As part of my professional practice I visited the Bristol (Portbury Dock) site of R3 Reproflex, a printing company on December 6th 2016, and interviewed John – Operations Manager – about the company. R3 is around 20 years old, employs about 50 people at a number of sites including Newcastle and abroad in the UAE, and elsewhere. R3 is concerned with reprographics – the designer makes a design which is not printable, reprographics makes this possible.
Portury is a small site, printing does not currently take place here. Artwork is received from clients and made printable. This includes checking files for ‘errors’ which will not print, creating white as a colour rather than as an absence of colour. Typically, all fonts will need to be outlined, for example. Adobe Illustrator is used, other packages may also be deployed.
When the artwork is finally prepared then a flexographic plate is made. Flexography is a letterpress process which has quite a long history beginning with a rubber based process around the turn of the 20th C. The term flexography was adopted in the USA in 1951.
Modern flexographic plates are made using photopolymers and this is the process at R3 Portbury. The plates themselves are flexible and translucent. Several quite large machines are involved, such as the Kodak Flexel machines and plates up to 1.5m x 1m can be produced at this site.
Modern flexography can rival offset lithography for print quality and colour reproduction, printing can be to almost and material and with almost any ink although water-based inks are favoured.
This visit was most informative, flexography is a central part of modern printing.