Digital label press update

Digital label production should continue to grow as speed, print quality and variable-data capabilities improve.

So how important is digital label production in 2018? Well, the world market for digital packaging and labels should reach $15.3 billion some time this year, according to market research firm Smithers Pira. Its comprehensive study, The Future of Digital Printing for Packaging to 2018, predicted that analogue packaging should grow by 28% during the 2008 to 2018 period. And although the unit price of digital output is currently much higher than the analogue alternative, it’s predicted that there’ll be major reductions in this price in the coming years.

Another huge factor is the variable data capabilities of these digital label presses.  They allow for more versioning and personalization, including barcodes etc. Plus, due to stringent labeling requirements, the use of late-stage customization to print the final details of a package or a label are being used more frequently – a trend led by the pharmaceutical industry. Smithers Pira also reported that electrophotography and inkjet are both improving in quality and speed, and larger systems and presses are becoming available to challenge the dominance of offset, wide-web flexo and gravure.

With this as a backdrop, let’s look at some of the top digital label printers now on the market. Because of limited space, I can’t highlight all of them, but rest assured that these are among some of the best. And please remember that these do not include some of the top packaging and corrugated presses from OEMs such as KBA, HP, Nilpeter and others.

XEIKON

When it comes to digital label presses, the name Xeikon is usually top-of-mind. Why? Well, not only has the Netherlands-based OEM been a leader in this space for so many years, the sheer breadth of its inkjet and dry toner label printing portfolio seems unmatched (Cheetah, Panther, CX3, CX 500, 3000 Series, and more). For example, in October of last year, the company unveiled its entry-level Xeikon PX2000 UV digital inkjet label press, only months after introducing its PX3000 UV digital inkjet label press – further expanding its Panther UV inkjet portfolio. They were rolled out in both 4-colour and 5-colour configurations. All presses within the Panther Series are powered by Xeikon’s Panther technology, use unique PantherCure UV inks, and take advantage of the powerful Xeikon X-800 DFE. The Xeikon PX3000 5-colour became commercially available last month.

“We’re excited to be expanding our UV inkjet line of digital label presses so quickly,” said Filip Weymans, vice president of global marketing at Xeikon. “Our goal is to bring to market the broadest portfolio of digital label presses in the industry. Our offering also includes workflow and finishing, as these are crucial in enabling a fully integrated and seamless production process in the spirit of Industry 4.0.”

The Panther Series (PX3000 and PX2000) run on PantherCure UV inks that use a combination of LED and Mercury UV lights for curing, a concept unique to Xeikon UV inkjet presses that offers several benefits – more consistent curing over time, lower energy consumption, and limited heat exposure to the substrate for better printing on heat-sensitive materials. The inks are also resistant to heat, chemicals, water, scuffing and scratching, making them ideal for pressure-sensitive and self-adhesive labels.

Both presses can be integrated within any label production environment. “We’ve seen that the Xeikon X-800 can save printing operations up to one hour per shift thanks to smart job queuing, job optimizer impositioning, colour management, and other capabilities. Our workflow technology is a true differentiator that allows customers to get the maximum out of their presses,” Weymans added. Xeikon’s Panther Series also features full rotary printing with variable repeat, consistent 600 dpi printing quality, and the ability to print on common self-adhesive substrates including coated paper, PP, PE, vinyl, BoPP and PET.

EFI

Last November, EFI exited the label press market, handing over the support and supply reins for its Jetrion presses to Xeikon. Under the partnership, Xeikon will now service, support and supply the worldwide Jetrion customer base, and continue Jetrion direct sales as part of the Xeikon portfolio. So let’s look at the EFI Jetrion 4900M and Jetrion 4900ML. Both are UV inkjet label presses for those seeking a system that could print and finish labels in one pass. The 4900ML consists of the print engine and a digital laser cutter. As a modular machine, it can be upgraded with laminating, sheeting and varnishing finishing modules. The 4900M consists of just the print engine, but can be upgraded in the same way. They’re aimed primarily at established label printers looking to process short-run and mid-length runs, but also commercial printers looing to add packaging printing. Also available is the 4900M-330, which features a 330 mm print width and an expanded range of applications for more multiples across the web and faster production – or for those entering new markets, such as small-format signage, where the 210 mm width of the 4900 series wasn’t wide enough.

The 5-colour (CMYK plus white) machines are powered by EFI’s Fiery XF front end, and use a Corona station for greater substrate compatibility, a semi-automated turret for quick changeover of finished rolls, and, in the case of the ML, dual-head lasers for efficient cutting without dies. The printers are also very user-friendly and feature press controls located at both ends of the press, so there’s a station for both printing and finishing modules. Maximum speed is 24 metres per minute and 38 metres per minute in draft mode, with a resolution of 1,000 dpi.

KONICA MINOLTA

The first North American installation of Konica Minolta’s bizhub Press C71cf digital label printer was two years ago at Advanced Orthomolecular Research (AOR) in Calgary. AOR is one of Canada’s most advanced natural supplement manufacturers. The company needed to print 50 or 50,000 labels of any type and not have to worry about production costs or timelines. Most of the available solutions were  either niche printing systems that offered no savings over third-party technology, or industrial printing systems that were too expensive. Konica Minolta’s bizhub Press C71cf provided the key middle ground – a much lower cost per label than third-party solutions, plus a total cost of ownership that made in-house production very attractive.

The flexibility of having its own in-house printer saves AOR thousands of hours in lead times. Not only did the printer produce multiple jobs at once, the quality far surpassed any third-party printers AOR used in the past. Plus, the design and colours were bright and vivid, the label production was smoother and more efficient, and the new printer allowed much greater flexibility to try new label designs for different products.

Konica Minolta’s bizhub Press C71cf is specifically designed for narrow-web applications for the commercial printer, in-plant, brand owner, and mid-sized converter. Its outstanding productivity via dry-toner electrophotography, fast printing speeds from 31 ft. per minute to 62 ft. per minute, brilliant image quality and easy handling of personalization and versioning, have been its major selling points. It prints full CMYK colour, supports 1,200 dpi 8-bit gradation, variable data, and has a maximum printing size of 47” x 12.5”. It can easily handle gloss and matte papers as well as synthetic, polypropylene, polyester and BOPP substrates. 

EPSON

Last June, Epson’s SurePress L-4033AW and L-6034VW Digital Label Presses posted record sales worldwide for its fiscal year ending April 30, 2017. Epson America and its global affiliates had over 250 SurePress units installed worldwide. The OEM said that part of the reason was the “extraordinary flexibility and exceptionally accurate colour reproduction, providing prepress and postpress versatility to meet the demand of various labels and package printing needs. Both deliver increased profitability with decreased production time.”

The SurePress L-4033AW, designed for prime label converters and commercial printers, is an easy-to-operate 7-colour digital inkjet label press with white ink that makes high-quality label printing easier and more efficient – even on clear and metallic substrates. The L-4033AW is a cost-effective and reliable solution that allows printers to expand their service offerings and improve profitability, Epson added. The SurePress L-6034VW, Epson’s first single-pass industrial press, was the first to use Epson’s PrecisionCore linehead technology and the first to use Epson’s low-migration LED UV-curable ink. The L-6034VW delivers precise quality and high-speed printing ideal for jobs across all industries—including health and beauty, nutraceuticals and food and beverage—as well as standard consumer packaged goods.

“We wanted to build on the widespread success of the SurePress L-4033 series with a new product to meet the growing label and flexible packaging market demand for shorter runs and faster turnaround times,” said Victor Gomez, group product manager of label products at Epson America. “The L-4533 keeps the water-based resin inks, the expanded colour gamut and the high resolution of its predecessor – and it offers enhanced automation features for greater efficiency and unattended operation.”

The L-4533AW’s advanced automated printing features include up to eight hours of unattended printing, email alerts and minimal manual cleaning. It also includes versatile substrate support and can print on off-the-shelf materials from 3.15” wide up to 13” wide, and as thin as .00314”. The L-4533 also includes processing improvements for variable-data, such as standard paper to thin films, as well as metallic and laminated pouch materials. Its variable-drop size starting at three picolitres, also includes a new larger ink-drop size ideal for the large, solid colour backgrounds found on packaging.

MARK ANDY

The US-based OEM celebrated 70 years in the label and package printing industry in 2016 and its presses continue to reflect this vast experience and technical expertise while providing numerous user benefits. For example, its Digital One Label Press is specifically designed to free-up capacity on high-output flexo presses, and bring greater efficiency to fast-turnaround work. Built for short-run prime labels, Mark Andy’s Digital One makes digital printing more accessible to narrow-web converters. This affordable press, featuring ease of use and a small footprint, offers an optimal balance of digital and flexo. It’s a relatively simple and compact solution combining 4-colour digital printing with variable data, inline converting and finishing, utilizing a pay-as-you-go model.

The availability of consumables is another strong point. “Having the digital consumables you need, when you need them, is just as important to your bottom line as having the right equipment,” said the OEM. “With the support of Mark Andy Print Products, same day shipping, easy online ordering and distribution are standard benefits of our complete end-to-end solutions. With no click charges and an average msi of 40¢ to 60¢, paired with our supply chain, Digital One is truly a profitable solution.”

The Digital One has a web width of 13” (330 mm) and prints using CMYK dry toner electrophotography. Fully servo-driven, it has inline flexo decoration and converting capabilities (spot colour, varnish, laminate, cold foil, die cut, strip, slit) and a maximum speed of 62 fpm (18.9 mpm) at 1,200 dpi. It can accommodate, pressure-sensitive stocks (paper, BOPP, PET, PP), unsupported paper and tag stocks. No priming or coating is required. An easy-to-use RIP allows users to print an existing PDF with the click of a button. It’s equipped with an onboard compressor and air-cooled UV LED. All in all, this machine is ideal for small runs, versioning and variable data, along with demands for shorter delivery times. It’s ideal for food and beverage, wine and spirits and promotional tag applications.

SCREEN

Screen’s Truepress Jet L350UV+LM Digital Label Press and introduction of low-migration inks was officially launched last September in Belgium after being previewed at Print 17 in Chicago. The new press is a response to the growing trend toward labels designed for a variety of substrates, as well as converter demand for capitalizing on the sustained growth of small-run and medium-run work in the food label printing market. In addition to its newly developed low-migration (low-permeability) inks that offer enhanced safety, the press includes a nitrogen purge mechanism for accelerating the curing of UV inks. It also delivers a wider colour gamut by adding support for orange ink to conventional CMYK and white inks. In order to stably transport and print a thin film base material that’s reactive to heat from UV lamps, a chill roller for cooling can be mounted on the conveying roller portion.

The press can handle a wide range of printing applications, from conventional labels to food packaging labels. The L350UV+LM was launched along with the Truepress Jet L350UV+, another new high-end model developed for standard label applications. “The system offers superior productivity, substrate compatibility, exceptional colour reproduction, operability and other advanced features that provide a significant edge in functionality over conventional models in a wide range of fields,” said the OEM. “Its ability to maintain both exceptional speed and quality make it ideal for label printing.”

iSYS LABEL

In the realm of smaller digital label printers, there are several excellent suppliers out there, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention this Calgary-based company. Its iSYS Apex 1290 has a low total cost of ownership (as does its Edge and Luna desktop models) and is ideal for short-run and medium-run production. Users can print labels up to 52” long in regular mode printing, and unlimited lengths using its banner mode feature. The key benefit here is its ability to ship a customer’s print job the same day. The Apex 1290 makes this possible through features such as quick changeover technology coupled with management workflow software. Variable-data software is optional.

The production-level, on-demand label printer can print die-cut, kiss-cut or continuous rolls ranging from 3” to 12.9” (76.2 mm to 327.7 mm) wide, at speeds from 4.33 metres per minute to 9.13 metres per minute depending on the substrate, using CMYK dry toner. Apex software includes job costing and colour management tools and it’s capable of producing about 82% of the Pantone colour gamut. The 1290 is also highly configurable and can be paired offline with finishing, lamination, UV coating and so on. Substrates range from basic high-gloss labels to polyesters, textured stock and tag stocks. Single-pass technology allows for high-resolution graphics and variable data all in one run. Converters will be able to accept smaller jobs while reducing the amount of short-run jobs that must go on larger presses. The optional variable-data software allows for mass customization using varying barcodes, QR codes, images, text, symbols, etc. Its drag-and-drop, snap-to-grid layout allows for quick imposition of PDF graphics. A built-in Pantone library and advanced colour management tools provide clean and crisp high resolution images and eliminate the need to preprint labels. Its nesting feature takes a number of small jobs and allows users to print them as one large job.

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Tony Curcio is the editor of Graphic Arts Magazine.