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A unique controller based on active disturbance rejection control (ADRC) method is presented to strengthen the stability of the tension in unwinding system of gravure printing machines. The uniqueness of the ADRC design is that both the internal dynamics and the external disturbances can be actively estimated and compensated in real time, which makes the feedback control to be an ideal candidate to design controller of the unwinding system. In this study, a nonlinear mathematical model is established according to the unwinding system's working principle, and the order of the unwinding system is constructed. Based on the order and dancer roll model, an ADRC controller and a tension observer are designed to enhance the stability of the tension in unwinding system respectively. The results of simulation show that the proposed tension controller has better robustness and disturbance rejection than traditional PID controller in tension control of the unwinding system.