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Business Opportunities

Label Print Technology

Adding label production into your existing offering could be easier than you thought, with new developments in machinery making kit more affordable and efficient. Jo Golding finds out more about label technology

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Epson has a range of machines for label production at both ends of the price spectrum

Put your own stamp on it

Labels are not only essential in giving consumers messages about products, they also play a big part in whether or not a product will be bought. For example, a high quality label with interesting colours and designs, is much more likely to attract consumers than a label that has been produced without any thought.

This is where commercial printers come in because with the right kit, they can produce high quality labels that will keep the orders coming in, keeping the company competitive in the industry. So, without further ado, here are some top tips from the experts.

For Phil McMullin, sales manager at Epson UK, the most important aspect of a label is its quality. He says: “At Epson we have developed and evolved a unique combination of printer chassis, ink formulations, and print heads which work together to produce high quality results for the converter. We know that quality sells and that is what we offer converters who can be sure that our printers produce the results that the end user will be proud to use.

“A cost-effective printer that can produce high quality work to short deadlines is important but producers must also supply labels that comply with industry regulations. We are also seeing a demand for greater transparency of information and this, together with the need to display safety data, is helping to fuel demand for labels. It is a market that continues to enjoy strong growth.”

Epson’s Surepress L-4533 has increased image quality at four- and six-pass, and improved text and edge sharpness

McMullin goes on to explain the machinery available: “Epson offers both aqueous and UV inkjet label presses with the Surepress L-4533 and the Surepress L-6034 respectively. Both presses are reel to reel, printing onto uncoated self-adhesive labels substrates and both offer a white option for printing onto films or silver substrates.

“The Surepress L-4533, the aqueous solution, uses black, uncoated black, cyan, magenta, yellow, orange, and green as standard and achieves a very wide colour gamut. This latest model has increased image quality at 4- and 6-pass, improved text and edge sharpness and high colour reproduction, and its accessibility means maintenance is very easy.

“The UV Surepress L-6034 can achieve vibrant colour, smooth gradations, and ultra-fine text, lines, and images with a 600 x 600dpi resolution. This process results in work that has a glossy look and a textured feel if required.

It operates with a standard four-colour set but with the white option as well as a digital varnish capability for spot matte or spot gloss finishes.”

Epson’s UV Surepress L-6034 can achieve vibrant colour and ultra-fine text, lines, and images with a 600 x 600dpi resolution

McMullin says that those wanting to explore the label sector at a low cost should look at the Colorworks C7500G, which could offer a sub £10,000 option. He continues: “This is an inkjet, 300mm/second and 600 x 1200dpi CMYK quality printer. Sold with an optional colour matching tool or RIP specifically tailored to labels production, it allows the operator to control the colour on the C7500G, which is critical to protecting the customer’s brand and matching the output from other devices.”

When discussing the ease for commercial printers to add label production to their existing offering, McMullin is certain new developments have made things more affordable these days. “Recent innovations and the development of digital inkjet technology for label production has made entry into the market much more affordable.

Recent innovations and the development of digital inkjet technology for label production has made entry into the market much more affordable

“This is a buoyant market and one where there is a rapid migration from conventional to digital technology driven by increasing demand for shorter print runs. That said, in-house tabletop label production is also taking off so a printer must offer added value differentiation in terms of quality and/or special effects. Epson bridges the converter-end user markets with its Surepress and Colorworks technology so is well placed to provide informed advice.”

Fit for purpose

Heidelberg UK’s labels product specialist, John Hopkins, says “a label must be ‘fit for purpose’ and that purpose might vary widely”. He continues: “Some will be to sell a product or brand so colour, quality, and an eye-catching design will be all important. Others might be just to provide information so these need to be legible and accurate. Some might need to be used in challenging conditions and here the abrasion-resistance will be important.

The Gallus (part of Heidelberg UK) Labelmaster narrow web technology is available in basic, plus, and advanced, depending on the automation required

“There is a groundswell in favour of environmentally practical solutions, too, and this can influence the choice of substrate or inks and their recycling capabilities. And, of course, every buyer would say cost matters to them.”

Hopkins continues to tell me about the machinery Heidelberg offers: “A label printing machine must be robust, reliable, productive, and profitable. Latest technology from Gallus, part of Heidelberg UK, is the Labelmaster for conventional printing options and the Labelfire for those seeing a robust digital inkjet option.

The Gallus Labelmaster 440 was launched last year and this year a 340mm width model (pictured) will be added

“The Labelmaster narrow web technology is available in basic, plus, and advanced versions, depending on the level of automation required and the capital cost budget. The Labelmaster 440 was launched last year and this year a 340mm width model will be added. On both the HMI touch panel is a feature, providing quick and easy set up. The Labelmaster range has top rate registration and its direct servo driven and bearerless printing cylinders ensure consistent and repeatable quality.

“Labelfire, which feature Fuji Samba inkjet print heads, has the flexibility of having Gallus ECS flexo units available in-line with the eight-colour inkjet digital press. Flexo units are ideal for non-format applications such as primers, varnishes, and special effects. The Labelfire features the Prinect DFE and has an ‘all-in-one-pass’ capability with semi-rotary die-cutting.”

On the Labelmaster 440 and 340 there is an HMI touch panel, providing quick and easy set up

Hopkins believes having a dedicated label press is the way forward. He concludes: “Most commercial printers will be expected to supply labels as part of the product mix; some will produce them on existing equipment and others will put the work out to a trade supplier. Having a dedicated label press can provide a valuable foothold in a market that is being fuelled by the increasing amount of statutory information that products must carry.

Having a dedicated label press can provide a valuable foothold in a market that is being fuelled by the increasing amount of statutory information that products must carry

“But a printer must know what market he wants to address before he can determine what investment to make. This could come down to whether he wants to produce standard or added value, whether he wants to handle short or long runs (or even offer personalisation), what substrates he will be required to run or what lead times customers will expect. There is equipment available for those entering or expanding in the labels market, but good research and good advice is needed to ensure the choice is right.

Learn from example

Veering away from the main focus of this feature for a minute, I think it is important to see how a company is faring in the label sector, as before jumping into something new we are often comforted by speaking to those who have gone before us.

Hamilton Adhesive Labels has been operating for 25 years and operations director, Paul Larkin, says production has changed significantly over this time. “Our capabilities as a business have advanced from high quality but relatively simple plain and printed labels on gearbox driven machines, through to today when we have multicolour fully-servo combination presses capable of producing highly-advanced labels to meet the needs of any business.

O Factoid: On June 19th 2013, The Department of  Health revealed new food labels that outlined a traffic light (red, amber, green) colour-coding scheme of energy, salt, sugar, and fat to help shoppers make healthier choices (Packaging News).  O

“In addition, Hamilton has experienced an increased focus on environmentally friendly processes and products. In response, the company puts sustainability and waste reduction at the forefront of its business activity with far-reaching eco-initiatives.”

The company uses MPS EF machines to produce labels for the food, beverage, personal care, and healthcare markets in Leicestershire. To optimise performance, it uses a fully automated process.

Larkin adds: “Hamilton Adhesive Labels was founded in 1992 with a clear aim—to supply high-quality labels, on time, and at a competitive price. This may sound like a simple goal, but to achieve all three it’s important to be crystal clear on what a good label needs to be. Quality is, of course, a huge consideration, as is repeatability; our customers need to know that they can rely on us to deliver quality labels every time.

“In today’s highly crowded retail marketplace, labels need to communicate a huge amount to help a product stand out. As a label converter we therefore need to create eye-catching labels by offering premiumisation and using advanced technologies to enhance a product’s shelf-appeal. We use our years of experience to create distinctive labels that achieve this, using techniques such as hot and cold foiling, metallic inks, and tactile finishes to name but a few.

“It is also important to us that we use ethically-sourced, environmentally conscious materials, particularly as consumers become more and more conscious of the sustainability impact of the products they purchase.”

Make it perfect

Simon Mitchell, joint managing director of IST (UK), says the most important aspects that a label should be are eye-catching, legible, sustainable, and resilient. He notes that UV drying in its various forms can help printers achieve this.

Mitchell explains how IST can help in this area: “IST (UK) does not supply label machines but provides both OEM and retrofit UV systems for users of label technology across a range of technologies (flexo, letterpress, litho, digital etc.).

Simon Mitchell of IST (UK) says UV drying can help printers produce resilient and sustainable labels

“Many printers have embraced UV (be that conventional, LED-UV, or LE-UV) because it provides print that is dry at the end of the press so that jobs can be immediately processed or packed. It sets ink by polymerisation and that gives work an aesthetic lift, a high gloss, and makes it abrasion resistant.”

Mitchell continues: “Labels cover a huge range of options—wet label, self-adhesive etc. They are produced on a wide range of presses using different technology so there are a range of entry points and expansion points. IST can offer users the option of the retrofit which is quick and easy and an inexpensive way to trial a UV option and that could open up opportunities to produce eye-catching labels on a wide range of substrates, including uncoated stocks.”

Reaching our feature’s conclusion, Xeikon makes the point that no one label is the same and they require different digital technology. Filip Weymans, vice president marketing at Xeikon, says: “Wine and spirits labels are among the most challenging for any label converter. They require printing technology that can deliver finely printed high-quality labels on a wide range of substrates with different embellishments. For pharmaceutical labels including drug and medical labels, the issue of counterfeiting is a key consideration. To protect brands, label converters must invest in additional measures, such as micro text and raised images.

“For beverage labels dry toner substrates choice is an important factor with paper or BoPP facestock the most popular substrates. Also, for premium beverage labels (clear on clear labels), a sufficient level of white opacity is required. Cosmetics, fragrances, and make-up labels are mainly produced with synthetic substrates (white or clear, BoPP or PE) and the labels must be resistant to humidity and contain sufficient levels of white opacity for the clear labels and look stunning on the shelf.”

Weymans continues: “The Xeikon CX3 is our top of the line choice for dry toner printing. It outperforms all digital label presses in its class with its top speed of 30m/min at 1200dpi. It allows the use of substrate widths up to 330mm and has all the benefits of digital printing presses. Combining high performance and fast turnaround times, it offers full rotary printing, a print resolution of 1200dpi, toners that meet FDA regulations for food contact, and one pass opaque white toner.

“The Xeikon PX3000 combines our trademark quality, versatility, and speed with the possibilities of inkjet. With a web width of 330mm and a speed of up to 50m/min it features full rotary printing with variable repeat, consistent 600dpi at 2 bit printing quality and the ability to print on common self-adhesive substrates including coated paper, PP, PE, vinyl, BoPP, and PET.

“The Xeikon Panther Series presses run on patented PantherCure UV inks which use a combination of LED and mercury UV lights for curing—a concept, unique to Xeikon UV inkjet presses, that offers several benefits such as more consistent curing over time, lower energy consumption, a longer lifetime of the curing source and limited heat exposure to the substrate which makes it possible to print even on heat-sensitive substrates.”

Weymans leaves us with some wise words to take forward if you are a commercial printer looking to add digital label production to your service offering: “They need to consider which market they are looking to serve before choosing their press manufacturing partner. Their partner needs to be able to help and guide them beyond printing labels. They should also review workflow and converting (diecutting) options to ensure a streamlined end to end process. This will help develop a realistic sustainable plan and identify a clear path to growth.”


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