Label Printing – A Changing Industry

Label printing has changed so much in the last 20 years. It is the advent of digital technology that has provided these improvements. Less than 20 years ago, if you wanted some short run label printing done, you had to pay for up to four plates and possibly a die if the label printing company you were using did not have the size of your label. If you wanted a full colour label printed last century, then most likely you would pay about $500 or even more in preparation costs. This is because the label artwork originally required film and four plates, one for black, one for cyan, one for magenta and one for yellow.

Colour Labels are still printed today using these primary printing colours but there is no need for plates. Instead, the ink is applied through digital technology and of course digital label printing technology has the benefits today of being far more environmentally friendly. Really, the only disadvantage of digital label printing technology is speed. This is why there is still a need for film and plates because the long run label printing needs of 10,000 or more labels are still quicker and hence more cost effective with traditional label printing methods.

The traditional label printing companies will argue that the quality is also better when labels are printed from plates in the old fashioned or traditional way. They would be correct but the rapid improvement in digital label printing technology has meant that the difference is really only discernible with a magnifying glass provided your label printer is using the most up-to-date digital label printing machinery. However, the traditional label printing companies will be able to match the printing colours exactly. Digital label printing offers an approximation to the actual printing colours but that approximation is now so close to the real colours that the difference is barely discernible.

We have three digital label printing machines at our premises. One label printing machine is a thermal transfer machine which we only use for simple text and the resolution is less than 120 dpi so in no way is the printing quality from this machine anywhere near that of traditional label printing processes. You do need to know that if your labels are printed in short runs with digital label printing technology that your supplier is using the most up-to-date equipment.

I can remember back in the last century, we were so anxious to get into the digital label printing market that we bought a digital label printing machine which just could not do any of the functions that you could expect to do. We successfully took the company to court and were able to secure a refund but be warned that old technology, even five to ten years old can result in poor print quality of your full colour labels.

Today, we have Konica Minolta digital printing machines which enable a large number of different sized labels to be conveniently printed on sheets in full colour. The great advantage of these machines is that the quality is at a resolution of 600-1200 dpi and as such is almost equivalent to traditional label printing with plates.

Last year we purchased the iTech AXXIS Digital Printing System which includes an Epson Printer and Axxis Finisher. The labels are printed at 720-1440 dpi in resolution and the great thing about this label printing system is that it does not require dies or plates. The Axxis finisher actually cuts the labels into the shape required. This technology reduces the need for expensive dies and hence saves on preparation costs substantially. Digital label printing technology is still new and it is only going to get faster and better in quality in the future. There will always be a place for traditional label printing but it will increasingly be used by mainly the big manufacturers and producers and smaller companies will continue to take advantage in improvements in quality and price provided by digital label printing technology.

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