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Multi-substrate printing the digital way

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Author: Duncan Wilkinson

We talk a lot about the advantages of digital printing over old-style litho and flexo printing. You’d expect that, because we’re a digital printer. Our Print Operations Manager, Steve Nix, even predicted the death of litho and flexo at the hands of digital print in the not too distant future, a view point which raised a few eyebrows in the industry.

But don’t take our word for it, it is demonstrable. As technology moves forward and digital continues to make big leaps, the inevitable will eventually happen.

One of the areas in which digital print excels is multi-substrate printing. We regularly take orders from companies that require branding and information to be printed across several substrates including paper, PP, PE, silvers and holographic with a range of different adhesives. Often the number of SKUs required on each substrate is not huge, even though the overall order can be.

Faced with this scenario, litho and flexo printing would be time consuming, inefficient and costly.

The problems with traditional printing begin immediately as expensive plates have to be made up before any printing can commence, and this cost is quite naturally borne by the customer. And the news gets worse. If your order has multiple SKUs, and most do, additional plates will need to be made up. Add to this numerous material changes, multiple make-ready’s and the cost of an order, and the time it takes to complete, can soon spiral upwards.

This is a million miles away from digital printing. Once we receive the artwork it is uploaded to the Management Information System (MIS), and although there is some set up time required for the presses, it is nowhere near as long as a traditional press. Once that is completed, printing is controlled by the click of a mouse and the artwork remains on our MIS so when the customer needs repeat orders, we click the mouse again.

Another advantage of using digital over litho and flexo is minimum order quantities, because the traditional route cannot efficiently print short runs. Often the minimum order far outstrips the number of SKUs needed on each substrate, meaning the customer is left paying for, and having to store, far more stock than they require.

Contrast this with digital and you find no such wastage. Recently we printed a run of just six labels over two substrates for a client because that is all they required. With digital, you specify how many labels you need and that is what you get. If you find you need more, everything is stored in the MIS and can be printed straight from there, so the customer only pays for what they need.

In the fast moving, consumer goods world, this pays dividends, as artworks become obsolete fast due to new legislation, best before dates or changing of ingredients.

So if you have multi-substrate/multi-SKU orders then digital has to be the way forward. No plates, no minimum order, no fuss, no unnecessary cost, just an efficient and precise service. In the fast moving digital world that is constantly evolving around us, litho and flexo just simply can’t keep up!

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