GLOBAL - Label printing technology has changed over the years since the first recorded printed labels were being produced more than 400 years ago, and label converters are facing tougher press investment decisions today.
To meet changing label printing requirements, particularly over the past 30 years, the dominant label printing technology of the time has undergone several changes: in the 1980s it was rotary letterpress that dominated new press sales. Then came growth in the flexo process during the 1990s. Much of the early part of the 21st century has seen UV flexo as the dominant technology for new label press sales. Since the mid-2000s, digital printing has also begun to evolve quite rapidly, initially with electrophotographic liquid and dry toner technologies and, most recently, with new generations of UV and water-based inkjet.
In the pipeline for launch in 2014 is the newly developed Landa nanographic printing process, an offset inkjet process that has already created significant market interest amongst label, folding carton and flexible packaging printers.
Without unduly wishing to worry the label converter, there is also considerable development work being undertaken at the present time with the longer-term aim of eventually using inkjet technology to print direct onto glass or plastic bottles or onto a variety of can shapes and sizes. Maybe not a concern for today, but possibly a more real threat for the future.
What will the future bring? Factors to consider
Put together, the key challenge today for any label printer is to decide what his new label printing press investment will be this year, next year or the year after. Will it be another conventional UV flexo analogue press? Or maybe an offset or combination process press? Some converters are perhaps still deciding whether to go digital. If so, will the investment be in toner or inkjet technologies?
In the past, the decision, which press to invest in was perhaps rather simpler. Today there are even more factors to be considered – even with conventional analogue press technology. A press’s environmental footprint and energy consumption might be an important factor. So might the press colour gamut and the number of colours or print stations available on the press.
What added-value finishing options are available? What inspection or control technology is required on the press? What kind of output speed is demanded for the type of work being produced? How long does the press require to changeover from one job to another? Does the converter want to print other products as well as labels, such as flexible packaging, tube laminates, folding cartons, sachets, etc. These factors may well influence press investment. Each of the main press manufacturers undoubtedly has their own technology variations and solutions they wish to promote and offer.
This is the first part of Mike Fairley’s analysis on the changing world of label printing. Look out for the second part in PackWebasia.com later this week on Thursday, 8 August.
FINAT, founded in Paris in 1958 with headquarters in The Hague (The Netherlands), is the worldwide association for manufacturers of self-adhesive labels and related products and services. With 600 members in over 50 countries around the world, FINAT helps label converters and all suppliers to the labelling industry by facilitating information exchange and creating opportunities to network internationally.