The need for cost-effective short-run print is evident in the label market. The benefits of on demand production are ideal for start-up organizations and applications that require versioning and market testing. As the advantages afforded by digital catch on, the potential is limitless.
In addition to traditional converters adding digital capabilities, existing print service providers (PSPs) can take a piece of the pie by offering label products. Depending on the configuration, those with wide format print-and-cut capabilities are in a good position to add on label services. Additionally, many dedicated units are available for those ready to make the investment.
Utilizing the right hardware is one part of the equation. However, selecting the most appropriate media and having the knowledge to advise customers is essential to success.
Wide format print-to-cut or print-and-cut models are well suited for label production. A variety of manufacturers offer print-and-cut solutions, including Graphics One, LLC, Mimaki USA, Inc., Roland DGA Corporation, and Summa. Standalone wide format printers create labels with the help of an automated finisher, including options from companies such as GCC, Gerber Scientific Products, Inc., and Summa.
Primary print-and-cut models offered by Mimaki include the CJV30 Series printers. “The print-and-cut solutions come in four models, each representing a particular width size from 24 to 34 inches,” says Paul McGovern, marketing and promotions manager, Mimaki.
The company also offers two software programs with the CJV30 Series, titled FineCut 8, geared towards the experienced user, and an easy-to-use package called Simple Studio.
From the hardware perspective, several factors come into play when selecting media for label printing on a wide format device. McGovern explains that roll feed cores must be three inches and manufactured in roll label sizes that can be managed by the cutting mechanisms.
“Some roll label sources are made and cut specifically for single-pass digital printers and not scanning head movements found in most wide format inkjet printers. Toner-based label printers may have different receptor coatings. You may not be able to use this toner media for inkjet printing.” advises McGovern. “Some labels used in industrial applications have to be post laminated for extended life in outdoor conditions or harsh environments,” he adds.
“We print-and-cut most of the industry standard medias with adhesive backing from various major vinyl and polyester materials and other types of non-porous label stocks available in wide format sizes,” adds McGovern.
Mimaki recommends media with a solvent/eco-solvent base layer coating that its inks can adhere to. Some manufacturers include 3M Commercial Graphics, Arlon Graphics, LLC, Avery Dennison Graphics Solutions, and Orafol Americas. “Sometimes the media chosen has a lot to do with the adhesives used for specific applications in which adhesion is very important,” suggests McGovern.
He adds that Mimaki’s printers print on most industrial label stocks that meet regulatory requirements for certain materials. “We can also use UV cure label stocks with other wide format printers offered by Mimaki if necessary. In this case, we sell separate cutting plotters—including roll-to-roll FX and CG Series cutters—that will cut out the labels after printing with a UV or solvent printer,” he adds.
Roland provides a variety of UV LED and metallic eco-solvent printer/cutters that are well suited for label production. Ranging from 20 to 64 inches in width, these devices feature integrated print/cut technology that prints and contour cuts designs into almost any shape with one device.
Roland printer/cutters come with specialty ink options, including white, clear, and metallic sliver; VersaWorks RIP software; and automated maintenance features that minimize production time and costs.
The company does not offer any certification program for outside media suppliers, but it does provide its own line of media products that are tested and profiled for use with its printers. Roland media is available through authorized Roland dealers or online.
“The beauty of our VersaUV LED printers is that you can print on virtually any media, including those used for the production of labels within a commercial printing environment,” notes Hiroshi Ono, product manager, Roland DGA. “UV inks adhere to a range of substrates, including paper, BOPP, PET, PP, and foils. Roland eco-solvent printers print directly on PVC substrates for labeling applications. Other substrates, such as paper and PET, must be coated to be receptive to eco-solvent inks,” he explains.
Ono points out that integrated print-to-cut devices streamline label production and allow print providers to create labels in any shape. “Most of the label media available today is too narrow to be used directly on a wide format printer, so providers should work with converters to obtain products in sizes that fit their devices,” he says.
PSPs should also be aware that many label users require roll widths that fit automated label applicators. “Typically four-, six-, and eight-inch rolls are preferred. This means that print providers may be required to invest in slitters and weeding systems to remove excess material,” adds Ono.
Narrow Format Options
In addition to wide format print-and-cut or print-to-cut solutions for label production, dedicated, narrow-web label devices provide another option.
For instance, EFI sells Jetrion UV inkjet digital presses for label converting. The company provides a complete eco-system of end-to-end offerings, including EFI Fiery digital front end and RIP products for its presses. Additionally, it offers the Radius enterprise resource planning system, which is designed for label and package converting workflows. Jetrion devices run paper, film foil, and tag media.
“Industry professionals have to keep in mind that labels are part of a larger industrial manufacturing process where the label has to be applied to a product,” points out Stephen Emery, VP, Jetrion Industrial Inkjet Systems, EFI. “Every part of the work process—from label application systems that a converter’s customer might use on a packaging fill line, to slitting and die-cutting systems, to printing and even prepress, has to be geared toward the same set of requirements,” he adds.
Emery suggests that customers using the EFI Jetrion presses take printed labels and run them in the same finishing and filling lines with traditional narrow-web flexographic labels. “That level of consistency is important. A Jetrion customer can’t tell his or her customers that digital labels have to be handled differently than the labels they already have,” he adds.
INX International Ink Co. also offers a narrow web label press, the NW140 UV, which features an inline laser die cutter. The device prints at speeds of up to 80 feet per minute on any label stock with a maximum print width of 5.5 inches. The press uses Xaar 1001 drop on demand printhead technology and an UV LED curing system. It contains a standard graphics program to create image files and ONYX Graphics, Inc. ProductionHouse software.
Jim Lambert, VP/GM, digital division, INX, says any top coated media advertised for digital printing is recommended for the NW140 UV. “This would include paper, metalized film, BOPP, and polyester,” he notes. “It requires media profiling. We conduct several tests on specific media, which includes print quality, ink adhesion, and a scratch and rub test,” he adds. All of which aid in pointing customers to the right media.
Xeikon also offers a range of solutions for labels and packaging through its Xeikon 3000 Series of digital color presses. The Xeikon 3000 Series consists of five digital color press models that serve customers from entry-level to high-volume.