Differences Between Flexographic, Gravure, Offset and Inkjet Printing

Printing techniques vary from job to job and company-to-company, which can often lead to confusion when deciding which one is the best fit for your specific task at hand.  Below we’ve outlined the basics of 4 popular printing methods and some facts about each to help you understand the differences and benefits.

Flexographic Printing

Flexographic printing, or flexo, is a relief printing technique similar to letterpress that employs rubber or soft plastic plates, a simple inking system and fast drying inks.  Flexo printing allows the inked surface to conform to many kinds of substrates, such as butcher paper, natural kraft, newsprint, chip and linerboard and coated boards. It's the most flexible, or diverse type of printing process.

Bottom Line:

  • Inks have low viscosity = quick drying = high speed & volume of production
  • Wide range of inks
  • Plates withstand millions of impressions
  • Tighter control and repeatability
  • Ability to print on wide range of absorbent and non-absorbent substrates
  • More colors per job

Gravure Printing

In gravure printing, the image is applied to a printing substrate by use of a metal plate mounted on a cylinder.  It uses a depressed or sunken surface for desired image.  The image to be reproduced is etched into the metal plate, sometimes using a laser.  The metal plate is bathed in ink then wiped clean before application.Bottom line:

  • Gravure printing produces high quality results rapidly but costs are significantly higher than using other printing methods.

Offset Printing

Inked image is transferred (offset) from a plate to a rubber blanket, then to printing surface.Bottom line:

  • Inferior image quality
  • Propensity for anodized aluminum printing plates to become sensitive (due to chemical oxidization) and print in non-image/background areas when developed plates are not properly cared for.
  • Large quantity of time and high cost associated with producing plates and printing press setup.

InkJet Printing

Inkjet is a form of computer printing that creates a digital image by propelling droplets of ink onto paper.Bottom line:

  • Often very expensive
  • Clogs easily
  • Slow production speed
  • After creating images, drying time can delay delivery process.