Vying to Add Value
Narrow-web letterpress, screen, and gravure pressmakers and printers show off their specialties and gauge the competition.
by Susan Friedman
Letterpress: quality still rules
Letterpress hasn't lost its high-end lustre, but its marketshare may be vulnerable to claims of improved quality at less cost by other processesparticularly flexo.
"For years we've been rotary letterpress, and flexo has been 10 paces behind," says George Noah, V.P. at Lewis Label Products. "Now flexo is one pace behind, and nine out of 10 buyers can't tell the difference."
Noah estimates Lewis Label now prints 50 percent of its work with rotary letterpressa level that was formerly as high as 65 percent. The decrease stems from both flexo inroads and financial return prospects. Noah points out that while a "Mercedes"-quality letterpress may cost more than a million dollars, a flexo press with UV and water-based capabilities that can handle much of the same work may cost half that amount.
Of course, Noah admits there are jobs for which letterpress is the hands-down choice, such as when line screens are 175 or higher. Pasty rotary letterpress inks also offer more consistency and bring quality levels up to that of offset and flatbed letterpress.
Flexo has tried to encroach on letterpress in the four-color area, confirms Chuck Notches, chief engineer at Sanki, with UV flexo creating hopes of a less expensive way to achieve four-color process. He believes printers have found letterpress is "still the way to go."
"Letterpress still gives better registration, and offers a shorter web path for less paper waste when problems arise," he contends, recommending a CI drum press design for simpler threading and registration, and faster clean-up.
Printers of pharmaceutical packaging, in particular, are coming back to letterpress, with others going from flexo to letterpress just to set themselves apart from their competition, Notches notes. "Customers are calling for quotes and stating that letterpress is a firm need, not just a fishing expedition."