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FLEXO Magazine : September 2013
TRADITIONAL LABEL PRINTING Categorized either by application or by the method in which the label is produced and adhered, there are three distinct label groups: Prime labels are the most prominent category and include labels that are used to both identify and market consumer products Durable labels are another type, used to communicate instructions and warnings. Most of the labels found on an au- tomobile fall into this category, including the airbag warning and the tire pressure recommendation sticker Regulatory labels are another category, with many unique requirements. The shelf markers used in retail stores as well as the price markers and bar codes on products are all often produced as labels This abbreviated list demonstrates just how broad the label market really is. Pressure-sensitive labels can be produced through a variety of methods, including flexo printing. To offer competi- tive pricing and make a profit, flexo businesses typically focus on larger runs, due to the cost and time involved in setting up a press and creating proofs. While producing high quality labels in small quantities has been cost prohibitive through traditional printing methods, a new generation of digital print technology is changing all of this. THE DIGITAL REVOLUTION Digital label printing makes it easy for businesses to enter the short-run label market. Digital printers are relatively af- fordable and offer the distinct advantage of allowing users to go directly from file production to print production without the complexities of a flexo press setup. However, much like the term "label," the term "digital" covers a lot of ground. There are competing technologies within the digital printing market and each has its own advantages. The best digital label production presses produce high quality labels on a number of different substrates and can produce long runs of variable data labels for a high level of customization. The speed of the most recent presses in this category is approaching traditional analog printing methods, particularly when considering the decreased prep and setup time. They are a good choice for printing hundreds or even thousands of labels. Although they are better suited for shorter printruns than traditional presses, large digital presses are still not ideal for producing runs of less than 100 labels. They typically use off-line finishing devices that require manual processes, and while there are no plates involved or inks to mix, the presses still require some setup. Additionally, webbing the machine of- ten requires several feet of material. In the end, the per-label cost of micro label runs on a digital label production press can be high and unprofitable. The initial investment in these systems is also a consideration, as prices can extend into the hundreds of thousands of dollars or more. In order to get a return on investment, it doesn't make sense to take on micro runs of only a few hundred labels, even though the equipment is engineered to handle them. Roland's VersaUV LEC-330 inkjet printer/cutter creates short-run labels and package prototypes on a variety of substrates, on demand. Photo: Roland DGA 58 FLEXO SEPTEMBER 2013 www.flexography.org