Choosing the Right Printing Technology for Your Project

Although beautifully printed labels can look like works of art, it is the science that brings them to life. When you partner with a label manufacturer that has invested in various print technologies and processes, you will receive labels that provide the quality, consistency, and value you desire. One-size-fits-all doesn’t work when it comes to print technologies. Label needs are diverse from customer to customer, and often, each customer will have needs that expand beyond one print technology.

To reap the benefits of an invested print manufacturer, look for one that offers multiple technologies. Below we discuss various print methods and the benefits of each.

Screen Printing

Screen printing is the ideal process when high coverage, color strength, and accuracy of detail are needed. This process involves applying a photosensitive coating to a mesh pattern. The mesh size or screen count will depend on the label application (small or large type, varnish spot, special application, etc.). The photosensitive coat is exposed to light through a film positive of the image to be printed. This hardens the area you don’t want to be printed and leaves a negative image of the label on the mesh through which ink can flow. Once the screen is cleaned and dried, it is ready to use. Ink is pressed through the mesh opening and onto the printing substrate to produce the image.

Benefits of screen printing:

  • Can produce a ‘no label’ look
  • Lays down a smooth, very thick coating of ink
  • High luster, providing precise detail and strong color intensity
  • Highly durable even outdoors – no bubbling or peeling
  • Texture and tactile labels are possible

Letterpress Printing

Letterpress printing, also called relief printing, has been used for over 100 years. Originally, it used raised metal type and engravings to create the print but today often uses photopolymer plates. Today, it is used for short runs of high-value products, such as wine and cosmetics. Modern processes use flexible relief plates where a negative of the design has been applied as a relief (or raised surface). The letterpress plates are inked over an ink roller set (which contains several rollers of different diameters), and the image is transferred directly from the plate to the substrate. A different plate is needed for each color.

  • Best for small jobs – short runs
  • Fine detail – print quality comparable to digital
  • Best for typography, illustrations, line art, etc.

Flexographic Printing

Flexographic printing, sometimes referred to as flexo, gets its name from the flexible relief plates used in the printing process. Similar to letterpress, photopolymer plates are engraved with digital artwork. However, flexographic printing plates are made from a softer polymer. Another difference is in the number of rollers needed for inking the plate. With flexo, a fountain roll picks up ink from the ink pan and transfers it to the anilox roll (cylinder). The anilox cylinder then inks the raised areas of the flexible plate cylinder. The inked plate transfers the design directly to the substrate, which is fed through and held in place by the impression cylinder. Each plate prints one color at a time.

Benefits of flexographic printing:

  • Best for large volumes
  • Fast
  • Prints high-quality, durable graphics, process printing, or specific brand colors

Digital Printing

Digital presses accept files directly from a computer eliminating the need for plates and time-consuming setup. The inks that can be used are limited; for example, metallic inks can’t be used. It is slower than other processes, so it is best for small run sizes.

Benefits of digital include:

  • Cost-effective for short runs or one-time orders
  • Prints high-resolution graphics
  • Can print on different substrates (label stock, cardboard boxes, etc.) and various formats (sizes, materials, colors, graphics, etc.)
  • No plates needed
  • Great option when variable print is needed

Choose an Experienced Label Manufacturer

With so many options, knowing which method is best for your project can be challenging. The label experts and DRG Technologies have extensive experience with all these printing processes and can guide you in choosing the process that will make your label come to life while keeping your budget in mind. Contact us to get started on your next label project.

About DRG Technologies

For more than 30 years, DRG Technologies have provided product identification solutions that add value and deliver bottom-line results. With capabilities that include durable labels, blank labels, manuals, instruction sheets, ribbons, printers, and packaging tapes, DRG is a trusted label manufacturer that can consolidate your durable labeling needs to provide the most cost-effective solution. We maintain compliance with UL, cUL, and other critical standards to ensure your critical labels meet your specifications.