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Welcome to  ‘Ask The Expert’.  This page is moderated by industry consultant, Steve Wilkinson.  This page features the answers to your questions. Our visitors can also post comments to these questions/answers as well.  You can learn more about Steve’s background and our ‘Ask The Expert’ page by Clicking Here.

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June 22, 2012

Every printer I talk to these days seems to be using sleeves in one form or another; can you briefly describe the benefits of using sleeves in a flexo environment?

Sleeves have been around for a long time, although it has to be said that Europe embraced this technology significantly earlier than the North American market. And whereas ITR  (in-the –round) digitally imaged sleeves are only just gaining traction here in the U.S. ,again in Europe they have been widely accepted for twenty years or more.

Sleeves are lightweight and mostly come in parallel form, although tapered sleeves were the standard for many years. They come in a multitude of wall thicknesses that really help to accommodate variations in plate and tape thicknesses. Being able to mount plates directly on the sleeves and leave them mounted if preferred for repeat runs dramatically reduces repeat mounting and allows for easy storage.

When used for anilox sleeves it allows for anilox line counts to be changed rapidly and again minimizes storage costs and makes handling of them easier. For jobs that have continuous backgrounds, diagonal repeats or where you want to stagger the individual print lanes to reduce bounce sleeves again are the perfect solution. For presses with fixed, cantilevered mandrels, print sleeves and anilox can all be changed in minutes by an individual operator in many cases with no lifting equipment needed unless you are running very wide tissue or wide web sleeves.

They can also be rubber or polymer coated for laser engraving, ground for flood coats or digitally imaged in the case of polymer coated sleeves.

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June 4, 2012

I read some recent comments on how Flexo compares with Gravure. What is your opinion?

This question comes up on a regular basis, but really the true question is, “is it cheaper?” After all, that was the primary purpose why Flexo was invented — to produce a cheaper, simpler print process than gravure and letterpress. There is no doubt that at the outset it was substantially less expensive and was indeed simpler, but the big challenge was quality and consistency. Today, Flexo has answered the last to points by producing some of the best quality print that can be found in any process and when measured and controlled can produce this quality consistently.

To achieve these improvements this has come at an ever increasing cost and demands the very latest technologies, equipment, materials and inks to be able to compete with gravure and offset. So the bottom line is our quality does challenge that of gravure in just about every area and in packaging with fine text and small graphics without the serrated edge of gravure can even produce stronger sharper images. For short to mid- size runs it is also more cost effective due to the speed of changeovers but when it gets to extended long runs it is debatable whether it is less costly. Trying to remain as unbiased as possible I do feel that Flexo’s versatility, and continuous technical developments will continue to keep it at the forefront in terms of print quality. But as with all new developments it does come at a price. The question is will the buyer be willing to accept higher costs for higher quality!

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