By Melissa Donovan
The market for digital packaging and labels continues to show remarkable growth. Smithers Pira predicted this segment at $7.3 billion in 2013. A large portion of this volume includes labels, with a value of $6 billion in 2013—a total of 89.6 percent of all digital packaging. In the research firm’s newest report, The Future of Digital Printing for Packaging to 2018, digitally produced material will increase by 375 percent in the 2008 to 2018 period, a noticeable difference from the expected analog growth of 28 percent in the same period.
Manufacturers respond by introducing digital label presses that are a viable alternative to traditional flexographic label manufacturing. Part of the allure is the end-to-end finishing opportunities. Whether inline or near line, providing automation at the end of the print process offers greater efficiency on the production floor. This translates to more jobs and a higher rate of customer satisfaction. In a world where next day means yesterday, productivity is essential.
Print providers have many options for label production. This piece focuses on both toner- and inkjet-based dedicated, narrow format digital presses.
The strong of emergence of digital affects the label market. Two key areas experiencing change are branding and marketing at the design level and on the back end in inventory. In both cases, shorter runs are becoming the norm due to increasing requests for customization, versioning, seasonal, and event-based labels.
Specific trends in branding and marketing place digital presses at the forefront of today’s label industry. “We see smaller brands that normally could not compete with high-end custom labels create stronger selling products because of digital labels. And, larger brands are leveraging digital capabilities for cost-effective multi-SKU marketing and just-in-time supply chain management,” shares Stephen Emery, VP, ink/Jetrion industrial inkjet, EFI.
Similarly, personalization at the design level expands usage. “The design flexibility offered by digital print creates new opportunities for versioning, security, variable data printing, and other work that is not viable with conventional print,” says John Kaufman, product marketing manager – digital presses, Fujifilm North America Corp., Graphic Systems Division.
Yael Barak, worldwide segment manager – labels, Indigo division, Hewlett-Packard (HP), points to the Share a Coke campaign that recently took place in Europe as one example. “It demonstrates the advantages of high-end, high-capacity digital printing for brands. Brand managers are more frequently adopting digital printing to create new ways to communicate with consumers through mass customization and versioning while shortening time to market,” she continues.
“Digital inkjet continues to penetrate into the label industry and offer unlimited potential. Brand diversity, direct personal marketing, and multiple SKUs—even for national brands—are here to stay,” says Christopher Guyett, sales and marketing coordinator, Durst Image Technology US, LLC. He notes that retail product choices within the same category can be overwhelming, with all of the product differentiation borne by packaging, including the shape and color of the container but also the complexity of the label itself. “Growth in the label business can only be pushed along by the continuing introduction of new products,” he says.
Waste reduction is another consideration. Brand managers all the way down to print providers are pressured to decrease inventory—whether for cost or environmental purposes.
“Digital printing has the flexibility to completely change the production model for many customers. Instead of forecasting long lead time production print jobs that need to be warehoused for future use, more accurate quantities of labels can be produced much closer to the actual usage date. This eliminates obsolescence and re-work,” adds Sean Marske, president, Colordyne Technologies.
“Increased demand from consumers and pressure on companies to minimize packaging-related footprint, while increasing the efficiency of the supply chain, is causing more jobs to shift to digital production,” agrees Barak.
End to End
An end-to-end label system that seamlessly operates from print to finish is an important consideration. Finishing extends beyond cutting and trimming, including varnish and embossing.
Printing is only one part of label production, points out Durst’s Guyett. “Digital printing already removes a lot of the labor and material waste from conventional print technology. That said, if finishing can also be done inline in one pass, you eliminate the need for removing a ready roll from the press and moving it over to the finishing line and starting the process,” he adds.
Since job preparation can even change from job to job, it is something printing converters need to consider.
“Finishing and/or complete end-to-end solutions can become critical to short-run work, the more times you handle a job, the less money you make. Users have to look at digital presses as a complete solution, not just at the print capabilities,” recommends Kaufman.
“There is no economic or time-to-delivery reward for printed labels if they are not digitally finished. Otherwise, print providers and brand owners are still going to wait for the necessary dies to complete a project,” argues Mark Vanover, VP, sales and marketing, Allen Datagraph Systems, Inc.
Laser cutting, according to Juan Kim, CEO, Valloy Incorporation, is a key part of digitalization. Digital offers accuracy, efficiency, and flexibility—attractive features to a print buyer. “Laser power can be adjusted in real time to perform full cutting, like perforation, kiss cutting for label, and surface hatching at the same time. It also can do laser marking of variable data.”
Barak points to a production environment managing relatively few label shapes and sizes as finding inline finishing valuable, mostly because the variation is in the printed image. This leaves no change to converting parameters. Conversely, a wine or home and personal care label printer changes these parameters almost on a job-per-job basis and could lose printing time setting up a foil stamping or screen unit.
Despite time and cost savings, it is important to note that not all print environments require an end-to-end solution. “While inline finishing is valuable, plotters are not consistent and lasers are still pricey. Offerings evolve rapidly and the technology will be different in a couple of years; currently offline makes sense economically for digital presses,” suggests Mike Pruitt, SurePress product manager, Epson.
New and improved digital label presses stand out. Advancements in printhead technology, resolution, and finishing components make them viable in today’s digital and traditional print shops.
Allen Datagraph manufactures label presses targeting label converters looking to digitally print and finish smaller quantities. For example, the iTech AXXIS HS Digital Label System is a roll-to-roll tabletop solution, cost effective for run lengths up to 2,000 linear feet. Additionally, the iTech CENTRA HS Digital Label System offers run lengths up to 3,000 linear feet and fits between tabletop and full-scale production systems.
Colordyne offers three digital label presses with inline finishing options such as UV varnish, laminate, rotary, and laser die cutting. Of the three, the most turnkey solution is the CDT 1600-PC Laser Pro, which requires no dies or cylinders. Utilizing Memjet’s waterfall technology, it offers a drop size of 1.2 picoliters, which enables output speeds of 160 feet per minute at 1,600×1,200 dpi.
The N610i is the newest addition to Domino Printing Sciences’ N-Series of digital label presses, unveiled at Labelexpo Europe 2013. Using UV-curable inks, it is compatible with coated paper, polyethylene, and polypropylene label stocks. It can print with up to seven colors, including opaque white ink.
Durst now offers its Tau 330 device with a laser finishing system (LFS), the Tau LFS 330. The laser die-cutting system runs inline with the label press, providing a digital end-to-end workflow. With the inline LFS users kiss cut, through cut, perforate, engrave, mark, and score on a range of substrates. Optional UV coating, lamination, and slitting are additional options. At Label Expo 2013, Durst unveiled a low migration UV ink set for the Tau 330 for food, healthcare, pharmaceutical, and other sensitive applications.
EFI’s Jetrion portfolio includes modular systems that enable customers to grow and add inline finishing modules as a business requires. Its newest member of the family is the EFI Jetrion 4950LX, launched at Labelexpo Europe 2013. It produces images at up to 720×720 dpi and features the company’s LED UV curing technology. Using the cool cure process, flexible package and shrink sleeve production is now possible with the new Jetrion 4950LX.
Epson’s SurePress L-4033 leverages aqueous ink with resin, providing an offset quality despite being digital. All principle components of the device are produced by Epson, this includes the printhead, control system, and ink set. The company also recently introduced the SurePress L-6034VW, which is the first of its industrial presses to feature UV ink.
Fujifilm features its Graphium UV inkjet printer for label printing. A modular design, the device is equipped to integrate standard analog flexographic printing stations both before and after the digital print engine. In addition, it includes semi-rotary die cutting, lamination, slitting, foil blocking, and embossing all inline. Uvijet Graphium inks are designed to offer excellent adhesion to a range of substrates and the ability to print with an ultra opaque white at high speeds.
The Gerber EDGE FX from Gerber Scientific Products, Inc. is a thermal digital printing device that outputs labels from print to cut. Four-color prints output at a maximum speed of 60 square feet per hour. It is compatible with EDGE READY materials consisting of cast and calendered vinyl, magnetic, reflective, temporary and changeable films, Lexan-based films, and polyester label stock.
At Labelexpo Europe 2013, Graficon Maschinenbau AG presented the PUMA digital label device for the first time. The digital machine offers inline printing and die cutting. Utilizing drop-on-demand UV inkjet technology, it features four colors plus white.
HP’s flagship digital label press, the HP Indigo WS6600, launched in 2009 and the company’s portfolio of products has continued to evolve. At Labelexpo 2013, the company announced silver ink, white ink for shrink sleeve production, and an enhancement package for the series. Of note, is the new HP SmartStream Labels and Packaging Workflow Suite, version 4.0, which is powered by Esko. The suite offers simplified color management as well as new imposition and variable data tools.
iSys Label promotes its APEX 1290 digital label printer for short- to mid-run production. It prints at speeds up to 9.15 meters per minute onto die cut, kiss cut, or roll substrates. Media print widths range from three to 12.9 inches. iSys notes versatility as a key component of its label presses, from substrate versatility to width versatility—printing everything from water bottle labels to vinyl bumper stickers or point of sale tickets.
OKI Data Americas provides the proColor pro511DW digital color web press, which is an efficient, short-run label printer. The device outputs at up to 36 pages per minute in color and features a standard paper capacity of 530 sheets. At press time, the company was preparing to introduce a new narrow format web printer.
Screen USA announced the commercial launch of its new four-color digital label press, the Truepress Jet L350UV, in October 2013. It utilizes Screen’s proprietary high-definition UV inks, including an opaque white that enables printing on transparent film and metallic foil. The device features the ability to connect lamination and die cutting inline.
Valloy targets the middle-level market of label printers with its Anytron series of devices. ANY001 supports pre-cut media and features a 0.2 to 0.3 millimeter variance of registration when printing on pre-cut labels. This allows the device to work with end users preferring pre-cut or those utilizing continuous media rolls and finishing post process with rotary die cutters.
Xeikon’s biggest announcement in the label space is the introduction of its ICE toner for its flagship series of label presses, the Xeikon 3000 Series. ICE allows users to utilize one toner for all labels, including PE-based media.
Down the Road
An accepted reality, technological innovations will push more print providers to adopt digital. “As run sizes continue to get smaller, the need to adopt a digital technology becomes more pressing,” says Marske.
Vanover believes digital label printing will continually be adopted by printers of all sizes.
Kim agrees, citing that everyone will have their own label printing system in the future. “Small, medium, and large manufacturers and even resellers, retailers, and rebranders will have their own label production system,” he continues.
These digital presses will include finishing add-ons that expand on the possibilities of the physical appearance of a label. Randy Rickert, director, iSys Label, foresees an increased need for add-ons to existing and upcoming technology. “A blend of digital and existing print practices such as spot colors, substrate availability, finishing options, foil stamping, lamination, and UV coating,” he shares.
The hardware and technology are there. Print providers and brand owners understand the benefits. The future of digital labels depends on presses becoming faster while simultaneously producing high-quality output. This is necessary to keep pace with the trend of shorter, more personalized product runs. dps
Mar2014, DPS Magazine