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Flexography: Perspective of Students from a Land Grant University

Submitted By:
Dr. Cynthia Carlton Gillispie-Johnson
Associate Professor, Graphic Communication Systems & Technological Studies, School of Technology, North Carolina A & T University



A study of students’ perception of flexographic use was conducted in the Fall and Spring 2001. The findings were applied to students enrolled in the flexographic course Fall 2003. This study investigated the reason why many students are not interested in the production areas of Graphics. They prefer the design aspects of graphics. However, production jobs are increasing; therefore this means more job opportunity available in printing. The printing industry is one of the fastest growing industry in the world today. In the past, the term printing was used to imply all facets of the graphic communication industry. However, with innovative technology, print is too limited to include the advanced technology found in a typical facility (Dennis Olusegun, & Wilson, 1997). Printing is now understood to imply using ink to place an image on a substrate; therefore Printing is defined as the production of multiple copies of a document book, etc, by the use of plates on other surfaces to transfer an impression to a substrate (Siconolfi 1991).

Flexography (Flexo) is another facet of ink on substrate. Substrates can be plastic, metallic films, printing on cellophanes, and etc. Flexo is used to print newspapers, comics, envelopes, packages such as software, cereal boxes, shampoo bottles, labels, soda bottle wrap and cartons, frozen food bags, bread bags, and milk cartons, just to name a few. Take away any one of these and think now it would affect the social systems. Printing has become a part of everyday life for a vast majority of the world. Flexography is the world’s fastest growing print technology. We come in contact with items printed with flexo on a daily basis. Flexography uses a printing plate with a raised image that is called a relief plate. Their plates are made from molded or engraved rubber or imaged from a light-sensitive synthetic material called photopolymer. The plates are mounted on a rotary cylinder on a press that can have as many as twelve color stations. Never-the-less,with the increase of production such as flexo methods and the lack of interest of college students, the question becomes “How do college professors change students’ perception of flexo?

 The research assumption for this study was, Rogers’ five characteristics, compatibility, observability, relative advantage, and triability are positively related to the acceptance of flexo use, while complexity is negatively related to the acceptance of flexo use.

The purpose of the study was to examine the perceptions of Flexo use related to Rogers’ five characteristics. The population for the study consisted of 26 students enrolled in the Flexo course for the fall and spring semesters 2001.

Statement of Problem

Flexography is a printing process that is going to have many advances in the future. Flexo’s major reason for rising is its improvements in pre-press. Flexography has a growth rate that is between seven to eight percent and takes up sixty percent of package printing. It is expected that by 2010 flexo will have risen from eighteen to twenty-two percent of the market, while gravure, letterpress and lithography will lose their market share (Holland, 1998). Lithography will have the greatest decrease that will drop forty-six to thirty percent (Holland, 1998). As educators, we must have trained people that are skilled to handle the future demand.

Dennis, Odesina, and Wilson (1997) indicated that an industry-wide surveys conducted in recent years have revealed the need for greater number of qualified personnel to accomplish the many technical tasks relating to the broad spectrum of the graphic communication industry. However, an individual’s perception of printing process will be the determining factor.

Rogers’ Theory

According to Rogers (1983), acceptance occurs, as people become aware of the process.   Following the awareness of the process, potential adopters must involve themselves in an evaluation of the process.  They evaluate the process and decided to implement or reject it based on the perceived value of the process. The perceived value of the process is judged by the users’ perception.  The Theory of Rogers (l962, l983, and l995) provides a theoretical framework or paradigm for this process. Rogers’ framework can be used to evaluate acceptance of the process.

 Rogers noted that the perceived value of a process plays a vital role in communicating the idea to another person.  Communicating the idea to another person is often referred to as the diffusion process.  The person or persons who uses the process are referred to as users. Users can serve as filters. If the users have a poor perception of the process, the process will be filtered out of the system, but if the users have a positive perception of the process, they filter the process through the system (Rogers, 1986). Therefore, users’ perceptions of the process are an important consideration in determining whether the process makes its way through a specific group of people.  A specific group of people with the same goals is identified as a social system (Rogers, l962). Other researcher findings indicated that relative advantages of an innovation are positively correlated with its rate of acceptance (Gillispie, l998; Greenberg & McDermott, 1977; Helsen, l972; Griliches, l960).



This descriptive study used a survey design and was conducted in the fall and spring of 2001. The 26 students at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University formed the population for the study.  These individuals were registered for the course in fall and spring semesters of 2001.  The population for implementation of the findings was 20 students registered for Flexo in Fall 2003.

Instrument and Data Collection

 The data collection was limited to a 30-item survey instrument.   The instrument was pilot tested in 1995 with the vocational and technical education faculty at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Blacksburg. The survey instrument had two parts.  In Section A, information was requested about respondents’ gender, age, and years of experience. Section B and was designed to gather information on the perceived value of the printing methods used as related to compatibility (associated with the users style of teaching, views, existing values, past experiences, and needs); complexity (associated with skills, training, and level of difficulty in printing method used); observability (associated with demonstrations and evaluations); relative advantage (associated with perceived advantages over other innovations as determined by cost, both time and monetary, and users perceptions); and triability (associated with the number of different trial opportunities and experimentation with the innovation use). The instrument contained 6 items to address each of the five characteristics. The 6 items for each of the characteristics provide a total of 30 statements.  These statements were randomly distributed on the survey instrument.

Analysis Procedures

The Statistic Package of Social Science (SPSS Version 6.0) was used to process all data to answer the research question. The respondents were asked to rate their perceptions of the 30 items related to Rogers’ five characteristics on a scale from strongly agree to strongly disagree, with strongly agree being the most positive response. Values were assigned to the scale with 4 being the most positive response and l being the most negative.  Reverse coding was used for negative items. The overall score for each characteristic was obtained by tally.  Means and standard deviations were computed.


Information included 17 males and 9 females. The respondents range from 18 to 25 years of age. Respondents’ experience ranged from 0 to 8 semesters.   Results from responses of the 30 randomly placed items on the survey instrument regarding perceptions of the printing method used as related to Rogers’ five characteristics are reported in Table 1. The four –color Comco 7” Cadet Flexographic press related to the complexity was 2.90 and compatibility was 2.93 on a scale l to 4 with 4 being the most positive response. For relative advantage, observability, and triability, the respondents had means ranging from 3.19 to 3.01. Triability had the highest  mean, 3.19. The results for the 30 items on the survey instrument regarding perceptions of the printing methods as related to Rogers’ five characteristics were in agreement with Gillispie (1998), Greenberg and McDermott (1977), Helsel (1972), Zaltman and Lin (1971), Rogers (1961, 1983), and Griliches (1960) findings that complexity is least important in the adoption of an innovation.

Table 1: Respondents’ Ratings of Statement Describing Rogers’ Five Characteristics

Four-color Comco 7” Cadet Flexo Press



Std. Var.










Relative Advantage































The use of flexo is not only an important facet in the printing industry, but also in the integration of technology. According to Rogers’ Theory, acceptance is something that takes place in a pattern, over time, and is influenced by five main characteristics. These characteristics are compatibility, complexity, observability, relative advantage, and triability. If a process is to be a success, the individual will need to perceive it as being compatible with what is already being used. It must be relatively simple to use, visible to others, have an advantage over current methods being used, and be capable of being tried before being implemented.

The findings revealed that the students’ perception of Flexo, as they related to Rogers’ (1995) five characteristics, (compatibility, complexity, observability, relative advantage, and triability) showed that triability, relative advantage, and observability were the most important characteristics in the use of flexo. Compatibility and complexity were not important to the use of flexo with complexity being the least important.

Observability, relative advantage, and triability are most important to the students.  According to the Siconolfi (1996) there are a number of benefits associated with flexo. Relative advantages of Flexo are an economical, environmentally friendly, and a simple printing process.

Flexographic presses are low cost with high productivity and efficiency. Press make-ready is quick. Flexo printing plate cylinders are removable, therefore plates can be mounted to the cylinder off-line to accommodate production demands. Photopolymer plates are durable, lasting as long as several million impressions. Inks are fast drying and there is no complex multi-component ink balancing to do, as there is with offset printing. Good quality print can be obtained within the first few revolutions of the printing cylinder.  Many flexo presses are equipped with in-line finishing capabilities such as coating, laminating, slitting and diecutting, which increases productivity.

There are also disadvantages associated with flexo use, such as, poor shadows, the impressions per plate are more limited than offset. Another disadvantage is since each press is not the same, work done on the prepress has to be fingerprinted for the individual press (Sidles, 1998). Flexo has a problem with bleeding, whereas some flexo ink pigments begin to move to the substrate. Haloing is another problem (a line that surrounds a printed image). Some of the halo causes are cupped edges of a plate, out of round plate cylinder, and excess squeezing of the substrate and plates. However, the solution would be to check if the ink viscosity is correct.

Pinholing is also a problem (small holes that can appear on the printed image). A solution to this is to check pressure of the plate to the substrate and anilox roll. Overall, flexographic printing quality lacks fine color detail and vibrance that is seen mostly in the final products (Warren, 1998). Therefore, examining the relative advantages and disadvantages associated with flexo can determine whether or not the students will accept it as part of their major course load and register to take the course or courses. 

Applying the Findings to Classroom Instruction

Examining students’ perception as related to Rogers’ Theory is important to educators because they have a vested interest in improving their instruction.  However, individual perceptions of printing can determine whether individuals will accept it as an intricate part of their learning process and pursue advanced learning in the field.

For printing use to be broadly encompassed in instruction, complexity associated with its use was addressed. The class learning structure was divided into small units to allow for intimacy.  There were 20 students divided into 3 groups on a rotation schedule:

   Group I -  Lecture

   Group II  - Mac Design Lab

   Group III -  Lab (Hands On 7” Comco Flexo Cadet 4 Color Press)

The students embraced the learning structure.  Smaller groups allowed for more one-on-one, and the students did not feel lost in the crowd.  The instructor could quickly identify an individualized problem. 

Conclusion and Recommendation

For students to be interested in flexo and consider it as an intricate part of their educational development, complexity associated with its use must be addressed. Instructors must use innovative approaches to interest the students in flexo use. As a result of identifying the problem, students are excited about the use of flexo. They are serving as filters to filter their positive perception to other students about their flexo experience.

It is recommended that this study be extended to a larger population so that the study can be generalized to the total population.


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