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Focus On

Stick to Success

The label printing market is showing no signs of slowing down. Summer Brooks discovers why, and how easy it is for a commercial printer to get started in this sector

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Artisan businesses are driving the market, with firms seeking embellished labels that reflect the quality of the product

The buzz around labels

The label printing market is proving to be more lucrative than ever, with hundreds of new businesses starting up every day requiring labels for their products, and commercial printers spotting a profit to be made. Smithers Pira, the worldwide authority on the packaging, printer and paper supply chains, estimates the label printing sector is worth $45.6bn (£34.5bn) globally, with an annual growth of four percent. So, how can commercial printers diversify in to this growth market and make it a success?

A glance at the market

The label printing market is one part of the print industry that has been revolutionised by digital. Advances in technology has meant the sector has seen exponential growth over the last few years, allowing for more elaborate and personal design. Boutique businesses are starting up every day, seeking to tap into creating small quantities of a high-end product. They are seeking a label that represents their brand, the product and the quality of both. It is here that printers have an opportunity to diversify and offer the service needed, before it is sourced elsewhere.

O Factoid: It is estimated that the global label market will be worth £3.47bn in 2022 O

A rise in small but high-end businesses opening in the beer, wine and spirits markets is driving a demand for labels that look the part

Rob Brown, head of speciality print for North West Europe at OKI, explains: “If you look at the gin market for instance, there’s even a gin distillery in the small town I live in. So, there are lots of boutique providers starting up offering quality products, but for which they only have a short-run requirement. They’re charging quite high amounts for it but they’re providing a quality product, so they don’t have the volume print requirements that maybe other larger businesses have which can afford a larger, more expensive machine. The label market is changing and evolving and is driven by the application and by the types of end user. So, we can make our technology fit into a slightly different machine to suit these applications. It’s the application that’s driving the market, I believe.”

According to Finat, the European association for the self-adhesive label industry, the total consumption of self-adhesive label materials in Europe amounted to 7.45 million sq m. The demand for high-end applications has seen a rise in sophisticated label substrates like white coated papers, up 24 percent since 2010, direct thermal papers up 51 percent and polypropylene plastic (PP) has risen by a staggering 78 percent. In Europe, Germany, the UK, Italy, France and Spain account for 58 percent of the total market, but countries like Poland and Turkey are expected to challenge those at the top over the next five years. Finat has identified two trends that have dominated the label market: prime labels (the eye-catching, front facing label on a product) are becoming increasingly complex; and non-prime (the informational label) labels are becoming increasingly functional.

Guy Martin is Epson UK’s sales development specialist for its commercial and industrial printing division. He says the reason the label market is so resilient is because of the diverse range of markets it serves: “Markets include, for instance: retail, personal care, beverages, pharmaceutical and POS. Furthermore, it is a sector that has not been hit by alternative media. It is still the easiest and most cost-effective way of describing content or proving critical data or information on a product. Both the labels and packaging sectors are much more open to digital technology now, recognising its ability to produce locally on demand in short runs and even personalise or version product.”

In today’s market where you have such a big diversity of products, such decoration methodology is actually helping [business owners] to have that fast response to the market

Another reason for the boom in label printing is how quickly the technology has moved to allow a wider range of decoration methods, that can be applied much later in the production line. Filip Weymans, previously director of segment marketing labels and packaging and now vice president of marketing at Xeikon, comments: “If you look at self-adhesive labelling technology, the big value that technology provides is the fact that you can do a very late customisation, late in the supply chain. In today’s market where you have such a big diversity of products, such decoration methodology is actually helping [business owners] to have that fast response to the market and to keep their working capital at a lower level, because they don’t have to identify the product with a specific decoration until the last minute.” Compared to other applications, self-adhesive labels also grant the advantage of less area coverage because labels tend to be smaller, meaning shorter runs.

The labour of labels

So, how can printers diversify into label printing? Assessing your existing equipment is essential, as you may already be in a position to start label printing with ease. Knowledge of this sector is vital to success, especially for food label printing where a range of requirements come into play, and everything down to the ink has to be considered. Chris Jackson, labels product specialist at Heidelberg UK, says: “The commercial printers who step into the labels market are well placed to produce work for artisan businesses, producers of honeys, marmalades, beers and juices, for instance, or for schools (think Well Done or Good Behaviour stickers).


Labels for food production have specific requirements that must be met in order to ensure food safety





The commercial printers who step into the labels market are well placed to produce work for artisan businesses, producers of honeys, marmalades, beers and juices, for instance

“If printers don’t offer these options, the customers themselves may invest and that would be a lost opportunity. An entry-level label press, which has personalisation options, would fit well not only alongside a litho set up but also for Print Service Providers (PSPs) who currently offer digital and wide-format services. Many commercial printers already produce sheeted labels which are die cut offline, but many turn away work that is reel fed, produced on narrow web technology, and that is a missed opportunity.”

Heidelberg owns Swiss label manufacturer Gallus, which recently announced the Smartfire, its second digital press following the Labelfire, that Heidelberg says will appeal to commercial printers wishing to enter the label market. The Smartfire uses Memjet inkjet heads and water-based inks to produce four-colour image quality up to 1600dpi and operates at a maximum output of 238sq m an hour. “With the Smartfire there is an affordable entry level, but Gallus can also offer a migration growth path with the Labelfire for continued digital production or with the Labelmaster, available with varying levels of automation, which offers conventional unit options including screen, flexo, hot foil, cold foil and embossing. All Gallus presses come with inline finishing options,” says Jackson.

Unveiled in June this year, the Smartfire is a full production system targeted at commercial printers looking to start label printing

Xeikon offers both entry-level and high-end systems for the market. Label presses from its Cheetah series (CX3, CX500) use dry toner, which compliments offset and flexo printing, whilst the Panther series (PX2000 and PX000) use UK inkjet technology which is better suited to screen and flexo printing. The dedicated workflow “allows you to reap the benefits of digital” according to Weymans, who says that Xeikon’s focus is largely on supporting the digitalisation of print.

Weymans comments: “It’s very easy to buy a printing press and print some nice designs, but in the label and packaging market it’s not just about printing a nice design, it’s also about making sure that the label sticks to the surface you want to apply it to, making sure the label is food safe if it’s being applied to a food product. In a standard print environment, you don’t come across those sorts of requirements because the print is the product. Here, the label is not the product, it’s an element that’s applied to a product to help it sell. If you’re a commercial printer you’re not aware of those requirements, so make sure you either bring that knowledge in-house, or surround yourself with partners that understand [label printing].”

Epson’s SurePress L-6034VW was its first UV ink press and includes white ink, which is proving popular in label printing

The Epson ColorWorks C7500 printer could set up a commercial printer to print labels, with no finishing, for around £6000. A more advanced digital press would be the UV inkjet SurePress L-6034VW, which works across a range of substrates and applications that allows printers to offer something different with its label printing capabilities. “Commercial printers already using digital print technology could easily cope with a switch to labels; it is a switch of end use not of technology,” says Martin of Epson. “Where label production differs is in the finishing which might include varnishing, die cutting, laminating, stripping and slitting.”

He adds: “Set up times on a digital press are almost instant with less wastage in run up time and you don’t have plate-making to worry about. You can handle uncoated stocks with ease which has cost and consistency benefits, too. Digital printing has been, and continues to be, attractive to conventional printers with print and prepress knowledge looking to diversify and to find new and different revenue streams.”

Achieving excellence

Label printing is bringing new businesses to the print industry because of its popularity and increasing demand from various markets. Custom label printing is also witnessing a significant boom, thanks to advancements in decoration methods and the ease in which these can be created and printed. Personalisation continues to be a big trend that is driving label printing. The nature of custom label printing is quick—customers who make custom orders want their product as quickly as possible, challenging printers to have a quick response whilst delivering the highest quality.

Label printing often requires short-runs which means more admin for commercial printers, so workflow must be considered

Guru Labels in Australia started out offering custom label printing service with some table top equipment and has since invested in two Xeikon presses to support the business. This is not an unusual story, as many are entering the print industry for the first time because of the buzz around labels. Weymans of Xeikon comments: “People that come from outside the print industry have an idea and they use print to sell a service. The service that they’re selling is: you can decorate anything you want to decorate, and we’ll provide the help for that through labels. They sell a capability over the internet that people are looking for.”

At Labelexpo in Chicago this year, the Automation Arena part of the show demonstrated automated press lines for digital label and conventional shrink sleeve label production, whilst exploring how the label and packaging production will develop and evolve over the next decade. Weymans explains that each session, with 150 seats, was packed out each time: “With the digitalisation of print manufacturing, people are hungry to know what it means.”

Whilst other areas of print have been hit by advances in technology, label printing is seeing a resurgence thanks to digital, not despite of it

With the accessibility of this technology, it is becoming increasingly more affordable to make solutions in the label market that can be automated, and as the technology matures, the capabilities expand for businesses to achieve manufacturing excellence with labels.

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