by DPS Magazine
Labels are an exciting segment of print. They are essential for communicating important information as well as generating attention. As digital print technologies continue to improve, the opportunity in labels also expands.
Located in San Diego, CA, Label King specializes in flexographic and digital printing, as well as direct thermal, thermal transfer, and barcode label printing technologies. Established in 2002 with one machine in a small suite, the business has transformed into a well-run label manufacturer with a 9,300 square foot facility.
The company prides itself in being an extension of its customers’ businesses. “There are a lot of people who can make labels. But we want to give customers an excellent experience, giving them what they want, when they want it, how they want it, and ultimately helping to make their product even better so they sell more—it’s a win-win,” shares Robert Parker, owner/president, Label King.
Parker began his career selling packaging and after about ten years he realized he needed to pivot in order to change his life trajectory. He saw an opportunity in labels after recognizing the application’s popularity and room for improvement. After doing his due diligence researching existing label operations and taking classes on running a label press, the stars aligned when he was ready to make his move.
Parker’s three top requirements for opening a label business included a press to run labels, cutting dies, and a skilled operator. He soon found cutting dies; an existing label business looking to sell its assets—including a Webtron 650 label press and a small book of business; as well as a press operator willing to work under new management.
The rest is history and today the label business is thriving with 23 employees offering a mix of flexographic and digitally printed labels.
Expanding into Digital
Keeping a watchful eye on industry trends, Label King realized the growing importance of digital print capabilities and determined that it was important to expand and modernize the business. It was a strategic decision that it wanted to do right, which meant investing in not only a press, but in the space and talent as well.
Parker had his sights set on incorporating digital label printing technology for several years. He admits the process took a long time to come to fruition, but this was by choice. “I had constraints, like how to do it and where to do it.”
Prior to its digital expansion, the Label King shop floor was 8,300 feet, which housed a lot of equipment and processed a lot of orders, day in and day out. “We were running three shifts and using the space,” he offers. To Parker, it didn’t make sense to disrupt the operation with a move.
Eventually the Label King decided to do a bump out in its existing space adding an 1,000-foot climate-controlled space to house a new digital operation.
After the space situation was sorted, it needed to get a proper workflow in place. “Talking to people in the industry we quickly figured out that being prepared was the most important step. You can have the best machine, but you need to feed it, and digital prepress is different than the flexographic processes we were used to.”
Parker hired Turi Fiske in August of 2020 as a digital production and marketing manager and started a search for the machine that would kickstart the digital phase of Label King.
“Fiske came in knowing what she was doing. She established the front end for us. She took the bull by the horns and ran with it. It’s all about people doing the right things,” states Parker.
Before installing a Domino N610i in early 2022, the company vetted multiple press options.
Parker explains that Label King needed a press it could easily transition flexographic work to. The print provider wanted some speed, gamut, reliability, and support. “Anyone can be great before you get the press. What happens after you get the press?” he asks.
The first step of its search was obtaining print samples. Parker and Fiske estimate they sent about 15 files out to a short list of six or seven digital label press manufacturers. When they received the prints back, they wrote the name of the press on the back of the sample and did a blind test, ranking them all by color accuracy, print quality of text, and overall image sharpness. This got them to the top three options.
The label provider then took the time to visit each of those manufacturing sites for in-person demonstrations on a multitude of jobs using various substrates on demand, without advance preparation.
Parker and Fiske agree that Domino made it easy; there was no hesitation from the demonstration room regarding the samples or materials. The vendor hit the colors perfectly the first time and the staff showed great teamwork and camaraderie.
The Domino N610i is a digital UV inkjet label press, capable of running up to 246 feet per minute at 600 dpi. This N-Series printer is able to produce over 90 percent of the Pantone color range and features the brightest whites with an opacity over 70 percent ensuring the finest printing depth. It is also capable of rendering small print type, 2D codes, and image detail on several different types of substrates.
Return on Investment
The Domino N610i digital UV inkjet label press was installed and started running in May of 2022.
“We started at zero and began ramping up. By our fourth month of production, our revenue from that press was over $100,000. Having the Domino enables us to increase capacity, keep existing business that we would have otherwise lost, as well as gain new business,” comments Parker.
He offers one example of a brand owner in the food sector that wanted to run a large number of SKUs that wouldn’t be appropriate for flexographic. It was, however, a great candidate for digital. They needed 16 labels for a big presentation for a major retailer.
Label King received the art on a Monday, produced the labels in the same day on the Domino, and in the client’s hands for a presentation the next day. “We would not have been able to do this test run on our flexographic press. From what started with 16 labels, the potential is millions,” adds Parker.
Aside from opening the doors for new and existing customers, the efficiency in production is unparalleled. Fiske recalls multiple instances where the team will get an order and get it out the same day. “Once the file is ready, we can get a rerun order printed within 15 minutes as long as the right materials are ready to go.”
Digital printing also provides flexibility, especially in terms of color gamut. “We do a lot of spot colors on flexographic and the Domino allows us to hit a huge amount of these colors. The ink is vibrant, which is an important feature. Labels have to stand out on a shelf and having that vibrancy is definitely helpful,” comments Fiske.
An additional benefit Label King realized with digital is reduced waste, which is essential from a cost and environmental standpoint.
Compared with its flexographic jobs; Fiske says there is no question less material is used with digital. One example, prior to digital a shop rule was if there was 500 feet or less of material remaining on a roll, it would generally be discarded because a flexographic job wouldn’t print to it. Now, a 300-foot job is printed with what would-be-thrown-out material. “We have a pile of those small rolls so now we are able to maximize our material usage. It not only saves material, but it also saves time.”
Label King now offers its established customers a digital option for work that makes sense. While the move to digital took Parker a little longer than he would have liked, the investment was done right the first time. Today the company gets more done with fewer people and shifts. The company is also able to meet customer demands for shorter run work while simultaneously reducing waste and maintaining its reputation for excellent customer service.
Sep2023, DPS Magazine