RIP Flexo & Litho, Long Live Digital

Groucho Marx’s famous quip ‘I intend to live forever or die trying’ is one of his funniest and most memorable. He did the latter, of course, finally leaving this mortal coil in August 1977.  

Many might argue that his legacy does live on, and perhaps that is the case. But even that won’t last forever. When your time is up, your time is up, and although that is hard or even painful to recognise, it is something all people and things eventually have to face.  

Take conventional printing for example. Litho and flexo printing is on its last legs. This is fact. Whether those who peddle it choose to believe it or not it is staggering, faltering into the history books as its younger, more efficient spawn, digital printing, becomes mainstream.

I say this not just because we are an entirely digital printer, I have being saying it for years. In fact, it is the very reason we took the decision to become all digital in the first place.

Lithograph and flexograph printing need plates. Physical plates and physical cutters. These take time to set up and they are expensive, which of course is a cost borne by the customer. Digital printing, by contrast, does not need such physical infrastructure, so immediately has huge advantages over its archaic relative.

This is not just my opinion, it is borne out by experience. Our growth over the last couple of years, since going entirely digital, has been exponential compared to the years before and stands as testament to the fact that more and more companies are choosing the digital route because of these and other benefits.

It is a trend that will undoubtedly keep on growing as the technology that supports digital develops.

I realise this is a controversial opinion, one that will have some people leaping from their seats and shouting at their computer screens that I am wrong. There are some jobs that will always require litho or flexo presses, they will argue, particularly the baked bean labels; those jobs that comprise of millions of the same label, needed quickly. Digital hasn’t the speed for the job, they will say, nor is it available in the wide format that such jobs require.

And they’d be right, for the time being. But for how much longer? When we first invested in digital, 20 years ago, it was slow. But the digital presses, along with the digital revolution, have been gathering pace in recent years. We are now seeing speeds that are beginning to rival flexo and working with pioneering manufacturers those speeds will match and surpass flexo and litho in the near future.

But it is not just speed that is improving. As technology moves forward it becomes more reliable, which is exactly what is happening with the digital presses. They now rival their analogue forebears for reliability so companies can be confident their labels will arrive in full and on time.

Manufacturers are also making real insteps into wide format that will one day deprive the flexo printers of their baked bean can labels. Once that happens, it is over. Flexo and litho will be consigned to history. It is only a matter of time.  Groucho’s joke isn’t the only well-known quote about death. Mark Twain’s witty quip, ‘reports over my death have been greatly exaggerated’, is probably even better known. He was right, not least because he was sufficiently alive to say it. The same cannot be said of flexo and litho printing.

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