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Focus On

Label Applications

It’s the final touch in the packaging production line, and it probably says more about the product than anything else. Summer Brooks evaluates the label applications market

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Lucrative labels – how can a print-service-provider capitalise on this growing sector?

Lucrative labels

Hot on the heels of Labelexpo Europe which wrapped up in Brussels last month, manufacturers from across the world have been launching and promoting new products designed for the ever-growing label printing sector. This feature takes a look at the market, where it’s headed, and how commercial print-service-providers can look to capitalise on the trends.

Smart labels

Carlo Sammarco, European sales director of packaging solutions for Screen, says the label printing market is key for the company as the nature of the sector lends itself to its technology. “It is a very important and strong market for Screen as we have a good proportion of currently installed digital inkjet devices for label printing,” Sammarco says. “It is a market where label production requirements and run lengths lends itself ideally for UV inkjet technology.”

Screen Europe is a division of Screen Holdings in Japan, manufacturing and suppling production systems for the prepress and printing industries, including labels and packaging. Innovation in label printing, Sammarco says, is being driven by both its requirements and its shelf appeal. “Primarily, there is a requirement for shelf appeal and additionally information describing the package contents, the packaging provides lots of other helpful references and tips about the goods inside,” he says. “It tells the purchaser the price, size, condition and texture of the product, where and when it was made and when it should be used by. They need to be printed in multiple languages, sizes, version, varieties and [are] constantly changing due to regulation and legislation changes. Labels are becoming smarter, containing hidden and visible data which can be used for security, brand authentication or to improve a customer’s experience when interacting with the product. All of the above means that digital printing of labels is becoming more intrinsic.”

O Factoid: The global market for label printing will reach $49.9bn (£40.4bn) in 2024 (Smithers Pira, 2019) O

Xeikon has positioned itself to be at the very centre of digital label printing, as Filip Weymans, vice president of marketing at the firm, explains: “We come from a different perspective. We see ourselves as a key part of the label community. Xeikon provides a comprehensive and dedicated offering to the label printing market. Our deeper understanding of the needs of this sector, our long standing expertise and our technical know-how means we have developed a complete and broad digital portfolio starting with our powerful digital front end, the X-800 driving both inkjet and dry toner technologies through to application tuned consumables, embellishment technologies plus converting equipment and finishing services all underpinned by a global network of support services.”

Weymans adds that the main trend driving innovation in label printing is how to digitise print manufacturing. “Look beyond the digital press or you may well miss out on the opportunity,” he says. “The consumer market has changed, meaning print buyers and brand owners need more flexibility in volume, ordering patterns, design variations and personalisation and all within an acceptable price range – not forgetting brand protection and track and trace delivery methods.”

Contiweb produces a range of web offset presses for commercial, packaging and label printing applications. Richard Miedema, sales manager at the Netherlands-based firm, says that continued innovation is driving growth in label printing. “We see the label market as highly innovative. The companies that are active, they embrace technology quite easily, but we also see the market is changing – it’s consolidating. We’re seeing a highly spread out market with smaller companies consolidated to several larger players. We also see that a lot of these players are looking for opportunities outside of the conventional boundaries, outside of label printing. We see them moving towards some packaging applications, for example.”

Special effects on printed labels are appealing to brands wishing to add value to products. Photo: Xeikon

For Miedema, sustainability is the key driver. “We see that the demand in Western countries is changing. We’re seeing the trend of individualism coming through and personalisation of the labels – but we also have a strong urge with the use of plastics at the moment. There are a lot of initiatives at the moment for products that are more easily recyclable. I think at the moment, it [sustainability] is trend number one. You see a lot more diversification in the use of materials. It’s not just about decorating it [labels] and it looking nice, brands can also diversify into using sustainable materials. We’re seeing a wider range of materials being used.”

All the gear

Screen offers a range of UV inkjet label presses for commercial printers looking to enter the labels market. “The Truepress Jet L350UV Plus series consists of three models,” explains Sammarco. “They can all print at maximum speed of 60 metres per minute. Depending on requirements, the machines can be configured with additional colours orange and blue, a chilled roller system to accommodate unsupported film for additional applications and more importantly the ability to print with food approved inks and advanced UV curing system.”

The Truepress Jet L350UV Plus series from Screen Europe can support food approved inks and unsupported film for a wider range of applications

Xeikon’s Label Discovery package has been designed to allow entry-level print-service-providers (PSPs) to enter digital label printing, as Weymans explains: “This contains both a web fed digital press, the Xeikon 3030, together with a digital converting solution, therefore offering the lowest initial cost. Being dry toner technology, it also offers the broadest range of end-user applications.”

Xeikon’s Label Discovery package is an entry-level solution for commercial print firms 

Contiweb Thallo is a web offset press that can be equipped with flexo and/or gravure units as required, allowing for greater flexibility for clients. It can be paired with screen and digital printing technologies to accommodate the increasingly creative demands of label printing.

The Contiweb Thallo is a hybrid solution aimed at short-run production of labels

Sammarco of Screen says that with the right technology and knowledge of the market, transitioning to label printing should not be too challenging. “However, embellishment and converting of the labels is an important, fundamental part of the process and has to be understood,” he says. “Also, the nuances of material facestocks, adhesives, varnish and lamination requirements for the customer’s products comes with experience and knowledge and this could be the challenge.”

He adds: “Labels on the face of it look very simple. They can, in fact, be very complicated with many layers and combination of printing, flexo, screen, lamination, foiling, varnishing and die-cutting. Having a good understanding of these production processes and resources required is important before investing in just the printing equipment.”

Labels on the face of it look very simple. They can, in fact, be very complicated with many layers and combination of printing, flexo, screen, lamination, foiling, varnishing and die-cutting

Through serving a range of companies in print, Xeikon has understood the importance of being a trusted partner that will support a print shop past the point of purchase, as Weymans explains: “We have customers from a wide range of different sized companies – small, medium, large and extra-large. We find a lot of PSPs are looking for a partner who is more than a supplier. Anyone can buy ink and a press on every corner of the street.  A trusted partner will dare to be frank and say – that’s not good for you, or please source from XX as we don’t have what you need.”

Looking forward

Sammarco identifies that the requirements for label printing in the future will likely not change, but the methods used to create them will and will allow for diversification into other areas. “The ability to handle current requirements and volumes will not change for the foreseeable future,” he says. “More and more label printing will migrate from analogue printing to digital as the quantity and variety of labels suit digital production proficiencies and as digital inkjet devices become faster. Inkjet devices will become increasingly more modular as label printers also transition to producing other forms of packaging in the flexible arena such as pouches, sachets, IML (in-mould labelling), shrink sleeves, film and packaging.”

Weymans echoes that the future of label printing is in digital and the opportunities are great. “There is a wealth of opportunities,” he says. “The label industry continues to expand. Xeikon is seeing double-digit growth in the label and packaging sectors on a global scale. The majority of potential customers are looking to find new revenue streams – some are looking to optimise old skills and learn new skills. Xeikon is dedicated to reaching out to share our deeper understanding, experience and valued expertise.”

Miedema of Contiweb says that whilst the technology is important, the environmental credentials are going to be even more so. “I think we’re going to see an increase in the sustainability awareness for a while because it’s obviously a big problem, and there’s no clear solution to it yet,” he explains. “There are a lot of challenges to overcome but it involves the entire supply chain. What I think will happen is that the supply chain will work together to find alternative substrates, alternative materials to use, maybe we’ll see integrated label solutions. I think we’ll see an overlap between different players in the supply chain – more collaboration. For the print and packaging industry, it’s vital at the moment to work together and make the world a better place.”

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