Controlling Ink Spread with Advanced Surface Patterning for Flexography

Transform print production! Increase press uptime. Unlock machine capacity.

Capitalize on rigorous research into ink transfer mechanisms. Seize unprecedented control over unwanted ink spread that lies at the heart of common print issues. Take on challenging design work. Realize cleaner print, more stable color and a better bottom line for your business.

When you do, additional benefits accrue. You’ll:

  • Reduce unscheduled press stops due to dirty print
  • Experience more predictable color
  • Decrease press-to-proof match issues
  • Lower the impact of operator and other production changes

For wide web flexible packaging printers utilizing solvent ink, such advantages are paramount to success. In effect, they can lead the charge in pushing the boundaries of flexographic printing within a controlled, sustainable manufacturing environment.

Tools continue to be developed to optimize the process; one of the latest deploys advanced multi-functional surface patterning techniques, combined into a plate processing workflow system, to combat the dreaded unwanted ink spread and its negative impact on print quality and on-press efficiency.

Miraclon WW 1062_IMG_1121
“Better press latitude and efficiency has made it easier to implement several complimentary process changes—e.g. the ability to use softer tape and raise print consistency,” according to Reece Young, prepress manager, Perfection Packaging. Based in Australia, the converter earned a Best of Show in FTA’s 2020 Excellence in Flexography Awards. Young indicated that the entry, the Eta Uppercuts Corn Tapas Wrapper, was produced at 133 linescreen, utilizing PureFlexo Printing.
Photo courtesy of Perfection Packaging

Unveiled and launched at a Miraclon corporate event on June 24, the company described PureFlexo Printing as, “The next step we’re taking with our advanced multi-functional surface patterning technology, of which DIGICAP NX Patterning and Advanced DIGICAP NX Patterning (NX Advantage) are the predecessors.

“DIGICAP NX Patterning and NX Advantage address improved ink laydown, while PureFlexo Printing enables a wider operating window on-press by controlling unwanted ink spread in ways never seen before to maximize on-press efficiency, repeatability and overall performance. It is specifically optimized for flexible packaging, supporting solvent ink applications produced with KODAK FLEXCEL NXH plates.”

Print Latitude Key

The focus is on increasing print latitude at all quality levels. This extension of advanced plate surface patterning technology has better than two years of beta testing behind it. Pressruns numbered in excess of 20,000 commercial jobs. In use globally, it’s been the default solution at some converters for a year or more.

Results are said to be visible and measurable, with lower dot gain and significantly reduced ink build-up, according to the development team: “By incorporating PureFlexo Printing into the plate imaging process for a relevant job, the multi-functional surface patterning technology will further enhance on-press efficiency and latitude.”

They further stated, “Prepress providers can break the cycle of chasing color, retouching and remaking plates. Trade shops that have tested the technology report a significant reduction in image retouching and file preparation prior to proof due to a more linear response, and a more accurate press-to-proof match. That results in less need for test runs and on-site press approvals, which frees up time for other projects and saves on cost.”

Actual users offered assessments as well. Scott Thompson, VP technical sales and innovation for SGS declared, “PureFlexo Printing is enabling increased accuracy in the print vs. digital file—the superior proof-to-press match has enabled extremely reliable separations and color retouching. This is thanks to a more linear response and reduced ink spread on press, which is allowing for longer production runs and better color profile consistency. The need for on-site color assistance has also been reduced, giving our customers more confidence in the process.”

Miraclon_FlexiblePackaging press running
Wide web flexible packaging printers utilizing solvent ink can control ink spread to maximize efficiency, repeatability and overall performance.
Photo courtesy of Miraclon

Similarly, Tristan Zafra, president, Trisoft Graphics, reported, “Customers are seeing up to 8 percent reduction in unwanted ink spread on press, and since jobs are coming up to color 20 percent faster, the press operators are not needing to over impress, giving broader press latitude and increasing plate life by up to 25 percent. Spot colors are running cleaner and with fewer defects, reducing makeready times and material wastes. With all these benefits, users have experienced up to 40 percent increase in linear production between stoppages.”

Minimal Bridging or Gain

FLEXO Magazine has since delved into the technical aspects behind the application and learned that its development was rooted in efficiency. In an exclusive interview, Dr. John Anderson, Miraclon’s director of advanced print applications, said, “Sophisticated multi-functional plate surface patterning that resists and controls unwanted ink spread sets a new standard for clean, predictable print.”

He elaborated on the point. “Ink that flows easily is a natural characteristic of printing with solvent flexo inks on film. When that ink flows in unwanted places it can fill in, cause bridging and build-up, creating ‘dirty print.’ It’s not always easy to manage and is often made worse by practices designed to address other print issues—use of harder tapes, higher ink volumes, over impression, etc, to address TEV.”

Discussion continued: “The innovation that is PureFlexo Printing enables us to address these challenging issues across a broad range of print conditions that use a wide variety of anilox specifications.”

headshot John Anderson
Dr. John Anderson

The question: “How?”