Printing for Labels or Product Foils

Printing for Labels or Product Foils

One of the things we design a lot of here are foils and labels for products. There is a good chance that, if you are printing a product foil or label, you will be using a method of printing called flexography. Because of the process in which flexography works, there are things you will need to know in order to create a design that will work well with the technology.

I should preface this article with a mention about advances in flexo technology. The fact is, flexo is getting better. With the advances in technology, some of the difficulties I will be outlining below may eventually become a thing of the past. As the printing becomes finer, its capabilities will eventually become less finicky, allowing us more versatility. However, advances in technology of any sort always take time to proliferate through an industry.

Always speak with your printer about their capabilities before beginning any design. Send your artwork for review and ask if there is anything you can adjust for the best outcome. As we’ve stated before in our post Creating A Project Using Print Treatments, it is important to build a relationship with your printer and listen to his/her suggestions. Working together will provide the best results.

What is flexography?

Flexography – or flexo – is a method of print that utilizes thin flexible photopolymer plates. The image area is slightly raised and placed on a cylinder which imprints directly to your printing surface. This method is frequently used for printing on the plastics, foils and films which are used in the packaging industry. Though other printing methods are feasible, flexography wins when weighed against set up costs, run amounts etc.

Because they directly contact the printing surface, the plates have their limitations. Very fine or small type, reversed fine type, small serif typefaces, screens, tints, and halftones may cause issues when going to print. This doesn’t mean you should rule them out all together – but be aware if/when used you may have to tweak a few things to get it to work.


Depending on your printer, there will be a limitation on how many inks you can use. If you are printing in CMYK that is 4 inks. Product foils are silver so you may need to add a “flood white” (white base that you will overprint your design on), unless you desire a metallic look. Also, process black has a tendency to come out looking dark grey when used by itself. So the printer may suggest to add another more opaque spot black to areas that need it. Any varnishes or coating also count as an ink. Be aware of what you will need for your design vs the printers capabilities and the costs associated with adding more inks.

Though you can use CMYK printing for flexography, spot colors are often used for product packaging. They can keep the number of inks used down making it less expensive and spot colors remain consistent from run to run, which is important for products that will sit next to each other on shelves.

Screens, Halftones and Gradients

Screened tints, halftones, and gradients are the bane of flexography printing. These processes use small dots. As your element gets lighter the dots get smaller. Because of the nature of flexography, there is dot gain. As the cylinder presses against the printing surface, the small dots which make up your image may spread out or gain size.

Though I've read that flexography has the ability to handle these things. I have been turned back many a time by printers, told to just choose another spot color for any areas I would like screened tint or just remove elements which have incorporated these processes. Which is fine – just be aware that this may happen and again talk to your print specialist if it is your desire to use them. Hopefully with advances in technology, this is where improvement will be gained.

Nov 18, 2013

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