Flexographic printing is a method that uses a flexible relief plate to print onto a substrate, which may be a wood-pulp based, synthetic, or laminated material. The flexo post-printing offline process is used on corrugated and micro-flute boards, including uncoated, semi-coated, and coated substrates. Typical applications of the process are multi-color packaging and in-store displays.
In broad terms, a flexo printing machine of this type is used to print, varnish, dry, and quality check the sheet ready for further processing such as die-cutting and folding & gluing.
Today's flexo printing presses use photopolymer printing plates containing a mirror relief image of the required print. The raised areas on the plate have ink applied to them by an anilox roller and then transfer it onto the substrate.
Flexo printing presses and process description
There are three different architectures for flexographic printing presses, with offline machines normally having the print units laid out horizontally in a line, generally with a loader unit at the feed end and delivery at other.
In a modern flexo printing press, each print unit comprises of:
- Anilox roller: a cylinder of highly engineered metal and/or ceramic, which is laser engraved with minute cells of a given angle, line screen, and volume to deliver the required fineness of print
- Chambered doctor blade system: a device that delivers a measured amount of ink to the cells of the anilox roller
- Rubber rolls: an alternative system to the chambered doctor blade, consisting of two rubber rolls in contact with each other. One roll sits in an ink bath and transfers the ink to the second which is in contact with the anilox roll. A negative blade may be added to the anilox roll to limit ink flow
- Plate cylinder: which the printing plate is mounted upon
- Impression cylinder: a sleeve that supports the substrate as the printing plate is pressed against it
- Inking system: ink holding tank, ink pump with delivery and return ink lines, plus other elements to ensure the maintenance of ink supply and viscosity
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