Flexo Myths – Busted!

By: Hoshin Seki

Like the History Channel’s Myth Busters, we are finally going to put to rest all the misconceptions about newspaper flexography.

Before we start, however, a little flexographic history is in order. The water-based printing process was invented in England around 1890 and was then called aniline printing. In 1952, Frank Moss and a group of other printers renamed the process to flexography. The first newspaper to make the commitment to go flexo, in 1987, was the Providence (R.I.) Journal, which converted entirely to flexo in 1992.

A number of other pioneer newspapers experimented with flexo, often installing slip-in units. One, Fort lauderdale’s South Florida Sun-Sentinel, tried that in 1981 with Kidder Stacey units made by the Motter Printing Press Co., which KBA later took over. The Denton (Texas) Record-Chronicle in 1986 used presses from the former Publishers Equipment Corp.

Today there are 38 printers using newspapers flexo presses. KBA, MAN Roland, Goss, TKS and Mitsubishi were all manufacturing such presses and equipment at one time or another. Cerutti, an Italian company, manufactures only flexo presses.

From the beginning the flexo was considered the industry’s most environmentally friendly printing process. There are a number of reasons to back up this claim.

1. Little to no VOC emissions, no ink mist problems, and no special air filtration is needed, saving on energy, filters and their treatment.

2. No tracking. Flexo can run a narrower web that would be equivalent to a wider web in offset because offset requires a margin wide enough to keep tracking marks off the printed portion of a page. That translates to newsprint savings.

3. Water-based inks also mean no hazardous chemicals used in pres clean-up compared with the solvents used to clean offset’s oil-based inks.

4. Newsprint is totally recyclable through a new process.

5. Plates are recyclable. Unlike aluminum offset plates, flexo plates made from the highest, cleanest grade of steel can be melted down and reprocessed. Their cost is higher owing to the addition of the photopolymer layer.

6. Flexo presses have fewer moving parts, which means fewer problems and mechanical failures than offset.

7. There are no rubber rollers to maintain or replace.

8. There is less start-up newsprint waste than in offset.

9. Cushion disposal is not a problem, unlike toxic old offset blankets.

10. Improved inks do not build up on rollers.

11. Dust collectors at cutting and slitting points eliminate most paper dust in the pressroom, thereby eliminating an ignition component often at the root of most pressroom fires. Because the ink is water based, a fuel for fires is eliminated. Dramatically reduced fire risk reduces the need to have a carbon dioxide fire-suppression system.

As for those flexo myths:

Flexo Reproduction Quality is Inferior to That of Offset.
Busted. Flexo’s brilliant reproduction is superior to offset because of new technology in water based inks, plates and anilox rollers. Plus, flexo offers a wider gamut than offset for two reasons: the inks are cleaner and brighter and, because the process requires no dampening system that darkens the paper, in flexo the paper stays whiter, giving colors more contrast and a wider gamut.

Flexo Plates’ Higher Cost Makes the Process More Expensive Than Offset.
Busted. Sure, flexo plates cost more because it is a relief plate, but new plate-development technology allows more impressions than offset, which translates to less remounting of plates and faster finish. Overall operating costs, including maintenance, are actually less than offset. Paper waste is lower due to instant inking at start-up. And now a Japanese company is selling flexo plates, providing a second supplier.

Offset is a Cleaner Operation Than Flexo.
Totally busted. Flexo is the only environmentally friendly printing process in the industry because of its water-based inks, lower newsprint waste, and fewer moving parts. Like all other inks, flexo inks mist. But the water in flexo ink evaporates during when it mists, leaving only ink dust that can be cleaned with a vacuum, soap and water. In offset, the ink mist sends oil and pigment into the air and onto the walls, requiring a solvent cleaning system to remove it.

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