Making the Upgrade from Flexo to Digital Print

4 min read
July 11, 2019

The earliest form of printing, known as woodblock printing, originated from East Asia around 200 AD. In 1440, Johannes Gutenberg changed the course of history with the introduction of the printing press. Centuries later, more efficient analog print methods, including offset litho lamination and flexography, ushered in the era of true mass production for industrial print applications.

Now, we find ourselves in the midst of a new print revolution. The rise of digital print technology continues to disrupt the corrugated packaging and display industry, as it has so many industries before it (think: photography). Leading global brands are recognizing the advantages of digital over analog when it comes to quality, speed, and flexibility.

Why Switch from Flexo Print to Digital Print?

If you’re considering the switch from flexo to digital, there are a lot of factors to consider. Here are three reasons to upgrade to digital print:

 Reason #1: Offset Quality, Digital Flexibility

Today’s top digital presses, like the HP PageWide C500, deliver print quality comparable to offset lithography. By combining consistent direct-to-board printing with high-impact graphics, many brands are attaining results that surpass the quality of flexo print. This includes sharper text and barcodes, finer details, smoother tone transitions, and more vibrant colors.

MeridianValley_FlexoDigitalDigitally printed box (left) vs. Flexo printed box (right)


Brands also have the opportunity to explore digital flexibility through variable data. This means packaging can be created that is personalized to unique audiences. Remember Coca Cola’s famous “Share a Coke” campaign featuring labels with different names? Because every impression can be unique, this type of campaign is achievable at any scale with the power and flexibility of digital print.

Reason #2: Speedy Results at Any Scale

Time is money, which is why speed is an important value-add in business. One of the main advantages of digital over analog print methods happens to be speed in terms of setup time. Analog technologies require that print plates be manufactured for every new packaging project, whereas digital does not. These print plates must be loaded up onto the press and adjusted before any printing can take place. Because this is a costly process, flexo printing typically requires high minimum volume orders and can create a barrier to entry for startups and small businesses.

Digital supports faster turnaround times and quicker speed-to-market by skipping this step entirely. Additionally, because digital is print-on-demand, low volume and short-run packaging orders become much more affordable.

In addition to reduced machine setup times, digital presses are becoming more efficient and production speeds are closing the gap with analog methods. For example, the HP C500 operates at a speed of 75 linear meters per minute and is capable of printing a full pallet of product in mere minutes.

Due to the on-demand nature of digital, brands can meet tighter deadlines without having to commit to large order quantities. But make no mistake — digital print isn’t just for low-volume runs. Brands can now leverage digital for high-volume opportunities, without sacrificing speed, compromising on quality, or breaking the bank.

Reason #3: True Food-Safe Ink Capabilities

Food-safe primary packaging is a major concern for many brands (and its consumers), even for brands outside of the food and beverage industry. If a product falls into a regulated category, such as beauty, baby products, or pet products, true water-based inks help ensure consumer safety.

Until recently, the inks used in digital printing for corrugated packaging were not appropriate for these sensitive applications. Cured by UV light, the reactive chemistries in the ink meant they could not safely come into contact with foods and other consumable items. Luckily, the technology has evolved and new food-safe ink options have become available for corrugated packaging.

C500 Food Safe Inks

The HP PageWide C500 is the only digital press that uses true water-based inks that are 100% free of UV-reactive chemistries. In fact, these specifically formulated inks comply with even the most stringent global food safety regulations and industry guidelines. This new technology opens up the possibilities of digital print to many industries, including food and beverage, health and beauty, and agriculture.

Powered by digital print, food-safe inks* allow brands to create high-quality, effective packaging while remaining safe for consumers and compliant with regulations.

Download the Case Study — Before and After: Meridian Valley Lab

To see the advantages of digital compared to flexo, download our case study on Meridian Valley Lab. As a world leader in food and hormone testing, learn why Meridian Valley Lab made the upgrade to digitally printed packaging and how this change helped improve its customer experience and supply chain operations.

The future is digital, and now is the time to leverage the advantages of digitally printed packaging. Connect with one of our experienced Packaging Advisors to find out if your project is a candidate for digital print.


Please note that not all digital print technologies are food-safe for primary packaging applications. Check with your packaging provider to learn more about their specific presses and inks.


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