Digital Printing vs Flexographic Printing: Which Is Best for You?

It’s important to get your business packaging just right, which includes choosing the best print method for your design. We’re here to help by comparing two of the most popular methods – flexographic printing and digital printing.

By the end of this article, you should understand the pros, cons and best uses of each method and be ready to order some packaging.

What is flexographic printing?

Flexography, or flexo for short, is a simple print process using large plates to stamp designs onto corrugated cardboard. The plates are known as flexo stereos and they are specially created to match your designs.

two cardboard boxes, one is green and the other orange, made with flexographic printing

Echo Cartons is the place to go for quality flexographic printed boxes and great customer service. When you place an order, we’ll have it ready for delivery or pickup in 5 working days.

You can also read more on the advantages of flexo printing to help you decide.

What is digital printing?

Digital printing is a direct print process where imagery and graphic designs are printed onto corrugated cardboard.

The best way we can think to describe it is like a state-of-the-art office printer. We feed a design file to the printer and it produces four-colour cardboard packaging with CMYK colours.

a group of cardboard boxes with branded designs from a digital printer

At Echo Boxes Online, we help you design a packaging box for your business with self-service templates and design advice. Once you place an order, our team will have it ready for delivery or pickup within 7 working days.

The key differences between digital print and flexo print

Now that you understand a bit about how each method works, let’s get into the key differences in what they can print. From different types of artwork to unique print finishes; there is plenty to compare for digital vs flexo print.

Artwork and imagery

Possibly the biggest difference between these print methods is the types of artwork and imagery you can use in your box design.

For digital printing, you can use TIFF, PNG and JPEG files, as well as colour gradients. This is because the printer is able to print all four colours of ink at the same time.

For flexo printing, your designs should use simple graphics and line art. Each flexo stereo can only transfer one colour of ink at a time – which makes it difficult to print anything complex.

You would need to pay for multiple flexo stereos to be created and even then, there’s a chance the plates will overlap and not produce the crisp image you are expecting. However, flexo printing is great for getting a single, rich colour in your design.

Print variations 

Whether you have a million different barcode numbers or you want to design personalised packaging with customer’s names – digital printing is your best option for variation.

Since this method prints direct from the design file, you can either create multiple files or multiple pages in the one file. This allows for varied printing without excess cost.

To do this with flexo printing, you would need to create multiple flexo stereos – which is not as cost-effective.

Print volumes

The modern flexographic print method is based on the original printing press from the 19th century. That means it was designed for high-volume mass production.

While we do offer short runs and no minimum order quantities through Echo Cartons, we often recommend larger quantities as costs go down the more you order.

If you’re looking for a smaller run, then digital printing tends to come out on top. It has no tooling or set-up costs, which also helps keep prices down.

We understand how important budgets are for small-medium businesses, so we’ve made our minimum order just 25 boxes for digital printing through Echo Boxes Online.

Print finish

The final consideration when comparing digital printing with flexo print is how your boxes will look once finished.

With flexographic printing, there’s typically an organic, smooth finish. It is common to be able to see the texture of your box through the print.

We use uncoated carboard at Echo Boxes Online, which means our digitally printed packaging has soft colours and a slightly matte appearance. It looks similar to printing on office paper, as opposed to a glossy finish like a magazine.

The lines and edges in digital printing tend to be crisp and defined. With flexo printing, the edges of text or imagery are often softer, though they still have a high-quality appearance when done well.

Which one is right for your business?

Like most things in business, choosing a print method comes down to what you want to achieve and at what cost. While we can’t decide for you, we can offer one last piece of advice for when to choose which method.

For us, it comes down to print complexity and the quantity of your order. Digital printing is amazing at creating full-colour designs with imagery and doing it in small runs. Here are some examples of when digital printing is ideal:

  • You’re a new business and still testing out packaging designs
  • You have a limited release product and need a small amount of packaging
  • Your design includes imagery or gradients
  • You want to print varied numbers or text on each box

Flexo printing is a great next step for when your business is growing or when you have only a simple box design in mind. Here are some examples of when flexographic printing is ideal:

  • You want 1,000 shipping boxes printed with only your logo
  • Your design is mostly printed in a single rich colour
  • Your design uses simple graphics or line art
  • The industry you operate in has regulations on ink type or quality

Quality printed boxes, any way you like

The good news is – our team are here to support you with both print methods. For flexographic printing, you can get started right away by requesting a quote with Echo Cartons. When it comes to digital print, head to Echo Boxes Online to design your own boxes.

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