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Width Wonders

Narrow and Wide Short-Run Digital Labels


By Melissa Donovan


Width, print speed, and application type play a large part in deciding whether a print service provider (PSP) should purchase a certain printer. When in reference to short-run digital labels and decals, narrow and wide format printers are both options. Many factors determine the best fit.


“The fundamental consideration should be label size and throughput. The business needs to ask, what is going to be the most common label size and determine the most efficient imposition,” explains Christopher Howard, SVP, sales and marketing, Durst Image Technology US LLC.


“PSPs should calculate capital acquisition costs, breakeven points, production time, staffing requirements, and all other variables that contribute to the total cost of ownership. A potential customer should also consider the substrate versatility, format size, and turnaround time that will deliver the biggest competitive advantage. It’s a question of investment against risk and return,” advises David Murphy, director of marketing, Americas, Hewlett-Packard (HP) Graphic Solutions Business.


Short-run labels are ideal for wide format devices already implemented in shops. Whereas traditional analog printers with production levels of label orders find great success with narrow format digital printers. There are a number of fundamentals that trigger whether a business should add short-run digital labels and then whether it should be a narrow or wide format device that does the job. Of note, demand, finances, label size, and a shop’s background.


Product Offerings

In the digital space, a number of manufacturers offer both narrow and wide format printers used for short-run label and decal printing.


EFI Wide Format UV printers are a fit for the printing of short-run labels and decals. The EFI H650, H652, and T1000 are ideal for label applications such as name plates, placards, and content or warning labels. All three devices offer four-color printing plus white to provide even more versatility. The EFI H650 and H652 offer printing widths up to 65 inches, whereas the EFI T1000 provides an image area of 52x98 inches.


The Epson SurePress L-4033AW prints 3.15- to 13-inch labels. A seven-color inkjet digital label press, it also includes white ink for the ability to print on clear or metallic substrates. The SurePress AQ ink set offers green and orange ink for higher color saturation and true-to-life shades. No chemicals or plates are utilized in the prepress process, allowing for quick printing at up to 16 feet per minute (fpm).


Durst offers the Tau 330, which is a digital UV inkjet label press that covers widths from 6.5 to 13 inches. It runs at a maximum speed of up to 157 fpm. According to the company, the device features size flexibility in addition to high productivity for smaller label-size jobs.


Gerber Scientific Products (GSP) provides the Gerber EDGE FX digital printing system, which utilizes heat and pressure to infuse outdoor durable resin pigments to media. With a printing width of 11.8 inches it is ideal for short-run graphics. The system features over 40 EDGE READY spot colors, and when paired with the SpectraTone Color Matching System it creates thousands of colors.


HP offers narrow production web presses under its Indigo portfolio. In particular is the HP Indigo WS6600 Digital Press with a maximum image size of 12.48x38.58 inches and the HP Indigo WS4600 Digital Press with a maximum image size of 12.2x17.7 inches. Both utilize HP Indigo ElectroInk technology and two output modes—four color and the new Enhanced Productivity Mode. In Enhanced Productivity Mode, the presses run at 131 fpm and 70 fpm, respectively.


HP also provides wide format printers that are a fit for the short-run label and decal market. Both the HP Designjet L26500 and L28500 latex printers, 61 and 104 inches, respectively, utilize latex ink. This product offers 300 percent elongation, which makes it ideal for non-flat label and decal shapes. In addition, the ink is rated to last up to three years unlaminated and five years laminated.


INX International Ink Co. features the NW140 digital narrow web printer. Print and laser die cutting occurs in one device. It prints labels at up to 5.5 inches in width with precoat, white, CMYK, and clear overcoat options. The laser die cutting technology from Spartanics includes an integrated X140 Laser Cutting Station.


Mimaki USA, Inc.’s CJV30 Series of wide format printers are ideal for label printing. The devices are available in four widths—24, 40, 54, and 64 inches. In addition, the series is an integrated print/cut system that contour cuts custom shapes.


Mutoh America, Inc. suggests the use of its wide format ValueJet 1324 – 54" printer. An eco-solvent device, when complemented with the Kona cutter line, it provides a small footprint and easy to use print-and-cut solution. The ValueJet 1324 prints at speeds of up to 565 square feet per hour due to Mutoh’s patented Intelligent Interweaving print technology.


Roland DGA Corporation offers the VersaUV LEC series. With CMYK, white, and clear ink a multitude of high-end finishing features are available. The company’s VersaCAMM VS series of 30-, 54-, and 64-inch printers and SOLJET printer/cutters are also ideal for label applications. For users looking for an affordable entry into the label market, the 20-inch VersaStudio BN-20 is priced at $8,495 and fits right on the desktop.


Narrow Indeed

Narrow format is suited for a number of businesses. In particular, commercial printers looking to offset their analog presses with efficient devices that can handle short runs or prototypes are one such group.


Holly A. Matthews, marketing communications manager, GSP, cites print providers servicing industries such as industrial, aviation, government, property management, and retail markets as a fit.


“The type of print shop that would consider a narrow format label printer is one looking for quality and color in labels, possibly for food and wine. Label converters, large scale product manufacturers, and commercial printers taking the first steps or expanding digital printing capacity,” agrees Mark Elsbernd, North America region sales manager, Epson.


Shops looking to dabble in specialty niches are also a fit, for example unique label applications including safety labels and blister pack printing.


“We usually see dedicated narrow format label printers in highly specialized businesses that focus on the labeling market. They fit into an automated workflow for a single application, and provide some productivity advantages for that one type of output,” explains Hiroshi Ono, group product manager, Roland.


Any print business looking to supplement offerings with additional revenue could consider a narrow format device. “A small- to medium-sized business geared for quick turnaround and short production runs, or one that is familiar with digital printing,” recommends Angelo Possemato, national account director, INX International.


Wide Side

A wide format printer is a costly decision as well. Many manufacturers advise that adding a wide format printer for label printing is generally done when other applications can also be output off of the device. Generally, print shops familiar with wide format would add a wide format device for label printing.


“These would be excellent choices for the PSP with a relatively low label volume but with a broader diversity of other large format applications,” adheres Murphy.


Michelle Johnson, marketing, Mutoh, agrees, citing commercial print shops as benefiting from a wide format label print and cut solution the most. By adding the equipment, not only would they instantly add labels to offerings, but expand the offered applications.


Wide format shops specializing in short runs or those that require a lot of prototypes, samples, and proofs are another option, according to Fran Gardino, business development manager, Mimaki.


Ono also is quick to point out that while we think of wide format in terms of media width—meaning in regards to labels, a printer could print more smaller sized labels at one time—providing a cost-effective solution depending on the job. The width of the printer also means there are more printheads/ink channels. With this versatility comes the ability to add specialty ink.


High-Speed Production

In business since 1985, Diversified Labeling Solutions, Inc. (DLS) is one of the largest independently owned pressure-sensitive label printing and converting companies in the U.S. The company is headquartered in Itasca, IL with additional locations in GA, NV, and TX. DLS sells exclusively through print brokers, distributors, and value-added resellers. 164 employees call the company home with 106 working at the IL location in a 142,000 square foot space.


For the past ten years, DLS has offered both inline and offline digital printing. Three years ago it added full-color desktop digital printing with aqueous inkjet and laser devices. Summer 2012 it implemented its newest technology, an INX International NW140 5.5-inch high-speed UV inkjet narrow web digital press.


“We determined there was a need within our client base for short-run, high-color labels, especially with version changes. We also saw a need for labels with unique die shapes that would be cost prohibitive to produce if we used standard rotary dies,” explains Jim Kersten, CEO, DLS.


Kersten and his executive team initially saw the NW140 at a trade show and began discussions. INX International was looking for a beta site and the IL location was an ideal fit due to DLS’ skill set and proximity to INX International’s corporate location.


Many of the qualities of the narrow format printer attracted DLS to volunteer as a beta site. For example, the unique combination of high-speed inkjet printing and an inline laser die cutter stood out first and foremost. In addition, the durability of the UV ink, the flexibility of the device for printing on a variety of label stocks, the output quality, compact footprint, and strength of the INX International brand were important factors.


DLS’ flexographic printers range from seven to 18 inches and in the pressure-sensitive label world, narrow is the norm. The company wished to stay true to that mentality, thus eliminating wide format.


The transition from a flexographic print environment to a digital one did present challenges when implementing the NW140. These included, according to Kersten, learning new front end processing of graphic files, press start up and shut down procedures, color management processes, printhead cleaning and maintenance, paper and film constraints, and laser die cutting configuration setups.


DLS has yet to enact full production mode with the digital press. Two components—the white ink and UV varnish—have not been fully utilized but will be in the future. The white ink is ideal as a background for the company’s clear film production and the UV varnish provides a consistent gloss finish for decorative labels.


With the initial function of augmenting DLS’ current flexographic business with digital production in order to serve customers more completely, the NW140 is well on its way. Long term, Kersten foresees digital production replacing flexography in certain applications and its new digital press is the first in a fleet that will eventually be placed on all of the company’s shop floors.


“On the printing side, digital allows us to produce short to medium runs, versions, high-color work, and durable labels economically and efficiently. When you add the built-in laser die cutter to the production process, the economics and efficiencies grow even stronger. We have the ability to manufacture different labels with unique shapes on the fly without stopping production for die changes,” concludes Kersten.


Historical Data

There is a growing opportunity for digital label printing. Those PSPs looking to add such a service to their shop can do so with a number of alternatives—both narrow and wide format provide what is needed.


Technology advancements offer high-quality digital printing that translates to long-lasting, eye-pleasing labels. Options provide specialty inks and coatings that differentiate a print provider from the competition. It comes down to cost, label size, and company background when deciding between a narrow and wide format device.


Click here to view the Digital Label Printing Target Chart - an all-inclusive information resource!


Oct2012, Digital Output

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