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Benchmarking and Worldwide Market Trends for Flexographic Printing

July 19, 2010
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As part of the research, LPC surveyed more than 75 print buyers or specifiers to learn about their purchasing practices and any biases they have towards flexography. Not surprisingly, 63% of those respondents believe that flexography has limitations when it comes to their specific applications. Many of the limitations cited related to print quality issues, however some felt flexo lead times were longer, flexo printing plates were too costly, and there was concern around authentication of packaging using flexo versus other print processes. But, despite those concerns, more than 70% of those respondents also indicate that their company’s use of flexography will increase during the next five years, often replacing materials printed by another print process (see Figure 1).

It is also interesting to note that print buyers expect in the next five years they will be sourcing their flexo printed products from regions of the world separate from the one in which they are located. In fact, 70% anticipate sourcing these materials from Asia, while 60% will be sourcing from Latin America.

Getting back to the quality perceptions about flexography mentioned earlier, clearly those concerns are not an issue in the tag and label sector where an estimated 92% of label printers in North America use flexography on their production floor. In fact, the quality levels of flexo-printed graphics are the highest in the tag and label marketplace where the narrow to mid-web presses produce six to ten-color, 175 linescreen applications with sophisticated graphics targeted at discerning consumers. It should be noted though, that digital presses are making a tremendous impact on the flexographic label industry as flexo printers around the globe install digital press systems alongside their conventional flexo presses. Given this development, it should be no surprise that the study predicts that as digital press systems offer faster run speeds and enhanced processing options, digital printing will undoubtedly take market share from flexo in the tag and label sector.

Flexible packaging is another high quality, high growth area for this print process, whereas rotogravure is slowly declining. To quote the study, “In no other flexo sector does the converted product have to perform like in the flexible packaging marketplace. The package must decorate, convey, contain, preserve, protect and provide optimum functionality.” As a result, like the tag and label market, due to customer demand, the number of colors has increased for flexo printed flexible packaging, and line screen values are trending upwards with values of 133 lpi or higher. These quality improvements, along with decreasing run lengths and lower costs, give flexography the upper hand over rotogravure, which once was the dominant process for flexible packaging. On a global scale flexo dominates the flexible packaging sector with over 64% of the market share.

The report concludes “as flexo press, ink, plate and prepress technologies continue to raise quality and print-consistency standards; run size trends and total applied cost benefits continue to position flexo as a process that will increasingly capture gravure market share in every global region.”

The growth of flexography has implications for every NPES member, presenting both challenges and opportunities. Even if flexography isn’t the focus of your company’s products or services, flexo growth may cause downward pressures on your existing conventional products.

The study “Benchmarking and Worldwide Market Trends for Flexographic Printing” was circulated to all PRIMIR members and is available upon request to all NPES members as one of their many member benefits. Want to know more? For a quick overview, reference the Executive Synopsis of the study posted online at: www.npes.org.
 

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