Digital label printers include electrographic presses as well as single-pass and multi-pass inkjet printing devices that output digital files directly onto rolls of papers, films, foils, and other materials that can be converted into different types and sizes of labels. Multiple types and sizes of digital label printers exist because the $41 billion global label market is diverse and innovative.
The digital label printers required to make a few hundred name-badge labels for a social event are much different than those needed to produce large just-in-time batches of labels for mass-market food, beauty, or cleaning products. Some customers may need durable safety or product labels that can withstand submersion in water, adhesion to oily or powdery surfaces, or long-term exposure to harsh chemicals.
Digital label printers are popular for runs of up to 10,000 labels because digital printing eliminates the need to make separations, screens, or plates for each color that will be printed.
Digital printing is also used for fast-turnaround orders, label designs that include color photographs or fine gradients, and labels with variable data, such as QR codes, bar codes, serial numbers, batch numbers, lot number, and expiration dates.
Digital label presses such as the SCREEN Truepress Jet L3500 UV+ series can add variable data such as QR codes and batch numbers to each label. (Video: SCREEN Truepress Jet L3500 UV+ series)
Short runs of labels are produced for start-up firms, product test marketing, regional or seasonal versions of products, or global marketing in multiple languages. Plus, labels must be updated every time government agencies change regulations about warnings and product-content information that label must contain.
Different Types of Labels
Prime labels carry brand images, color graphics, and marketing messages for a product. and message.
Digital label presses for high-end prime labels can include photographic images and brand colors. The text-heavy label on the back of the package includes details about ingredients and usage of the product contents. (Video:Screen Truepress JET L3500 UV+ series)
Some prime labels are printed on clear films that make it look like the text and graphics have been printed directly on the bottle, can, or squeezable plastic tube that holds the product.
Safety labels are attached to the equipment or products to warn a user about risks associated with using the item.
Product Identification labels identify the manufacturer, part number, and a serial number of various products and components.
Multi-layer/expanded content labels can be peeled open to reveal additional content, such as drug usage information, coupons, or promotional contest game pieces.
In-mold labeling uses blow molding, injection molding, or thermoforming to apply labels to containers during the manufacturing process.
Wrap-around labels are one-piece bottle labels that include both the brand graphic and information such as bar codes and nutrition information.
Heat transfer labels are “tagless labels” on apparel products. Instead of sewing or weaving a label into the garment, a label printed into a heat-transfer film is pressed into the garment.
Resealable labels enable the package to be resealed after it’s open. Snack foods, wipes, and lunchmeat include resealable labels.
Die-cut labels have unique shapes for branding or to conform to different shapes of containers.
Domed labels have a scratch-resistant plastic “domed” coating the brand identification label.
The construction of a label depends on how and where it will be used and how long the information on the label must be readable.
Industrial digital label presses can produce a wide range of products of white, clear, and laminated flexible films, including industrial product labels, food and beverage labels, and beauty products and pharmaceutical packaging. Some presses can print materials for flexible pouches and promotional window decals. (Video:Epson SurePress L-4533AW | Experience the Label & Packaging Digital Press)
Branding labels that must stand out on a store shelf may include eye-catching embellishments such as metallic foils, surface textures, and scents. A durable label may combine a protective laminating film over a screen printed ink on a waterproof substrate with a permanent, strong-bond adhesive.
Types of Digital Label Printers
Industrial label printers are designed to complement the flexographic, screen, or offset presses that label converting companies use to make many different types and sizes of labels needed by manufacturers of consumer products. Some industrial digital label printers are designed to work with the post-printing cutting and finishing equipment that label converters already own.
This video of the Screen Truepress Jet L3500 UV+ series shows how industrial digital label presses can be integrated with a variety of in-line finishing equipment. (Video: SCREEN Truepress Jet L3500 UV+ series)
Business and commercial label printers are lower-cost devices that enable smaller manufacturers, shipping departments, and retailers to print labels in-house.
Print service providers that don’t need the many different finishing devices that packaging and label converters use can buy a commercial label printer. With these printers, print service providers can meet the relatively small range and volumes of labels needed by start-up companies, event organizers, and marketing companies.
High-speed, small-format commercial printers such as the Epson C7500 can be used in stores, fresh-food marketplaces, industrial plants, and healthcare facilities for just-in-time and on-demand production of labels. The C7500 can print CMYK aqueous pigment inks at speeds of more than 11 inches per second on labels up to 4.25 in. wide
Desktop, tabletop, and handheld label printers are used in offices, mailrooms, and shipping centers to print barcodes and/or shipping labels as needed.
Desktop label printers such as the Afinia L501 Color Label Printer can use aqueous dye inks for mailing labels and aqueous pigment inks for more water-resistant durable labels. Video : Afinia L501 Color Label Printer - Make Your Own Labels
Types of Inks and Toners
The types and colors of inks and toners used by a digital label printer depend on the type of labels the printer is designed to produce.
For example, a printer that exclusively prints mailing and shipping labels or name badges on paper can use aqueous pigment inks. Companies that make inkjet label printers that use aqueous inks include: Epson (ColorWorks), Primera, Affinia, and Colordyne
Digital label printers that will output to a range of films and label stocks use UV-curable inks or dry or liquid toners. Labels that will come in contact with food products or pharmaceuticals must use “low-migration” inks that won’t contaminate the packaged product. Konica Minolta, SCREEN, Durst, and Epson (SurePress) make label printers that use UV inks that can be cured with low-heat LED lamps.
Xeikon’s Cheetah line of label presses uses dry toners. Xeikon’s Panther and EFI Jetrion label presses use UV-LED inkjet technology.
HP Indigo label presses use liquid toners and can be set up to print different opacities of white, silver, invisible inks for security applications, and custom spot colors.
The HP Indigo 6900 Digital Press uses liquid toners (including silver) to print labels as well as films for flexible packaging. Video: Open New Opportunities With HP Indigo 6900 Digital Press
The colors available for digital label printing depend on the type of printer you use. CMYK inks are fine for simple labels that don’t need to meet brand colors CMYK inks can hit approximately 85 percent of the Pantone colors used in brand graphics.
Digital label printers that use CMYK + Orange and + Violet inks can hit up to 95 percent of Pantone colors. Some label printers can also use white and green inks plus clear varnishes.
Types of Materials
Label converters that specialize in creating a wide range of label types must be thoroughly familiar with the huge range of substrates and adhesives that can be combined to make labels for different requirements. The surface finish of the substrate can be glossy, matte, textured, metallic, printable, or writable.
Label substrates can include different types of paper and synthetic paper, polyester film, flexible vinyl, rigid vinyl, acrylic, polypropylene, and polycarbonate.
Some presses include corona treatment stations to improve the adhesion of inks to films, foils, and papers.
Different adhesives have been formulated for the wide range of materials to which labels will be affixed. Glass, stainless steel, aluminum, and acrylic that have high surface energy require different adhesives than low-surface energy plastic containers made from polyethylene, styrene, and polypropylene. Specialty adhesives for specific labeling requirements include 3M VHB (Very High Bond), ultra-clear, removable, and repositionable.
Designing and printing labels and flexible packaging is different than designing printed documents. For example, the labels must include text that complies with the regulatory requirement, conform to the contours of the package, and be compatible with the product manufacturer’s label-application processes. Prime labels must have consistent, accurate color -- both on store shelves and in online marketplaces.
Label design and print-management software from companies such as Esko, Xeikon, and HP include different features such as visualizing designs in 3D and on store shelves, managing multi-department proof approvals, controlling colors, inserting variable data and bar codes, and streamlining both printing and finishing. The newest software makes it possible to add and proof embellishments.
Xeikon offers a sophisticated front end to minimize waste materials when producing different label designs in one print run. (Video: Xeikon X-800 Digital Front End)
Whereas soft-proofing is acceptable for many low-volume, lower-cost jobs, labeling customers often request physical sample proofs. This enables them to check the appearance and readability of labels applied to packages with unusual shapes and contours.
The layout and print-management software for label presses enable print-service providers to minimize waste materials when the rolls of labels are embellished, die-cut, or slit into narrow-width rolls for delivery to the customer.
Labels used for packaging, safety, and product identification require different types of finishing. Here are some commonly used processes:
Varnishing: UV-curable varnishes are applied to protect the label from abrasion and apply a uniform level of brightness and gloss.
Laminating: Laminating films are applied to labels that must be protected from water, chemical solvents, mechanical abrasion, or oils.
Die Cutting: Most industrial label converters use rotating punching dies that cut through the printed substrate without affecting the release liner that keeps the adhesive form activating before it is applied.
Foil Stamping: Metallic effects can be applied to the label through heat-stamping or a cold-foil transfer process.
Spot varnishing: Applying a clear varnish to selected areas of a label can add textures to labels Some industrial digital printers can apply varnishes and spot varnishes in the same pass that the inks are applied.
HP Indigo electrographic presses can be connected to the HP Indigo GEM Digital Press that can add embellishments, foils, and holographic effects with UV-curable coatings. Video:Open New Opportunities With HP Indigo 6900 Digital Press
Cutting/slitting: A large 13-in.-wide roll of labels may need to be slit and re-wound onto narrower rolls that handle the exact number of labels the customer has ordered. 4-inch rolls that can be loaded onto the customer’s label application equipment. on each roll may also be limited
Advances in Technology
As with other forms of digital printing, digital label presses continue to be improved with new inks, software, and finishing equipment. Here are some innovations that have emerged in recent years.
Hybrid printing systems combine digital inkjet printing units with flexographic, screen, or offset presses. The inkjet printing units adds variable text in black ink to high volumes of labels being produced with analog presses. Some digital presses that print labels can also be used to print flexible films for consumer product packaging.
HP Mosaic technology in the HP SmartStream Designer software for HP Indigo presses enables every label to have a unique design and content. HP demonstrated the power of Mosaic technology by teaming up with Coca Cola to creating personalized and customized labels for Diet Coke bottles.
Interactive labels include visible or undetectable markings that can be scanned with a smartphone to launch on-screen videos, recipes, or additional product information. Covert images that can’t be seen with the naked eye can be printed and scanned to help retailers and brands authenticate their products and protect branded products from counterfeiting.
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This post is part of a series we are publishing to help you understand the many types of analog and digital printing processes now in use.Follow Ordant on LinkedIn, Facebook, or Twitter to learn when the next post in this series is published. Our next post will review the many types of printing we discussed this summer.