Printing for the long run

15 May 2017

Printing for the long run

Printing for the long run

The high-quality, rapid results of gravure printing are perfectly suited to long runs and high volumes. With gravure a technique that's increasingly specialised, Emma-Jane Batey spoke to industry leaders to see how innovation is influencing this much-loved printing method.

Gravure printing, also known as rotogravure printing, is particularly valued for its high-quality results over long print runs. A form of intaglio printing that delivers fine, detailed images, gravure, like engraving, is appreciated for its luxury capabilities. Gravure sees an image acid-etched on the surface of a metal cylinder in a pattern of cells, with one cylinder for each colour. These cells are recessed into the cylinder, unlike relief printing or letterpress, where the printing image is raised. Gravure printing is particularly suited to high-volume printing such as packaging, wallpaper and gift wrap, with lower-volume applications including greetings cards and magazines.

While gravure has been most associated with high-volume applications, the ever evolving nature of the converting industry means that constant innovation has driven greater flexibility. For Mondi Deeside, the UK operation of the global packaging and paper manufacturer Mondi Group, investment in gravure has supported its strategic growth.

Mondi Group, with 102 operations in more than 30 countries worldwide, manages forests to produce pulp, paper and compound plastics, and is 'dedicated to developing effective and innovative industrial and consumer packaging solutions'. With many global brands using Mondi for its packaging portfolio, which includes stand-up pouches, super strong cement bags and retail boxes, Mondi Deeside has been continuing the group's investment programme to enhance its gravure offer with GravureTECH.


Back in fashion

Mondi Deeside's sales director Julie Eller says, “We have the UK's largest, most modern and efficient gravure presses, which enable us to offer smaller runs and shorter lead times through faster job turnaround and changeovers, delivering lower cost to our customers. Over many years, the gravure printing process has fallen out of favour with many brand owners as it was associated only with long print runs, long lead times and high costs. But here, at Mondi Deeside, GravureTECH embraces the challenge of supplying brands with the best-quality, consistent print at low cost, and can match the flexo turnaround time on new designs. This is due to not only the faster changeover times on modern presses but also our integrated supply chain and pre-press.”

The Mondi Deeside plant sees GravureTECH work alongside its product ranges, including PouchTECH and CookTECH, to 'deliver innovative, functional and high-performance products using a wide variety of substrates and finishes'. Eller says, “Our advanced pre-press origination department enhances the creative process, working with designers to precisely match their requirements while amortising costs to offer cylinder engraving at flexographic prices. Add to that the fact that we engrave cylinders locally, and can offer superior print and patterned lacquers, plus superior coatings for sealing, such as cold-seal, because gravure can put down heavier weights, and GravureTECH becomes the obvious choice for high-quality flexible packaging.”

The Mondi Deeside GravureTECH innovation combines the high-definition print benefits of impressively detailed accuracy, precise colour-matching and photographic representation with time and cost savings. Eller adds, “You can now save time using gravure as on-press passes are no longer a [drain on resources] that your company could better invest elsewhere. Our off-press proofing can provide a fully representative proof of what you will see from the press, achieved by using the actual cylinders, substrates and inks.”


Investing in gravure

Another UK-based printing and packaging solution provider that's singing the praises of gravure is UNI Packaging UK, the Lancashire-based site for the successful French family-owned group. With three European sites that focus on gravure, UNI Packaging is proud to offer 'the highest-quality print on flexible film and paper-based substrates'.

In 2016, UNI Packaging UK invested more than £1.5 million in order to increase its domestic market share, with gravure capabilities playing a key role in its strategic investment. The money has been spent on state-of-the-art equipment for its St Helens' site, including a Titan SR9 DT Dual Turret Slitter to meet expanding production requirements. Managing director Rod Entwistle explains, “The investment in UK manufacturing has strategic importance to the group. We have a growing market share in the UK and, with the resources across the group, we can operate on a different level to other flexible packaging companies, and have the ability to address the growing trend for short runs, fast response times and high print quality.”

With UNI Packaging's capabilities including gravure, flexographic and digital printing, the company is keen to highlight the various advantages of each process in order to highlight its ability to deliver across all demands. Entwistle adds, “We have maintained and enhanced our gravure offer to ensure that it is not eclipsed by our impressive digital offer. We can offer fantastic quality digital printing, for example, but we are still proud to offer exceptional quality gravure output that is perfectly in tune with certain customer requirements. Our true advantage is the ability to deliver across processes, and our experts work with our customers to deliver the best solution for their requirements.”


Winning inks

Manufacturers that use gravure are also increasingly working with innovative inks companies to ensure that its offer stands apart in a highly competitive marketplace. Doneck Euroflex is a European flexo and gravure ink supplier (and part of the Luxembourg-based global Doneck Network of companies) that has recently joined forces with pioneering Japanese retort-technology-development company Toyo Ink.

The partnership has resulted in AQUA LIONA and AQUAECOL, two brand new inks that were launched at the Interpack 2017 packaging exhibition in Düsseldorf in May. The AQUAECOL range of inks is retortable up to 120° and is a water-based gravure ink system that can handle all that gravure lamination can throw at it, as well as enabling long print runs on a wide variety of substrates. The environmental advantage of water-based inks for the gravure process is certainly something for the two companies to shout about, as Doneck Euroflex managing director Arndt Breitbach notes: “We are happy to introduce this unique water-based technology that could lead to increased environmental sustainability. We are proud that Doneck Network was chosen by Toyo Ink as a partner for AQUA LIONA and AQUAECOL for the European market.”

With AQUAECOL suitable for a wide range of applications, from snack to retort food packaging, this series of water-based gravure inks feature a high pigmentation design that allows it to achieve excellent printability at high speeds. Breitbach says, “Both of these new innovative inks use as their base resin a water-soluble urethane resin engineered with Toyo Ink's unique polymer technology. As a result, these inks demonstrate world-class printing results and quality while adhering to strict chemical substance regulations and guidelines, such as the Swiss Ordinance and [those of] the European Printing Ink Association.”

With the right approach to investment and innovation, well established processes like gravure can clearly get a fresh new lease on life, ready to deliver high-quality, high-definition, high-speed solutions for companies looking to impress with detail and volume.

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