrong word to use when comparing digital and flexographic label printing; neither technology is inherently better or worse than the other.

Which printing technology makes the most sense for a given job will depend on a range of brand-specific factors, including run size, promotional opportunities, lead times, design complexity, and more.

Because there are so many factors to consider, there is no quick rule of thumb to follow." If it's X, then digital is the best technology for your brand. But if it's Y, then flexo is the better choice."

So, with no easy answer to this question, how does a brand choose?

Well, it requires a conversation with a label converter. And not just any label converter - a converter that has experience printing millions of labels on both digital and flexographic presses. A converter capable of printing with both technologies will give you an unbiased opinion on which technology is best suited to your brand's unique needs.

While there is no substitute for a conversation with a converter, in this article we will give you the basics of each technology and some of the ways in which each may be "better" for your brand.

Flexo Plate Making Machine

Unpacking the "flexo vs. digital" debate

Traditionally, the "flexo vs. digital" conversation has been decided on the basis of run size and cost, and here's the situation.

Flexographic printing requires more setup time and requires the production of a new plate for every graphic change (e.g., flavor change, variety, etc.). However, because flexo presses have superior throughput speeds, they are perfectly capable of producing large orders at a low cost. The longer the run time, the faster the initial investment in setup and plate making is offset.

Digital printing is a plateless printing technology that requires virtually no setup time. Eliminating setup and plate making costs makes digital printing competitive for small to medium label orders - but its slower production speeds make flexographic printing a better choice for longer orders.

For each brand's label needs, there is a value crossover point. Flexo is the better choice for larger label orders, where the cost of plates and setup is reasonable; digital printing is the better choice for all runs below that threshold.

This argument is sound-it's a good starting point for seeing how each technology can provide greater value in different situations.

But that doesn't tell the whole story.

Operational scale and cost are far from the only factors you need to consider when choosing between these two technologies.

You may have heard the "digital vs. flexographic" debate, and these arguments tend to go one way or the other. There's usually a simple explanation for this. The company making this argument has only digital (or flexographic) presses, not both.

But the truth is that there is no clear winner in the "flexo vs. digital" debate. In some cases, digital printing makes more sense, while in others, flexo makes more sense.

More importantly, a brand can benefit by having both printing technologies in its portfolio. Digital printing is appropriate for a wider variety of lower volume products, or seasonal promotions, while flexo is appropriate for its flagship SKU.

That's why it's so important to work with a label printer that has both flexographic and digital presses. They'll be motivated to adapt their technology to provide the best value for your brand's unique needs, plain and simple.

Want a clear answer to this question?

Let's explore the "digital vs. flexographic" debate one-on-one - you can contact our team to start the conversation. We'll weigh the specific requirements of your brand (from run size to promotional considerations, SKU count, graphic complexity, etc.) to determine just the right printing technology.