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Why switch from conventional engravings on anilox rollers?

March 2024

While anilox technology as we know it is only a few decades old, you could argue its roots go back millennia. It’s possible to draw a direct line between the rotary stamping techniques used in ancient Sumeria in around 3,000 BCE, through the invention of the printing press, past the Industrial Revolution, and all the way to the advanced flexo machines of today. Unsurprisingly, however, the art of using engraved cylinders to transfer patterns onto a substrate has evolved significantly over the course of human history. 

We’ve learned a lot these last 5,000 years. But anilox rollers – and by extension, the flexo industry and the many market sectors that rely on it – still depend on engraved cylinders. That means ensuring that your anilox specification precisely meets your needs is the key to an efficient printing process – and in today’s fast-paced world, businesses are increasingly finding that off-the-shelf solutions aren’t delivering the results they need. 


The beginnings of anilox 

Anilox standards have evolved since the first laser-engraved ceramic roll was developed. Cell engravings have moved from 30° to 45° to 60° and, today, technological advances and a drive for innovation in the print industry have led to a range of unique and versatile engravings that can outweigh the benefits of the conventional 60° engraving. 

60° patterns – identifiable through their trademark hexagonal shape – were first developed in the early 1980s. Compared to the earlier 30° and 45° iterations, the beehive-like 60° design offered more consistent results on the press; it ensured an even coverage of ink across its surface area.  

Up until the mid-1990s, CO2 laser engraving technology limited these rollers to resolutions of around 800 lines per inch (LPI). In 1996, the more precise YAG laser technology was introduced, which enabled anilox manufacturers to engrave deeper and at higher volumes. As laser engraving became more refined, it became easier to find conventional 60° anilox rollers that offered resolutions of up to 1270 LPI, enabling the use of 133/54 plates. 

At higher resolutions, however, conventional engravings can struggle to capture fine details on the press. However, the advancements in laser technology that drove the improvements in standard engravings also unlocked the potential for more innovative applications. 


YAG laser engraving and next generation anilox 

Initially, YAG laser engraving created anilox production issues as its high temperature vaporised the ceramic coating on cylinders, which reduced the level of surface recast as this ceramic vapour re-solidified at the top of the cell. In practice, this caused scoring to occur when the anilox came into contact with the doctor blade on the press. However, the potential of the technology was too tempting to ignore, and so lower-vaporisation lasers were developed to overcome these problems. 

And, as we entered the 21st century, YAG technology enabled the development of hybrid engravings; the next generation of anilox. At the same time, flexo presses were getting better – and crucially faster – and the requirement for anilox solutions that could keep up was only growing.  

60° cells designed for high resolution or high volume printing could not collect and transfer ink at the new higher speeds, meaning printers had to compromise on throughput or performance at a time when the market increasingly expected both. Screening values and types increased, and the need for high-quality print and higher resolution anilox drove research and development of more versatile and hybrid engravings. 


Enter Sandon Global 

In 2004, Sandon Global was established as an alternative supplier for conventional 60° engravings, at a time when the need for more complex and sophisticated graphics was increasing. Within two years, we had changed the industry. 

Two years after its founding in 2006, we began the research and development of our combination High Volume Process (HVP) engraving system for the wide web flexo market. After 18 months of development, HVP was launched to provide customers with good solids and tonal areas on a single plate – a valuable step forward for the industry. 

HVP’s unique, shallow cell design combined high line counts and high volume capability, while still offering the superb ink release characteristics that the print industry relies on, eliminating the compromise that 60° engravings had traditionally forced printers into. 

A revolution in the anilox world, HVP proved to be a key part of our early success and was the springboard for a host of further engraving innovations. One such innovation – High Opacity White (HOW) – maintained our growth in the UV flexo and narrow web segments, helping printers eliminate costly screen heads and improve press efficiency. HOW today delivers opaque whites in a range of solid densities at high speeds – not something that was initially thought would be possible with anilox, but which was achieved by thinking beyond conventional engraving. 


Engraving today – and tomorrow 

In a nutshell, our ethos is to set the standard in anilox design, development and production and our innovations demonstrate why it is important to look beyond standard cell engraving. Our technology innovations provide benefits that many print customers are simply unaware of.  

Hybrid engravings, such as Sandon Global’s HVP, can give printers greater latitude across the print spectrum offering a combination of higher volume and higher resolution. The end result is more high-quality, complex graphics achieved by today’s plate technology. 

In today’s market, where cost reduction is essential and companies need to identify how they can become more competitive, more efficient, and reduce waste, it makes sense to understand how your choice of anilox engraving can impact your business by solving the common print issues that can arise with some conventional engravings. 

Get in touch with us today to learn more about how custom engraving can take your business to the next level. 

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