by Courtney Saba
As digital print technologies evolve, both label and packaging applications become viable. With digital printing capabilities, the possibilities for brand owners are seemingly endless, enabling variability and versioning, short runs, and faster turnarounds.
According to Smithers Pira’s The Future of Printed Labels Market to 2019 market study, the global market for printed labels was estimated at $32.7 billion in 2014, and is forecast to grow to $41.6 billion by 2019. The research indicates that while flexography is the most common print process in label production, digital methods are growing rapidly and taking an increasing share.
Both traditional converters and digital print providers look to the latest printing systems to enable innovation with efficiency and creativity. This article discusses the biggest opportunity for digital label adoption as well as hindrances like market education. In addition, we highlight differentiating feature sets of digital label systems on the market.
The opportunity for digital within the overall label production market is diverse in terms of verticals served, application types, and volume needs. Brian Cleary, category manager, Indigo Label Solutions, HP Graphics Solutions Business, shares that the digital label market is currently at around one billion dollars, and is projected to more than double by 2020.
Because the label market is one of the last to digitize, Michael Barry, product marketing manager, digital solutions, Fujifilm North America Corporation, Graphics Systems Division, believes it has a high growth potential in the next five years.
“We expect to see run lengths continue to decline, somewhere between seven to nine percent a year. We’ll also see continued proliferation in the number of SKUs. These two factors will drive digital print growth across almost all segments of the market,” predicts Mark Sullivan, label systems manager, Allen Datagraph Systems, Inc.
Filip Weymans, director segment marketing, Xeikon, sees two areas offering the biggest market opportunities. “First, high-quality label printing such as cosmetics, food, wines, and spirits. Second the continued success in the flexographic replacement market based on quality, economic gains, and flexibility.”
Target marketing and personalization excel within digital label printing. “I’m often surprised by some of the interesting print work our customers are able to produce,” says John Hennessy, senior business manager, Jetrion products, EFI. “It’s truly a case where creativity is driven by necessity.”
Cleary points out hyper customization as a major trend. “Brand products like Share a Coke, the Diet Coke Extraordinary Collection, customized Bud Light music festival cans, and the Lay’s Summer Days campaign all show a trend toward customized packages on the individual level.”
Sean Cummins, product manager, Screen Americas, sees opportunity in industrial labels, driven by the ability to have multiple levels of security visible and non-visible up to seven levels.
Barry says hybrid printing is starting to be highly adopted in the label world due to the increased abilities it offers.
In regard to volume, Christopher Howard, VP of strategic development, Durst Image Technology U.S., LLC, suggests that the strongest opportunity for digital label production is the medium run space, “where the margin level of digital production and coinciding print volume makes for an excellent business model.”
As with all technology, early adopters face challenges. These hindrances include price points, technology knowledge, and difficult operations. Technical concerns aside, market education on digital label solutions is needed to gain traction.
“One of the biggest hindrances holding back adoption is the misconception about the true cost of labeling,” offers Cleary. “The cost per 1,000 labels is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the total cost of labeling. When label buyers understand the full cost, and how digital can reduce the total cost of labeling throughout a product’s lifecycle, they will make the switch to digital,” he asserts.
Cummins adds that digital knowledge know-how and digital sales knowledge are in demand. “Owners are holding back until they have proper sales and management.”
Julie Lopez, marketing manager, NeuraLabel, also sees education as a limiting factor for the adoption of digital label printing technology. “The want and the need have existed for a while, but technology and price point are just now catching up. It will take education to make people aware of the choices available in full-color on demand printing,” she says.
Particularly relevant to inkjet, Barry explains that many providers are still in the education process when it comes to inkjet technology. It has been widely used in other industries such as wide format, but is relatively new in the label world.
As buyer education continues to expand, finding the best solution to suit a print provider’s needs is becoming easier.
Juan Kim, CEO, Valloy, says the first time the company showed its ANY001 solution two years ago—a toner-based device that targets the entry- and mid-volume market—most people asked about price per label in comparison with analog solutions or high-end digital presses like HP Indigo. “Now people are better educated by consulting with many dealers of different products and they understand the unique benefit of the small digital solution itself. These people have specific needs—short runs, variable data, lack of space for stock, and fast delivery,” he explains.
In addition to buyer awareness, issues such as machine speeds, reliability, substrate compatibility, and operating costs hold back digital adoption.
Amber Miller, product manager, Primera, points out that consumable costs for digital presses are almost always more expensive than ink for a flexographic press. “You need to find customers that can actually benefit from a digital process. A good example is a customer who has hundreds of SKUs, doesn’t want to hold stock of all those different labels, yet insists on the best possible print quality.”
It is important to remember that printing presses are a long-term investment and generally enjoy a long operational lifecycle. Taylor Buckthorpe, director of marketing, Colordyne Technologies, says the biggest adoption hurdle is indecision and the perception many converters and brand owners have regarding the technology. “The flexographic/analog presses have been the industry standard for a very long time due to their reliability and capabilities for long run and lower production costs. This indecision is created due to the fact technology is constantly advancing year after year so companies are concerned about their investment in digital print.”
Hennessy adds that flexographic presses in label shops have been gracefully aging over the last 30 years. “They don’t wear out quickly and parts are still available. However, just because it still turns on and was paid off years ago, doesn’t mean it’s the most cost-effective way to produce narrow web print work,” he states, adding that the demand for shorter runs, faster delivery, and the drive to eliminate non-value added process steps are reframing the thinking of even conservative printers.
Digital Label System Round Up
Here, companies offering digital label printing systems share information on their newest and most popular products.
Allen Datagraph Systems
Allen Datagraph Systems offers four different digital label printers. The iTechCentra HS printer targets mid-production environments and features LED toner technology. The iTech Cypher printer falls under the entry- to mid-level range category and is an inkjet solution. The iTech Spectrum printer features LED toner and is also suited for entry- to mid-level production environments. The iTech Talon printer is an entry-level production inkjet device.
Colordyne Technologies’ digital label printing products target industrial- and production-class label and tag applications. The 1600 series C is an entry-level device. The 2600 series mini press targets mid-range digital production. The 3600 series sprint targets high-level digital production environments.
Additionally, the products are engineered with the future in mind; an option that Buckthrope points out saves its clients’ money. “They don’t need to buy a new press when their work exceeds the capabilities of their current machine. The ability to upgrade our printing presses also creates a relationship with our clients that goes beyond the point of sale.”
The Durst Tau 330 series include 13-inch UV inkjet printers designed for short-run applications to high-volume print production. The 330 series features Durst’s HD print mode for high printing quality and runs at 157 linear feet per minute (fpm). The 330 platform can be configured with a number of options, including inline laser finishing, additional colors for gamut extension, low migration inks, jumbo unwind and rewind units for long production runs, as well as an open architecture that allows for third-party integration of pre- and post-finishing equipment.
EFI offers a portfolio of narrow-web UV and LED inkjet presses used in label, tag, and small signage printing operations. These products use EFI’s UV and LED print engines, inks, color management, and RIP technology to provide the lowest cost per print available.
The 4900M targets entry-level production and offers 8.3-inch wide printing at up to 80 fpm, while the 4900M-330 prints 13 inches wide, which the company says is a sweet spot for mid-volume producers.
EFI’s highest volume model, the 4950LX, features full LED curing of 13-inch wide prints at speeds up to 147 fpm.
Hennessy says all are inkjet powered and enable a range of off-the-shelf substrates to be printed.
Epson provides a series of digital label products under its ColorWorks and SurePress lines. The ColorWorks C7500 produces 50 fpm and up to 10,000 labels per day. It is water-based inkjet with an MSRP of $12,500.
The SurePress L-4033 allows 15 fpm and up to 30,000 labels per day. It is water-resin inkjet with an MSRP of $230,000. The SurePress L-6034 allows 50 fpm and 100,000 plus labels per day. It uses UV ink and is available at an MSRP of $650,000.
All Epson printers use Epson printheads and Epson inks. Michael Pruitt, product manager, Epson America, Inc., says the vertical design results in well-integrated and reliable products.
The Graphium Digital UV Hybrid Press is an inkjet label production solution that targets the mid- to high-level printing environments.
Barry says the hybrid architecture of the press allows digital printing to be turned back into a manufacturing process with options for spot colors, varnishes, coatings, cold foiling, laminating, turnbars, die cutting, sheeting, and slitting. The digital print engine uses Fujifilm Uvijet ink that boasts excellent adhesion, rub-resistance, lightfastness, durability, and flexibility to be used on a range of flexographic substrates without the need for digitally coated materials.
The HP Indigo WS6800 digital press offers improvements in automated color management via the inline color spectrophotometer. HP Indigo offers a range of color options, with seven ink stations allowing one- and two-color printing and three-, four-, six-, and seven-color process printing. The color separations are run in any order, and specific spot color inks can be mixed and run. The HP indigo WS6800 digital press is one of the most versatile narrow web digital presses in that it can run substrates from .5 to 18 points, covering applications such as prime labels, shrink sleeve labels, flexible packaging, and folding cartons.
Featuring a 30-inch wide web, the HP Indigo 20000 digital press targets mid- to high-end production web environments. Both utilize HP Indigo ElectroInk.
At Labelexpo 2015, Konica Minolta released its first full-digital label press system, filling the gap between entry-level and high-end digital label printing presses. The bizhub PRESS C71cf is ideal for profitable short to mid runs. It features easy operation, production flexibility, fast turnaround, and variable data printing functions.
Neuralabel Printing Solutions
The NeuraLabel 300x is an entry-, mid-, and high-production inkjet device with an MSRP of $4,995. It features HP PageWide Technology and offers print speeds of up to 100 fpm. It features pigment inks that are resistant to water, abrasion, saltwater immersion, and UV exposure. It allows high resolutions of up to 2,400×1,200 dpi, variable print width for labels of all sizes, and GHS and BS5609 compliant labels.
NeuraLabel 500e is an entry,- mid-, and high-production toner-based device with an MSRP of $8,995. It features print speeds of up to 50 pages per minute, high-capacity toner cartridges, print resolution up to 2,400 dpi, print width up to 48 inches, and GHS and BS5609 compliant labels.
OKI Data’s new C711DW digital web, roll-to-roll label printing system handles a variety of substrates including paper, polyester, and vinyl at widths of 6.5 to 8.5 inches in rolls and a maximum outside diameter of 14 inches. Finishing options include digital die cutting and lamination to deliver a complete, cost-effective, digital label print production system. The C711DW provides valuable revenue generating opportunities to the graphic arts.
Primera offers three inkjet color label printers. The LX400 and LX900 are entry-level solutions at $1,495 and $2,995 MSRP, respectively. The LX2000 Color Label printer is an inkjet device targeting entry/mid production environments, priced at an MSRP of $3,995.
The CX1200 Color Label press is a toner-based mid/high production level solution priced at an MSRP of $18,995.
The L350 UV digital label press features piezoelectric UV inkjet and single-pass printing at four tones per drop. Targeting high-level production environments, the MSRP is $650,000.
According to Cummins, the solution has one of the smallest drop sizes—three picoliter, and four step grayscale. Other features include fully automated touchscreen operation and cleaning, as well as TRUST, the company’s preventative maintenance online technology.
Valloy Incorporation offers the toner-based ANY002, which targets the entry and mid-volume market. It is a single-pass LED toner printer with an MSRP of $12,000.
The company also offers its TOPAZET UV 13R inkjet solution.
Xeikon presses are based on dry toner electrophotographic technology and offer true 1,200×3,600 dpi. Weymans notes the latest addition to the company’s portfolio is the CX3, which features speeds of up to 98 fpm and full rotary printing. The device offers all the benefits of the Xeikon 3000 Series, including the use of dry toners that meet FDA regulations for food contact and the ability to print opaque white toner in one pass. Additionally, the press offers easy integration of third-party workflow software, converting/finishing solutions, and incorporates professional color management capabilities. In addition to standard CMYK+White, the fifth station on the Xeikon CX3 can be used to print gamut expansion colors and security toner. Media weights range from 40 to 350 gsm.
Move to Digital
As digital label systems continue to evolve, both traditional converters and digital print providers look to capitalize on the opportunity. It is important for each business to evaluate their current and future needs and select a solution with the right feature sets and target volumes to best suit their demands.
“It is important to realize that no two print shops are the same—they differ widely in size, mix of print work, materials, in-house printing/converting, machinery, and have other operational differences to consider,” points out Hennessy.
From entry-level to high-end production, the market is ripe with options. dps
Mar2016, DPS Magazine