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Rotogravure printing – what is it?

By Steffen Andersen · 13. May 2020

The rotogravure printing process is not very common due to its high initial start-up cost and long manufacturing process of the printing plates.

This means that the delivery times of products when using this process becomes rather long. The rotogravure process is the dominant method for producing high-quality prints in larger quantities.

In this article, we’ll go into depth with the process, it’s application and compare it with other printing methods. 

How does it work?

The rotogravure printing process does not use printing plates but instead, the graphics are engraved directly into a metal cylinder.

The metal cylinders transfer the print directly on to the printed objects. 

The graphics are etched onto the surface using acids. The acids create the pattern for the design and depending on the depth of pattern since it is the pattern that holds the ink and the depth of pattern is crucial for how intensive the colours are going to be.

The depths of the pattern can easily vary, so how intensive the colours should be in the graphics can easily vary.

The process of making the cylinders with the graphics is rather long, and due to being made with acid, they have to be cooled for some time before they can be used in the production of the printed materials. 

There has to be made a printing cylinder for each colour needed in the design. The printing process can both use CMYK and Pantone colours in the print.

The printing cylinders are placed in the ink fountain, so the ink is put directly on to the cylinders.

To make sure that only the pattern gets printed on the objects, there is a scrapper called the “doctor blade” that removes the ink from the cylinder on the non-printed areas.

This is why the depth of the pattern on the cylinders are so crucial for the printing process. 

There is a cylinder on top of the gravure cylinder which is the one transferring the object that needs printing to the gravure cylinder so it receives the printing.

It is called the impression cylinder and it is also the one making sure that the printed object moves on to the next colour in the printing process. 

What is it primarily used for?

The rotogravure printing process is primarily used for printing on wallpaper or gift wrapping paper.

But it can also be used for printing labels, packaging, and other products that want a more unique print on it. We do not work with any manufacturers who use this printing process since it is not that widely used.

In general, the printing process is rather adaptive and efficient for high quantity products but due to high start-up costs, it is used for more luxurious products. 

Rotogravure vs Flexo printing

Both rotogravure and flexo printing is used for printing in large quantities and they are very efficient printing methods. They do though differentiate a lot in the industries they are used:

  • Flexo printing is primarily used in the packaging industry, and especially when it comes to printing on more complex surfaces such as plastic and metal. 
  • Flexo printing is more commonly used than rotogravure because of the lower cost of printing plates.
  • Both printing methods can use CMYK and Pantone colours, but they do as standard use Pantone colours

Rotogravure vs Tampon printing

Where tampon printing is one of the most used printing methods, rotogravure is one of the least used printing methods, but it is still important to know the differences of the printing methods:

  • Tampon printing is great for printing on more convex surfaces where rotogravure is primarily used for printing on paper. 
  • Rotogravure is great for large quantities where tampon print is used for printing in smaller quantities
  • They do both use Pantone colours as their standard colour system. 
  • The set-up cost for rotogravure printing is very high

Rotogravure vs Offset printing

Offset printing is the most used printing method when it comes to printing on paper and used by printing agencies, where rotogravure is properly the least used method.

Let’s look at some of the differences and similarities:

  • Both printing methods can use CMYK and Pantone colours
  • Offset printing uses aluminum printing plates where rotogravure uses printing cylinders, that print directly onto the paper.
  • Rotogravure used for very high quantities, and there should often be printed a couple of millions before it is more cost-effective than offset printing. 
  • The finish and cooling off the process for rotogravure gives a more glamorous look. 

If you want to know more, you can read our article about offset print, which goes through the whole printing process. 

Rotogravure vs Letterpress

These two printing processes are probably two least used printing methods by printing agencies and in general. So let’s have a look at some of the differences and similarities: 

  • Rotogravure and letterpress are two very opposite printing methods since letterpress is for very small quantities and rotogravure printing is for very high quantities. 
  • Both printing methods can use CMYK and Pantone colours.
  • Rotogravure gives a clean and very professional look, where Letterpress is more authentic and gives a more personal look in the printing process.
  • Letterpress does normally deboss the graphics.

Do you want to know more? You can always read our article about the process of printing with letterpress.

Rotogravure vs Digital printing

Rotogravure printing and digital printing are both used primarilly for printing on paper, but more than that digital printing does not have much in common. So let’s dig into some of the differences. 

  • Digital printing is best for printing in small quantities, where rotogravure printing is used for very large quantities and often many millions. 
  • Rotogravure can also be used for printing on other materials and thicker paper materials than digital printing.
  • Last but not least digital printing uses CMYK colours as a standard where rotogravure uses Pantone colours. 

You can read our article describing the whole digital printing process.

Content and Marketing Manager at Limepack

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