We discussed how advancing plate technologies play crucial narrow web role with flexible packaging professional Ryan Vest, Global Director of Innovation for MacDermid Graphics Solutions.

What advantages does narrow web printing supply to today’s flexible packaging and label converters?

Vest: Photopolymer plates with inherently flat-top dot technology are an ideal solution for narrow web flexographic printers/converters focused on quality and productivity. Building flat-top dots directly into the plate combines the best of both worlds — the consistent, robust print performance of the flat-top dot shape, and the efficient workflow and fine imaging capability of the digital plate. Narrow web printing provides significant advantages to today’s converters, including:

Faster press setup time: Users of flat-top dot technologies state because the dots are at the same height as the solids, setting impressions (anilox and plate cylinder) happens more quickly.

Smoother vignettes: Especially when using hybrid screening, the ability to fade to zero improves (driven by the usage of smaller dots).

Improved solid ink density: Because of the sharpening of the edges associated with flat-top dot chemistries and methodologies, the effectiveness of commercial screening options is greatly improved. This enhances the solid ink densities capable with digital plates, improving coverage, and reducing mottle as a result.

Narrow web presses are known for versatility and for using combinations of technologies. What else do converters want on their narrow web presses?

Vest: Due to the demand for customization, converters are intrigued by a combination of digital and flexo presses. Narrow web converters desire inline technology because of its quick time-to-market and shorter delivery times. The versatility of inline processes allows for multiple print stations to help streamline the converting process. To further streamline the process, bringing platemaking in-house is ideal for narrow web converters because of the need for high-quality print, repeatability, and reduced setup times.

What are the prospects for increased use of UV LED curing and why?

Vest: Similar to UV LED cure on printing presses and the impact on ink suppliers, plate suppliers see increased use of UV LED curing for platemaking as well. The past few years have seen an increased footprint in UV LED curing systems and the launch of additional exposure systems based on the growing comfort level of this technology. While the benefits (consistency, life expectancy, power consumption) are apparent, typical concerns include quality level and potential changes in performance versus the established bank light approaches. As platemakers and printers alike grow more accustomed to the results, the next one to two years will see a more pronounced growth rate in this technology and increasing pressure on the plate suppliers to ensure their technologies match well with this growing demand.

What type of advances do you foresee for narrow web consumables, such as inks, plates, coatings, etc.?

Vest: We believe customization will become ever more present with brands requiring the ability to stand out and catch the eye of the consumer. Shorter, faster print runs will be the norm, and, above all, recyclable and biodegradable labels and packaging will be the standard. These shifts will require all suppliers, including MacDermid, to adjust manufacturing methods, product chemistries, and more, ensuring an efficient and sustainable supply chain for narrow web consumables. Plates will need to be durable in both short and long runs. Printers are moving away from solvent-based inks to more sustainable inks, such as UV. With a strong spotlight on sustainability, the entire printing process needs to be taken into consideration: How is the plate manufactured? How is it imaged? How is it used on press? How is it disposed of? How can this life cycle be monitored?

How is the proliferation of SKUs and short runs contributing to the narrow web market?

Vest: The proliferation of SKUs is a result of the need for customization, and in turn, shorter runs, from a multitude of regions and lifestyles. Printers are opting toward digital printing to meet these customization demands. Digital presses are typically categorized as expensive. However, continued use over time increases the return on investment. As suppliers for the flexo market, we see the disruption of digital printing in the narrow web market, and we must collaborate with the entire supply chain to remain competitive.