Glossary: Offset vs Flexo

Offset vs Flexo Printing

What is offset printing?

Offset printing, also called lithography or offset-litho, is a printing process where ink is transferred from a metal plate to a rubber sheet, which is then rolled onto the substrate paper. Offset printing includes 3 layers of material, 2 of which are printed on and 'laminated' (glued) onto either sides of the third.

  1. Substrate (outside layer that is printed on)
  2. Corrugated cardboard (board + fluting)
  3. Substrate (inside layer that is printed on)

Ink rollers along with water rollers help transfer the ink onto the printing plate which then transfers it onto the substrate. This layer is then laminated (e.g. glued) to the corrugated board. Offset printers usually have ink in the CMYK colour system, and using the CMYK color system would require 4 plates, one for each of the CMYK colors. Offset printers can also work with PMS colors and combinations.

Printing on a smooth substrate as opposed to a corrugated cardboard results in higher quality print. The downside, though, is that it makes the box a bit thicker/heavier given the layers.

Generally, offset printing is suitable for large printing jobs and the price tends to go down with the increase in the number of printing jobs. Offset printing also yields the highest quality print in terms of color, sharpness, and crispness.

Offset Printers
Offset Printed Mailer Box with Outside and Inside Print Mockup

What is flexographic printing?

Flexography, also called flexo, uses only 1 layer of material to print on.

  1. Corrugated board (board + fluting)

Flexography involves flexible plates that transfer ink directly onto the corrugated board, and so there is no need for extra substrate/material. Flexography is generally cheaper than offset printing. However, the print quality will be poorer. It is also harder to produce some effects of tint when printed directly onto the substrate.

Flexo image plates are also generally cheaper to create, and they can be reused multiple times before replacement.

Flexo Printed Mailer Box with Outside Print Mockup