Flexographic vs. Digital Printing: What’s the Difference?

When it comes to labels, there are a plethora of printing methods from which to choose. Although no press technology is inherently better than another, it’s more about which option makes the most sense for the particular job at hand. This depends on a variety of brand-specific factors, such as application, run size, lead time, design complexity, budget and any special constraints.

Two of the most common printing methods at I.D. Images are flexographic (flexo) printing and digital printing. By understanding the key differences between the two options, this equips you to make the best choice for your unique labeling needs.

Flexographic Printing

With flexographic (flexo) printing, the label material comes in the form of a roll that is passed through a series of rotary, flexible relief plates—with a single flexible plate required for each individual printed color. A specialized roller then feeds each flexible plate with ink. The relief plates work in tandem to provide all colors for the final printed product—resulting in a high-quality label design.

While flexography is similar to other printing methods in that it prints four colors (CMYK), it can also feature print stations with additional colors for high-quality process images. Flexo printing can also provide in-line special effects, such as foil (cold or hot), tactile and security features, as well as a wide variety of substrates like shrink film and tag stock. Combined with high speed and multiple stations, flexography offers a ready-to-use label hot off the press that can be immediately applied by the end-user. It is ideal for self-adhesive, food packaging and plastic bag labels.


  • Durable, high-quality print
  • Ability to run at high press speeds
  • Cost-effective printing of large quantities
  • Ability to print on a variety of substrates


  • Higher costs associated with flexo plates
  • Setup takes longer than other print methods
  • Print jobs require a lot of waste material
  • Updating artwork can be expensive and time-consuming

Digital Printing

Digital printing is the process of printing digital-based images directly onto a variety of media substrates—such as with a product label—using ink toner. Unlike offset printing methods like flexo, there is no need for a flexo plate. Instead, the artwork is sent directly from a computer to the printing press—all from the convenience of a digital design file.

This print method is ideal for companies that want to print variable data labels, as it allows the ability to easily print varying logos, designs, colors and information without having to switch out different anilox rolls. It is also suitable for print-on-demand jobs and labels that require a fast turnaround time. There are no minimum requirements, so you can print the exact number of labels needed for each print job. There is also significantly less waste than with flexo printing.


  • Quicker turnaround time
  • Ability to print variable data and alter artwork
  • Ideal for short to medium runs
  • Setup costs are lower with short runs


  • Cutting or folding of printed areas can crack the ink
  • May offer a limited color palette

Ultimately, the right printing method for your labels will come down to which features are most important to you and the job at hand. While digital printing is more cost-effective in smaller batches or when printing variable data, flexo printing is a better fit for a single design on a larger scale.

Need Help Choosing a Print Method for Your Labels?

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