Despite humble beginnings, flexographic printing has become a huge part of the printing and packaging world, providing a versatile, repeatable, and extremely efficient way to transfer ink to a wide range of surfaces.

Today, with a market size of over $10 billion for flexographic ink, analysts expect this process to see continued growth in coming years—a 4.5% compound annual growth rate between now and 2024. However, with stringent requirements from a wide variety of regulators, those using the flexo printing process will need to strive for compliance.

A Brief History of Flexographic Printing

Initially patented by a firm called Bibby, Baron and Sons in England in the late 19th Century, many scoffed at and dismissed the idea of flexographic printing. The invention, dubbed “Bibby’s Folly” by those critical of the process, was relentlessly mocked in early years as the ink used at the time failed to dry quickly enough, resulting in smeared ink on the substrate.

Early Innovations

However, within the first ten or so years, the process was improved when printers moved to use rubber printing plates and aniline oil-based ink. Early on, the process was called aniline printing to represent the ink used or gummidruck (rubber printer) as many of these printers were made in Germany, the process quickly became popular as a method for printing food packaging.

Fall and Renaissance

This was until the FDA deemed aniline dyes were unsuitable for food in the 1940s.

Printers made strides to update the ink with food-safe materials and rebrand the process, but many manufacturers were still skeptical until the Mosstype Corporation worked with others to come across the industry-standard “flexographic process” we know today.

Improvements in the Past 30 Years Position Flexographic Printing for Success

Still considered a less-desirable and less precise printing method until the 1990s, the industry again experienced a renaissance as the quality of ink, plates, and presses has increased dramatically in the past three decades. Today, flexo is stronger than ever as a printing process for a variety of reasons. A perfect solution where repetition is desired, flexography can be used to print on an array of surfaces, including metallic films, different types of plastic, and paper.

Paired with the continued uptake of flexible packaging in the United States and around the world, packaging manufacturers will continue to embrace the flexographic printing process in coming years, according to a Global Market Insights report.

Variety of Inks for a Variety of Substrates: Water, Solvent, UV-Cured, and More

Offering low prices, scalable deployment, fast printing and drying, minimal maintenance, easy repetition, and the ability to work with absorbent and nonabsorbent substrates, Global Market Insights predicts that the market for flexographic inks will grow 4.5% annually by 2024.

Flexographic printing is crucial to the packaging sector, but as methods have improved, it has seen increasing use in book and magazine printing.

In this, the market for water-based inks has continued to grow, now representing 45% of the ink market driven by demand for flexo printing in paper, newspaper and cardboard printing. However, for printers and packaging firms who need the speed, durability, and substrate variety, solvent-based inks are still the go-to option.

UV-cured inks are driving the market further, due in part to their fast curing, high color strength, and ability to print sharper and finer dots while providing increased stability, according to FlexoTech Magazine.

VOC Abatement for the Flexographic Printing Industry

As with other printing processes, the ink used in flexographic printing often contains volatile organic compounds (VOCs). However, with this process used primarily in cosmetics, food & beverages, pharmaceuticals and personal care products, it’s not just the EPA that flexographic printers need to worry about—it’s the FDA too.

While an EPA fine can be reputation- and bottom line-damaging for a manufacturer it results in a brief shutdown; run afoul of the tight FDA standards and you are shut down, fined, and forced to recall any product that may harm consumers.

To address the VOC challenges faced at flexo operations, printers can employ a number of abatement techniques to control your VOC emissions. But, before selecting the best mechanism, you should:

  • Optimize your operations – By adjusting the initial process load, you can directly impact the operating cost and size of your abatement mechanism.
  • Verify your emission type – Identify the types of emissions your factory produces and the volume range.
  • Choose a reliable manufacturer – Once you’ve optimized your operations and identified your emission type, you’ll be able to choose the best manufacturer based on your design requirements.

The CMM Group understands the needs and priorities of companies in the flexographic printing and packaging industries and has worked with local, regional, and global players to design pollution control systems that can destroy pollutants at or above required destruction efficiencies and can operate more efficiently, reliably and affordably than many alternatives.

Our demonstrated success with companies in the flexible packaging and printing industry includes many satisfied clients, some of whom you can see on our case studies page.

Ready to learn more? We invite you to download our free VOC Abatement Guide and contact us for more information.

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