There are many advantages to owning a digital wide format printer. Depending on ink type, width configuration, and production needs, solutions are available to produce everything from point of purchase (POP) signage to building wraps. However, print service providers (PSPs) that think outside of the box are able to take advantage of additional opportunities, including short-run label production.
Traditionally, labels are created using flexographic (flexo) web and traditional sheetfed offset presses. The demand for shorter runs and the acceptance of digital printing has resulted in the availability of electrophotographic presses designed for high-quality, digital label production including several models of Hewlett-Packard’s Indigo line as well as solutions from Xeikon North America. Additionally, companies such as Durst Image Technology US LLC, EFI, Epson, and INX Digital International Co. offer printers designed specifically for digital label production.
Wide format inkjet printer owners are also able to take advantage of the short run label opportunity. Enhanced capabilities, such as a print-and-cut model, or the ability to run white or metallic ink brings additional advantages to the table.
Benefits of Digital Label Production
As previously noted, the flexo process is widely used for the production of labels. The accessibility of digital platforms cuts into some of the traditional business, but also provides entirely new opportunities for start ups and test marketing for bigger brands. A benchmark of approximately 10,000 to 15,000 feet—depending on the job—is typically set to determine where digital becomes more cost effective over traditional methods.
Print quality is not usually a determining factor; the tipping point is based on run length and print capability. The setup time and cost of a short-run job is favorable for digital production. While flexo presses cost effectively create high-quality labels for longer runs, each color requires a separate plate. At approximately $100 each, plating costs add up quickly for lower priced, on demand projects. Additionally, the makeready cost and wasted materials are much higher for traditional processes. Also, the price associated with tooling limits creativity on the finishing end of traditional label production.
Digital printing does fill a void when shorter runs are not profitable for flexo, offset, or gravure processes. Digital offers many pros including shorter turnaround time, consistent colors, quicker low-volume printing, more color options, and variable data printing. “Traditional printing still has a few positives, including high-volume cost effectiveness, media flexibility, and a better Pantone color match,” says Aftab Aftab, narrow web platform manger, digital division, INX International.
The print on demand model allowed by digital is attractive to many. Randy Parr, display graphics marketing manager, and Jerry Manzi, packaging solutions specialist, Océ North America, see a steady increase in digital label production over the past few years due to the demand for this short-run, on demand production model. Increased demand is credited to quality advancements in digital label and wide format print products.
Parr and Manzi offer the example of metal can suppliers that now ship about 40 percent more of their products as blank cans to a fulfillment center where labels are applied as cans are filled, rather than being preprinted then filled. This is a beneficial process as the food packaging market turns to targeted marketing. “For example, regional product offers can require specific packaging for individual cities, educational institutions, and age demographics,” note Parr and Manzi. “This provides tremendous opportunities for the digital print provider to prosper in this short-run area.”
Océ offers the Arizona series of UV flatbed printers, providing PSPs with a versatile, digital platform that can produce labels from flat sheets as well as roll material. With the Arizona, PSPs also offer clients associated packaging and POP materials.
Changing the Landscape
Label providers that incorporate digital into their production environments stand to benefit from the ability to court new clients and better serve the developing needs of current customers. On the flip side, PSPs that already operate digital wide format services are able to add label services with a minimal investment in education and supplies. The ability to offer variability and intricate shapes is unique to the digital label production process. Wide format inkjet print/cut models often bundle RIP software, which is designed to handle a range of complex graphics. This multi-task capability is important for providing low cost, short-run labels.
“Companies that already have digital equipment can be up and running efficiently in a matter of days,” says Hiroshi Ono, senior product manager, Roland DGA Corporation. He adds that many current customers are likely already looking for reasonably priced labels in smaller quantities. Roland offers several roll-to-roll inkjet printers that combine digital die cutting with precision printing, including the VersaUV LEC series of printer/cutters, the VersaCAMM eco-solvent printer/cutters, and the high-performance SOLJET PRO III XC-540 eco-solvent printer/cutters.
Mimaki USA, Inc. offers is CJV30 series, an integrated print/cut system available in four sizes; 24, 40, 54, and 64 inches. These devices are ideal for the creation of label applications, such as wine bottle and packaging labels. “Digitally printed labels are produced at much larger line screens than the traditional flexographic label printing process,” explains Steve Urmano, director of marketing, Mimaki. He notes that this equates to a significant difference in the label’s detail, color, and clarity. The CJV30 series offers 1,400 dpi variable dot technology and simultaneously prints and contour cuts custom shapes.
There is a definite finishing advantage to the digital label production process. Traditional label printing offers advantages for stock shapes and large quantities, but digital printing and contour cut shapes are only limited by printer width. Very small runs are made without extensive set up and preparation costs.
“A variety of shapes and sizes are printed, contour cut, and cut through in one sheet without the need for custom die cutting. Most RIPs support variable data functions as well, making it easy for custom labels,” says Randy Anderson, product marketing manager, Mutoh America, Inc. In addition to its wide format inkjet printers, Mutoh offers its Kona cutter and CutServer software, which measures and realigns workflow automatically approximately every 12 inches, allowing for virtually unlimited lengths of labels and sets.
The ability to produce a range of applications on one device is especially popular in the world of wide format print. In terms of the advantages of digital, variability and the ability to offer cost-effective, short-run jobs stand out. The benefits of digital label creation on wide format devices opens up yet another door for PSPs looking to move into new territory and offer new services.