The Year of the Flexo Plate
Today's flexo platemaking systems offer printers a variety of options to match their costs, quality, and speed needs.
FOR MORE THAN a few flips of the calendar, flexography has held top billing as the fastest growing printing method for labels and packaging. Boosted by an impressive succession of technological advances, this once red-headed stepchild of the pressroom has become our industry's new darling.
Despite a developing threat from digital printing just over the horizon, flexo appears capable of maintaining its favored position, too. Its attractive economics and suitability for a wide range of packaging applications—especially for flexible packaging—are certain to keep flexo's popularity on the rise.
In fact, 2005 might just be a banner year for flexo printers and converters. End users are now familiar with flexo's advantages, and more and more packaging buyers are specifying flexo as the preferred printing process for their products. On the other end of the supply chain, equipment and consumables manufacturers are investing significantly in research and development to enhance the process even further. From wild new screening techniques to 7-color ink systems, flexo is in the center of a technology renaissance.
Nowhere is this transformation more apparent than in the area of flexo photopolymer platemaking. Today's packaging printer can choose from a myriad of material, imaging, and processing options. Mixed and matched properly, these options can help him achieve just about any combination of cost, quality, and speed for his flexo product output.
While there are several distinctly different types of photopolymer flexo plates, they all share common physical characteristics. Whether in liquid or sheet form, they are composed of light-reactive polymers and they undergo similar processing steps to become compressible, flexible image carriers with raised (relief) image areas.
The three basic types of plate systems are 1) solvent washable plates, 2) water washable plates, and 3) dry thermal plates. While each system has unique performance, environmental, and cost attributes, they share a common preparation cycle: