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May 20, 2014
Digital printing appears to be making some inroads into short print runs. Is there any way we can combat this with Flexo?
One of the most interesting developments in Flexo is the use of process colors to create spot colors. While not a new concept, it has really only been the relatively recent introduction of new software packages that can convert spot colors into process files that allow for brand spot colors to be reproduced as a process set instead of the conventional
special spot colors.
Of particular interest is that of creating seven instead of four process colors that gives the printer the ability
to reproduce a vast number of pantone colors, which reduces the number of colors needed, the number of plates required, the amount of ink required, and the amount of time required to set up and run. All of this makes for a more affordable, quicker way of producing even very short runs, making flexo just as competitive if not more competitive than digitally printed short runs.
April 22, 2014
How do we reduce vibration and bounce when printing multiple images across our wide web press?
| This can be a challenge for most printers if you are using a pin registration system or are producing plates with a straight cut across the width of your plate. The solution, while simple, can be a challenge for printers using the above methods of mounting their plates as it entails stepping the image either up and down or stepping the image progressively down as you step and repeat it across the width of your web. This will then require you to cut your plates in the same stepped manner and can make mounting quite a challenge and eliminates the option of using a conventional pinned system.
The reason for the stepping of the image is to minimize the possibility of a continous gap occuring on any or all of the colors across the web. This means that some part of the image should be in contact with the web, which in turn will be pressed against the impression roll. This in turn will reduce the bounce and hence vibration that can often be seen and even heard at press side when the printed edge finishes in a straight line.
One method of overcoming these mounting challenges is to have the design engraved as a continous engraving, i.e. ITR, which can be produced in elastomer by direct laser ablation or as thermally ablated or chemically washed continous polymer sleeves.
March 20, 2014
Our plate supplier has expressed that he is concerned about the amount of ozone in our plant but did not explain why. Can you tell me what this has to do with the plates that he supplies us?
| Ozone is generated by electrical motors and corona treater equipment and is a form of oxygen. The reason your plate supplier is concerned is that ozone will attack all forms of plates and will eventually cause cracking in the plate surface, which will obviously make them unusable. For this reason you should store plates well away from areas that ozone may be generated as well as away from any direct UV such as sunlight, which will have a similar effect.
February 27, 2014
Our anilox supplier has offered to audit our anilox. What information should we expect from this?
| The first thing to remember about any anilox audit is that it's a "snapshot" in time, in that the moment it is done it is already out of date assuming that you continue to use your anilox.
Fundamental information that you would expect from any audit would be anilox engraving, volume, and any obvious damage such as scoring, mechanical impact damage, chipping, general cell condition, and overall cleanliness. You will be surprised how many rolls are sent out for refurbishment when they are simply plugged with ink or coatings so if you are advised to replace an anilox that does not have any obvious damage,scoring or chipping please make sure it has been mechanically cleaned and its volume rechecked before making the final decision to have it reworked.
Remember about the "snapshot" in time comment so you need to act on the audit information immediately. Failure to do so really minimizes the benefit of the audit.
February 10, 2014
We have recently purchased a new press that uses anilox and plate sleeves, what do we need to do to keep them in good condition?
The first thing to do is to make sure that every manager, supervisor and operator understands how much they cost to purchase and the cost of replacement. In my experience most personnel at all levels view sleeves as a disposable items, which ultimately they may be, but if properly cared for can give many years of
You mentioned both types of sleeves, that being anilox and plate sleeve. Both, however, cannot function without the appropriate air mandrel that you will apply compressed air into via an air inlet nipple either through the header of the mandrel or through the journal. The air escapes through a series of small holes that are drilled around the circumference of the mandrel usually at the end nearest the inlet and also in the center of the mandrel face. This will create an air layer that allows the sleeves to be slid onto the mandrel core before being locked in place when the air is stopped and the sleeve contracts back to its original diameter.
So just as you have recognized the importance keeping the sleeves in good condition it is just as important, if not more, to protect your air mandrel from any form of surface scratches, dings, or contamination. Failure to protect the surface of the mandrel will result in sleeves sticking to the core resulting in the operators inability to push them along the full face of the mandrel or indeed to be able to easily remove them.
Never use greater air pressure than recommended by the supplier as this can distort thinner walled sleeves and can result in catastrophic failure of the air mandrel. Always ensure the compressed air is dry and oil free as any contamination can cause rusting of the inside of the mandrel, which can leak onto the surface of the mandrel and the inside of the sleeve.This can make removal of the sleeve very difficult if not impossible if moisture or staining does build up on the end of the mandrel.
Each sleeve type has its own unique features and weaknesses but both are prone to premature failure due to mis-handling and lack of good housekeeping. In the case of the anilox sleeve they are generally the more complex structure with an inner composite tube, flexible inner core and an outer aluminum shell. It is the outer shell that is ceramic coated and laser engraved. The key to remember is that while ceramic is very abrasive resistant, they are very susceptable
to impact damage. For this reason great care must be taken not to bump the sleeve into anything or to drop any heavy or sharp objects onto it as the ceramic will invariably crack and come away from the sleeve's outer core.
You must store the anilox sleeve carefully at all times and take great care never to allow them to be dropped on the ends or knocked over, which will result in distortion of the sleeve and make it impossible to be slid onto its mandrel. The inside must be kept clean at all times and again great care must be taken to prevent scratching, scoring or any cuts to the inside of the sleeve. This applies to plate sleeves equally as much. You can store both types of sleeves vertically or horizontally but they must not be allowed to rest against another sleeve or rack support and when stored horizontally plastic tubing should be used if you choose to support them through the middle. If you prefer to store them in boxes, you shoud use cones placed in both ends if you choose to so that they again do not rest on the face of the sleeve.
In the case of plate sleeves, try to minimze the amount of cutting of the backing tape to help reduce cutting of the sleeve outer face, which can case them to split if cut too deeply or at least present a very rough surface to mount future plates onto.
While plate sleeves are a much simpler construction than an anilox sleeve they should always be treated with great care and kept as clean as possible at all times
January 14, 2014
Not only are there many suppliers of printing plates, the plates also vary in material, durometer and thickness. How do we determine what is best for us?
Although all plates have the same function, to pick up and transfer your
ink or coating to your substrate, you
must choose carefully to ensure you achieve a consistent ink or coating
transfer for at least the length of your print run. Some fundamental decisions are easy such as
selecting a plate that will suit your ink or coating chemistry i.e. water, UV
Next you need to determine what thickness you need based on the
undercut of your print cylinder and thickness of mounting tape you intend to
Determining what durometer you need is a little more subjective, but a
general rule of thumb is the smoother your substrate the harder the plate. But
this is also affected by the hardness of your mounting tape, as well.
major factor is whether you are still using film to expose the image to the
plate or using more modern direct laser imaging. If you are purchasing your
plates this is not really a factor, but whether you purchase or make your own,
choosing a plate that is water, solvent or thermal development clearly has a
potential environmental impact and should be considered carefully.
of a consideration today the plate material can also be molded rubber, although
the majority of choices are varieties of photopolymer materials. So what works
best for you? The decision is obviously helped by consulting with a variety of
suppliers but is only really determined from experimentation by yourself with
various plates on various substrates under a variety of conditions. A final
choice comes from how sophisticated your graphics are, which again your plate
material or imaged plate supplier can help you with.
November 25, 2013
My prepress supplier said he could enhance our color gamut with GCR , what is this?
G.C.R. is an acronym for Gray Component Replacement and when applied by an experienced prepress provider can
greatly increase the gamut of color and hue that a printer can achieve. This
removes most of the gray type areas from each color and adds it to the black
plate, which will help maintain the definition of the original image and at the
same time gives the operator much wider latitude to achieve strong vibrant
colors. This in effect removes neutrals that were once three colors and
puts them all onto the black printer, which will help maintain hues and
color throughout the run.
October 29, 2013
What are the benefits of helical and spur gears?
majority of gears you generally see are spur gears. They are easy to identify
as the teeth of the spur gear project radially and are parallel to the axis of
the gear, with the teeth being exactly perpendicular to its flat faces.
They are simple to make and are actually more efficient if compared to a
helical gear of the same size. The efficiency of the helical gear is less
because helical gear trains have sliding contacts between the teeth that in
turn produces axial thrust of the gear shaft and generates more heat, which
causes it to lose some of its efficiency. The teeth of helical gears are not
parallel to the axis of the gear, and are set at an angle. Since the surface
that the teeth are made is cylindrical the teeth create a helix shape. Because
the teeth of helical gears engage a little at a time they create much less
noise and can be used to transfer power between non parallel shafts. Helical
gears can handle more load than spur gears because a helical tooth is larger
due to its diagonal position. When you need a simple design, where speeds are
lower and noise does not matter, then spur gears are ideal. If you want a
quieter machine, with higher speeds and accept a more complex design then
helical is the better choice.
October 18, 2013
What can we do to reduce pollution from our Flexo facility?
Preventing pollution in and
around any manufacturing facility is a legal requirement, so trying to prevent
it occurring in the first place should be your first goal. You should emphasize
the importance to your operators and managers alike that keeping all work areas
clean by minimizing spillages and making sure they are cleaned up immediately
is a simple but effective way of reducing a great deal of pollution in the
immediate area of the press room.
Always calculate as accurately as possible the amount of
materials you will need to produce a job as leftovers often end up not getting
used, all of which must be disposed of at some point. There are many less toxic
solutions available and if you are not sure, ask your supplier.
When using any
materials, try to use the oldest first so that they do not become obsolete again,
resulting in the need to dispose of them. For product that has specific
disposal requirements, always consult your supplier or local Environmental
department. Always store materials and solutions and provide adequate
containment to ensure that any leakage or other waste cannot get into the
Washable rags are a simple way of reducing waste paper having to
be disposed of and, where possible, using
water or UV inks will dramatically reduce your solvent emissions. For any waste
that you do generate at least take the time to segregate them to make them
easier to recycle.
line: prevention is far better than treating or disposing of hazardous waste so
try to determine if you can use an alternative, less hazardous, product or at
least limit the use of more hazardous items that you have no option to use
because of their unique features. Even if it is customer specified, if you can
find a safer, less hazardous, product they may be willing to allow this to be
used. The most critical factor is to involve everyone in your company, your
suppliers and as just mentioned even your customers if you are to reduce your potential
September 12, 2013
We seem to be hearing more about LED UV cured inks being the future for many markets. Do you agree with this and what are its pros and cons verses conventional UV inks?
There is no doubt that LED UV curing systems offer some
tremendous advantages with their ability to switch on and off and hence no need
to warm up or cool down, giving the printer tremendous productivity advantages.
This in turn leads to much longer lamp life, (Potentially 10 x longer than
typical mercury lamps), and considerable less maintenance needs, as they do not
need shutters or fans. LED cured inks do
have to be specially formulated and just like the conversion from water to UV
will take time for the variety and volume to become available on a global
Another major advantage of LED technology is its much lower energy
requirements so much so that it is at least 50% less than conventional UV. Environmentally, LED also leads the way not
just with less power consumption, but it also does not use mercury and being cool
does not generate any plasma. From a safety perspective the lamps are always
cool to the touch and do not create a short wave, meaning less risk to
the eyes and skin of the operator. As with all new technologies it does
presently cost significantly more to purchase but based on its many benefits
its payback could be in less than 12 months for most printers.
April 19, 2013
We have recently installed a Flexo press but my prepress department is telling me I cannot use our existing gravure separations to make Flexo plates from. Why not?
This is a common dilemma for many companies and designers
alike wanting to move into the flexographic field. There is no doubt that Flexo has come a long
way and is capable of producing some very high quality print but it does have
certain limitations that have to be taken into account at the design and color
Unlike gravure Flexo does have some dot gain that can create
problems in creating soft gradients, vignettes and it does have a limit to the
size of dot it can hold. This means that an allowance has to be built into the
screening of artwork separations for a Flexo plate to be able to hold it up and
to allow for the dot gain that is inevitable even with the best press and
Registration is another challenge, and inevitably means more trapping
is needed than for the same gravure printed image. All this said, Flexo’s
ability to print on any substrate, its speed of interchangeability of plates
and variety of ink systems, all at an acceptable price even with short runs, is
what I am sure led you to add Flexo to your
April 3, 2013
How essential is daily/weekly cleaning of a press and how much does it really affect our bottom line?
It is this sort of question that probably answers why I see so many presses
in such a run down and poorly functional condition. If you are running your
equipment continuously, as most companies do, the gradual build-up of ink, paper
dust, grease and other contaminates will eventually overwhelm most key
components on your press such as gears, bearings, drive shafts, belts, and pulleys. The problem is this can take a while and causes the operator to have to
make daily adjusts to the operation of your machine. This will lead to slower speeds,
more make ready, reduced print quality and higher waste, all of which will affect
your bottom line.
It is vital to make time each day and every week for proper
maintenance and cleaning of your equipment and its key components. It is the
responsibility of management to understand that good housekeeping practice is
essential to maintaining a consistly profitable business and is not something
that can be overlooked or ignored. Sooner or later it will, as they say, “stop
the press” and instead of a few minutes or hours to make a repair it could take
several hours or even days if the fatigue and wear is serious enough. So, how
much does it affect your bottom line? In every way and then some!
March 24, 2013
What is the most effective way to improve our bottom line that doesn't entail a huge capital investment?
| In my opinion if you were to improve your general housekeeping of your press room but in particular your anilox, you would be able to :
Reduce Down time
Reduce Set up time
Reduce set up material
Reduce ink costs
Reduce roll replacement costs
Improve print quality
All of which will lead to an improved bottom line, but it takes a real commitment and the use of the right cleaning solution and equipment to achieve more consistent ink transfer from the anilox to the plate to the substrate. Whenever I do plant evaluations I invariably find that housekeeping is a low priority and is not taken seriously by many management teams. They claim that it is important but there seems to be little or no real accountability other than to blame the press operator. So please do take a look at your cleaning procedures and if you are not sure what to use, ask your vendors as they will be pleased to help.
March 11, 2013
We are plagued with scoring on our anilox, what are we doing wrong?
After plugging of the anilox cell, scoring of the anilox surface has to be the most common issue that all printers have with their anilox rolls. Unlike plugged cells however, which can be cleaned and in so doing regain their volume, a score line in the surface of an anilox cannot be removed and in effect requires the roll to be reworked.
With this said, it is therefore paramount that everything possible must be done to reduce the possibility of scoring the engraved surface of your anilox. Notice I said "reduce the possibility", this is because a great deal of scoring comes from contamination within your ink or coating. Even if you have filters and rare earth magnets in your ink lines, it is difficult if not impossible to remove all metal, pigment/resin clumping and paper dust particles all of which can and do get trapped between the anilox and doctor blade. This will drag the particle around the surface of the roll, which can and will cause score lines of varying degrees. The irony is that you do not have to dig a groove into the surface coating to have it show up on your print, just dragging a hard particle across the surface of the anilox will change its surface characteristic, which in turn will be reflected in a different color density in the form of a light or dark line.
Doctor blade pressure and angle are also very critical. Too much pressure and too acute an angle will cause the blade to begin to wipe from the back of the blade, which increases its surface area, compounding the issue of potential scoring of contamination digging into the roll surface. You need to make sure that the blade is parallel to the anilox surface at set up, that there is no dried ink on its edge, and that the roll is inked up adequately before the blade is presented to the roll.
Too much pressure on the doctor blade, particularly plastic blades, can lead to the blade softening, which can trap hardened particles in it that, in turn, can and will lead to scoring of the roll surface. I strongly recommend that on receipt of your newly engraved anilox that you wash it thoroughly to help remove any remaining ceramic particles, and that if you chip the edge of the roll you fill it immediately to help reduce further ceramic particles getting into the ink and again getting dragged around the surface of the roll.
Remember ceramic is inert, cannot be pulled out with magnets and is very difficult to filter out, and other than diamond can cause dramatic damage to the engraved surface of your roll. So, as you can see, there are a lot of potential causes of scoring and while difficult to eliminate can be significantly reduced with a better understanding of its root causes.
February 26, 2013
Is XG really the answer to Flexo finally being recognized as an equal to offset and gravure printing?
far, flexo has tried simply adding more colors to extend its spot color range
and for a while has had some success with 7-color printing. This has now been
extended into 4-color process printing by running higher density CMYK and has
shown some remarkable results for the few that have tried it.
ink transfer from many photopolymer plates has proved such an issue that
texturization of solid plate surfaces has been used to help it achieve greater
densities. Special software programs and new plate
materials are helping the process significantly and can be very productive on
press with fewer color changes, wash-ups and reduced ink costs. That said, it does
not appear so far to replace all spot colors but is producing gamut ranges that
are challenging offset and gravure. Will it ever be seen as an equal? It
really depends on the buyer and ultimately the consumer's expectations.