As printing technology has advanced, so too has the range of label printing methods available, with new printing techniques developed for specific applications. As such, each type of printing method is suited to a different need, meaning that you can choose the printing technique that best highlights your products or services.
Also known as offset printing or simply litho, offset lithography is a popular technique for printing large jobs. This method requires printing plates, usually made from aluminum. Each plate holds an image of the content that needs to be printed. When inking the plate, only this image part holds ink, which is then transferred (offset) onto rollers before going onto the print media. The print media can be any type of paper, or even rough surface, such as wood, cardboard, canvas, or cloth, as long as the surface is flat.
Offset lithography can be used for both small and high-volume jobs. However, it’s not the most cost-effective for small jobs due to the time and cost of setup. It produces high-quality images and is most widely used for printing books, newspapers, and stationery.
Flexography, often abbreviated to flexo, is designed for uneven surfaces. In contrast to lithographic printing, the content to be printed is applied on a flexible rubber printing plate. This plate is then inked with quick-drying, semi-liquid inks, and the inked image is subsequently transferred directly to the printing surface.
The high print speed of flexography makes it perfect for long runs and large print jobs. It can print on a huge range of media, including plastics, cellophane, and metallic film. Primarily used for printing on packaging materials, it is commonly used to produce high-quality labels for everything from plastic bags, juice cartons, and disposable cups to even chocolate bar wrappers.
Digital printing is a more modern printing method and encompasses the largest variety of techniques compared to other printing methods. This includes inkjet, laser, and thermal printing techniques, which can be further divided into direct thermal, thermal-transfer, or inkjet roll/sheet printers. Digital printing sends images directly to the printer using digital files, eliminating the need for a printing plate.
The quick turn-around time provided by digital printing techniques, along with the ability to print on-demand, make this the ideal choice for small-run jobs. As such, digital printing helps save time and money while still producing high-quality prints similar to that of the other, bigger-scale options. Moreover, each digital printing technique offers its own distinct advantages, with inkjet producing higher quality color images, direct thermal being the most cost-effective (as it does not require any additional ink sources to print), and thermal-transfer producing a durable printout that can withstand extreme temperatures, chemical exposure, and abrasion.
Rotogravure printing, or simply gravure, is a long-run, high-speed, high-quality printing method that produces fine, detailed images. This printing technique involves engraving the image onto an image carrier, typically a copper cylinder. That cylinder is inked, allowing the image to be subsequently transferred to paper. In contrast to lithographic and flexographic printers, the ink in gravure printing is transferred from carved microcavities, which form the printing pattern, and not from a fixed plate.
Gravure presses are the fastest and widest presses currently in operation, able to print everything from narrow labels to 12-foot-wide rolls of vinyl flooring. Ideal for high-volume printing, rotogravure image carriers can be more expensive than flexography, making the number of prints required to break even much higher.
This printing technique relies on a woven piece of fabric, or “screen”. The fabric, a fine material or mesh, is stretched out, creating a screen, and ink is pressed against it to successfully print the image onto another material. Primarily used to transfer graphics onto clothes or fabrics, it can also be used for paper, glass, ceramics, wood, and metal, as the surface of the recipient does not need to be flat as in other printing methods
This method requires a fair amount of setup, requiring a larger print order to keep it cost-effective. Ideally, it should be used for printing repeat items in bulk, where the same image or logo needs to be repeatedly transferred.
UV printing is a form of digital printing that uses ultraviolet (UV) light to cure or dry UV ink as soon as it is applied to a surface like paper, plastic, foil, acrylic, or foam. As the UV ink is distributed across the surface, UV lights dry it, causing it to adhere. The ink dries immediately, preventing it from evaporating or spreading unevenly across the material that it is printed on. In addition to saving time and creating sharper/clearer colors, this method has the added benefit of being free of volatile organic compounds (VOCs), ozone, and other toxic fumes. This may be of particular interest to eco-friendly facilities as well as labs that rely on sterile environments.
LED lights can also be used to dry UV ink, which is becoming a popular option for UV printing, as it uses less power than traditional printers, and unlike other methods, it’s not limited to the type of printing material. Moreover, UV LED lighting offers enhanced longevity, greater reliability, and smaller sizes than traditional UV lighting systems that rely on mercury lamps for their light source.
Regardless of your printing needs, LabTAG can help guide your choice of printing options, provide a variety of printing services and high-quality materials to ensure the success of any printing job. Contact our experienced technical support team for help on your project.
LabTAG by GA International is a leading manufacturer of high-performance specialty labels and a supplier of identification solutions used in research and medical labs as well as healthcare institutions.