Flexo is forging forward and moving into the high quality, formed 3D rigid container and drink cup market. In the process, it is creating an identity as an alternative to dry offset printing. And, its new—some say revolutionary—“indirect flexo” (IDF) hybrid process is even winning conversions from in-mold labels, shrink sleeves, heat transfer labels, and pressure sensitive labels. The attraction: lower costs, consistent output, reduced press downtime, and clear, crisp, package print.
Leading the charge is plastic packaging and engineered material manufacturer Berry Plastics of Evansville, IN, and Italy’s OMSO S.p.A., a manufacturer of automatic direct printing machines. The process, described as versatile and customer oriented, is derived from, and somewhat similar to, tube printing in the extruded cosmetic container industry. OMSO makes a Servotube press and recently introduced a Servocup model. Berry Plastics is the only provider in North America with this unique process.
The patent-pending modified approach to producing excellent photographic quality graphics—on white, clear, and colored substrates—with softer edges and better highlights (IDF), secured Berry Plastics the Flexographic Technical Association’s prestigious 2013 Technical Innovation Award.
Through IDF, Berry Plastics is inviting consumer product company customers to “Push your graphics to the limit!”
IDF is a hybrid combination between traditional flexographic printing and dry offset, or indirect letterpress printing, according to the Berry Plastics development team. “One of the most striking technical achievements of IDF technology is to compensate for the angular speed differential existing between the top and the bottom of a tronconic cup by adding a blanket in flexographic printing. This was never done successfully before IDF.
“The blanket is an essential part of IDF, as it also allows for flexographic printing on 3-D substrate, such as thermoformed or injected containers. In traditional flexographic printing—plate-to-substrate—the printing plate does not offer the necessary compressibility to properly transfer the ink in the low thickness points.”
Essentially, the blanket is borrowed from dry offset, as is the process of sequentially transferring individual ink colors to a blanket and then transferring to the 3D cup, while drying each color before printing the next. But in dry offset, due to contamination, UCR (under color removal) is needed in the separation, and CMYK is replaced by PMS colors in order to get the density in the image. Designers at Berry reported, “These two elements tend to make the image look posterized and not realistic.”
From their perspective, “Servocup is a new and unique printing press that allows true 4-color CMYK photographic reproduction, indirectly printed onto a container, flexographically, with drying between each color.” It will allow sophisticated halftone CMYK or Hexachromatic color separation with a level of decoration never achieved before and should appeal to marketing executives whoare often frustrated by dry offset print quality limitations. “By using a CMYK-base artwork, the press downtime is significantly reduced compared to PMS-based dry offset.”
Marketing executives, who in the past explored, and even opted for, alternative decoration techniques; such as IML, shrink sleeve, pressure sensitive label or heat transfer labels, often were deterred by high costs and extensive lead times. “That is not the case with IDF,” Berry’s product developers explained.
“The Servocup printer contributes to the advancement of the flexographic industry because it allows us to print on a 3D part and not just a flat sheet as in traditional flexographic printing. This technology can produce a beautiful photographic reproduction and we can consistently print the same process print on a white, clarified and black substrate with minimal difference. This cannot be achieved with dry offset.”
In their assessment, “IDF has the potential to change plastic cup decoration as we know it. It may eventually replace other decorating technologies; rotogravure, offset, dry offset and digital.”
That said, they added this final observation, “As customers continue to push to reduce lead-times and inventories, and improve print quality, the Servocup printer can offer a more cost-effective, high-quality printed container to meet and exceed the customer’s expectations. The proof is in the print!”
Colorful, Consistent, Cost-Effective
- Directly prints on to a cup or container in flexographic process
- Surpasses dry offset print quality limitations
- Offers alternative decoration technique to in-mold label, shrink sleeve, pressure sensitive or heat transfer label
- Compensates for the angular speed differential existing between the top and the bottom of a tronconic cup by adding a blanket in the flexographic printing principle
- IDF allows for flexographic printing on 3D substrate, such as thermoformed or injected cups
- IDF has the opportunity to replace other decorating technologies; rotogravure, offset, dry offset and digital
- Customers continue to push to reduce lead-times, reduce inventories, and improve print quality; and the Servocup printer can offer a more cost-effective, high quality printed container to meet and exceed expectations. The proof is in the print!