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Inkjet Labels Innovate

Are inkjet labels registering a blip on the digital print radar? Indeed they are, according to Bob Leahey, industry analyst at InfoTrends. “There were nearly 300 production-level, color inkjet label and packaging presses operating globally in Q4 2012,” Leahey told MyPrintResource (MPR) in early April. “That is far less than the installed base of color electrophotographic [EP] presses used by label and packaging converters, but inkjet is much younger in the converting marketplace.”

Leahey went on to explain that most inkjet label presses have been available for less than five years while EP presses have been marketed by HP Indigo and Xeikon for at least 15 years. “The EP vendors have a big head start, but inkjet vendors are improving their products,” Leahey explained. He identified three areas that are helping inkjet to be embraced more by label converters:

  • the availability of gamut-extending colors
  • variable droplet size
  • low-migration UV curing inks

Other developments, including increased widths, have been helpful in improving inkjet’s acceptance in the label space. Eighteen months ago at Graph Expo 2011, INX International Ink Co. showed for the first time its NW140 UV (5.5-inch) digital narrow web press with UV LED-cured, single-pass output of up to 80 feet per minute (fpm) on any label stock. INX engineers and chemists are working overtime to have a wider version ready in time for the quadrennial PRINT 13 show come this September, reported Jim Lambert, VP and GM of the firm’s digital division. Adding to the 14 Xaar piezo print heads in the design could put the new model’s width at somewhere around 210 mm, or more than eight inches.

“We are hoping to be ready to bring the new press to Chicago,” said Lambert. “It will definitely be ready by year end.” In addition to Spartanics laser-diecutting capabilities and the Xaar heads, it will be interesting to see with whom else INX is partnering on this product endeavor.

“We believe inkjet technology represents the future of label production,” he added. “Toner-based presses, such as the HP Indigo, have their place with high quality and respectable speeds, but the cost of entry for inkjet is more palatable.” Plus, inkjet has at least two other advantages over EP, Lambert noted: a) The ink set has better durability and fastness and b) most inkjet OEMs do not charge per click.

A year ago, Durst Image Technology introduced the Tau 330 - Digital UV Inkjet Label Press designed for short- and medium-run narrow web applications covering web widths from 6.5 inches to a maximum of 13 inches and running at a printing speed of up to 157 fpm. Also, its Tau 150 8C - Digital UV Inkjet Narrow Web Label Press is a high-speed, short-run model featuring proprietary Single Pass UV Inkjet Technology with up to eight dedicated color modules.

Labeling fruits of the vine

Last month in Paris, at the annual Digital Label Forum, Stork Prints BV of the Netherlands was awarded a trophy for digital label printing in the category of Wine & Spirits. The jury praised Stork Prints’ digitally printed wine labels for their photographic quality, digital white, and versioning possibilities. The firm’s DSI UV inkjet label printer features a modular concept. The DSI is a cost-effective, UV inkjet label printer, offering sublime printing quality at amazing speeds, said Stork Prints. Its combination of photographic quality and a rotary screen “look and feel” makes it suitable for everything from short- to medium- and even long-run jobs.

“Volume wise, the DSI offers an increasingly attractive alternative to flexo and other printing technologies,” stated Mark Huisman, sales manager for Stork Prints. “The economies of scale are clearly visible for smaller, straightforward jobs. However, it also makes sense to use the DSI for more complex and higher-volume jobs.”

Stork Prints, a digital print pioneer for more than 25 years, claims that more than 4,000 of its inkjet systems are installed worldwide -- mostly textile presses and inkjet proofing systems. Leahey of InfoTrends added, “Stork Prints’ production-level color inkjet label press is beautiful … and [they] are a true inkjet ink manufacturer, [which is] rare for an OEM.”

Finishing Digital Labels

This past February, at the WestPack show in Annaheim, Allen Datagraph Systems Inc. (ADSI) launched a faster digital label system that features a high-resolution, CMYK print engine using LED toner manufactured by OKI Data. While not based on Epson inkjet technology, like the original SR (short run) iteration of the iTech AXXIS introduced three years ago, the new AXXIS HS Digital Label System features the same basic roll-to-roll finishing capabilities as its predecessor. The Digital Label Finisher is able to finish on-demand labels of any shape by relying on the proven, proprietary technology to die-cut labels without the need for expensive dies -- or the delay in waiting for dies to be produced. It laminates, integrates die-less diecutting (any vector shape designed in Adobe Illustrator or Corel Draw) using knife technology, strips, slits, and rewinds to finished rolls of labels. The complete digital solutions are built to print and finish labels for label convertors and brand owners of all sizes.

Finishing at speeds up to 10 feet per minute, the iTech AXXIS Digital Label Finisher uses plotting technology that can cut any die shape on the fly. This gives the user an unsurpassed amount of flexibility in label design. “About two-thirds of our customers are tag and label converters,” explained Mark Vanover, ADSI’s VP of sales and marketing, who added that his firm has sold some 350 of the short-run, inkjet versions of the iTech AXXIS system worldwide, mostly in North America, since late 2009. These customers are using the devices to produce “no less than 1,000 linear feet of material,” Vanover noted. “Prior to the 2008 recession, people would walk away from orders that small, but not any more.” For many of these customers, the AXXIS has marked their foray into the digital print realm, he said. Others will use it as a stepping stone before graduating to a Xeikon or Epson SurePress printer.

“Another 20 percent of customers are small brand owners who require just-in-time label production,” Vanover said, citing the example of a Canadian maple sugar producer which inkjet prints small runs of seasonal labels in maple leaf shapes.

Print-to-cut registration is accomplished via the SMARTMark Optical Registration System. Requiring no dies, makeready, or running waste, the iTech AXXIS Digital Finishing System’s versatility and accuracy provide the professional converter as well as the end user with true ‘on demand’ label manufacturing capabilities, ADSI said. “Roll-to-roll finishing is part of our value proposition,” Vanover concluded. “Allen Datagraph was one of the first companies to introduce it 12 years ago.”

May 23 Seminar on UV LED Technology for Narrow Web Label Printers

Flint Group Packaging and Narrow Web will host a comprehensive seminar addressing the growing interest of UV LED for narrow web tag and label printing: UV LED – The Future Is Now! This one-day seminar, held in Plymouth, MN, on May 23, will cover various aspects of UV LED printing technologies. This seminar is targeted toward owners, decision makers and management of narrow web tag and label printers looking to learn more about the benefits and impact of transitioning to UV LED curing.

UV LED technology is the answer for economical and ecological sustainability, and it is available today. Industry experts will discuss the LED Solid State lamp, press interface and LED ink technology, along with added benefits related to substrates, capacity, and increased productivity. Printers with questions about the investment and payback of UV LED should attend this seminar.

Topics will include: Market and Application Overview; Printing Press Technology; Ink, Coating and Adhesive for UV LED; Lamp Technology; UV LED and Shrink Film Substrate; Printer’s Success Story, and Return on Investment.

All technical seminars at Flint Group’s Center for Technical Excellence are free of charge and will be filled on a first come, first reserved basis and is only open to label and packaging printers. Industry experts from the Narrow Web industry form an integral part of the presentations; and information presented is educational in nature and non-commercial in content.

Register today for this one day seminar -- space is limited. For additional information, please contact Deanna Whelan at 763-398-2716 or email