There has never been as much choice or such a diversity of technology options as there are now in label printing. Choosing the right equipment, and whether or not to go digital, can be challenging but here are some tips.
1 What is the average run length required? Digital printing is normally economical for runs of up to 3,000 metres although the breakpoint changes and 6,000 metres could be the norm quite soon. There is no doubt that digital printing is gaining ground over conventional printing. Heidelberg has two digital options now, the higher throughput “Hybrid” Labelfire which allows the “best of both worlds” (Conventional and Digital combined – file to finished label in one pass).
2 What lead times do your customers expect? Digital jobs can be printed, finished and despatched in a much shorter time than conventionally printed jobs. With the advent of “Just in Time” printing, it is now also possible to economically print shorter runs frequently and then ship them as required rather than print just once and then hold the stock (which is obviously costly). Market trends show that both lead times and run lengths are reducing. Are you equipped to cope?
3 For longer runs, what web width is needed? (The wider you go, the more labels can be produced across the web). The usual options are 340mm and 440mm and 510mm is possible.
4 What materials would you want to handle? e.g. conventional paper labels? synthetic materials such as PE or OPP? unsupported filmic substrates?
5 Would you look to handle standard labels or, alternatively, perhaps look at more bespoke, high embellishment speciality products such as those with foiling, embossing, perforations and punched holes – and these could be finished in-line or off-line?
6 What markets are you addressing? For instance, if you are in the pharma market where short runs are commonplace, makeready will be more important than speed – and therefore digital printing might fit these criteria. However, you might also want to consider a screen unit for Braille and this could be incorporated in-line on a conventional flexo press. Again, if you are in the high end beverages or health and beauty you might want to consider a screen printing unit to lay down an opaque background colour or achieve a tactile feel to the label. A web turning module would facilitate single pass printing on the reverse adhesive surface.
7 Digital printing allows for a high degree of personalisation – in fact the image on every label could be different.
8 A digital printing machine usually achieves a range of colours from mixing magenta, cyan, yellow and black (and sometimes also with the addition of green, orange and violet to enhance the gamut). It depends on how precise the colour match must be. A conventional flexo machine can reproduce exact spot colours for the most demanding customers.
9 Ink jet digital printing can offer a very opaque white, which is comparable to a screen printed white, but at a lower cost (dependant on run length).
10 What space do I need to fit the equipment? Do I need to compromise on machine length which may make a difference to performance?
11 Present a selection of suppliers with some samples and ask them to evaluate each piece and give an estimate of the makeready times, speed and cost of ink consumption (if digital) etc for them. This will help establish a benchmark for your own production. Gallus provides benchmark samples.
12 Don’t just ask for a demonstration of a machine; take your own print profiles and put the equipment through its paces. Customers are very welcome to upload a PDF layout and then run their own jobs on the equipment – both digital and conventional. Facilities are available in the demonstration room at Gallus in Switzerland.
13 Ask advice on better preparing the label to gain maximum productivity. Small changes that have no effect on the label’s appearance can have a significant impact on machine performance. For example, the size and shape of a label’s waste matrix area can have a significant effect in the run and therefore the time and cost required for production. Likewise different material substrates, inks and adhesives can all have an effect on machine performance.
14 Is your machine future proof? Ensure it is JDF compatible. All Heidelberg digital equipment can be supplied with the Heidelberg DFE which is easily connected to a workflow. The DFE also maintains accurate colour consistency throughout the run and enables incredible job repeatability from a colour and quality aspect.
15 What add ons do I need on the machine (e.g. glue application, quality control, cold foil, hot foil, rotary screen, embossing, punching and perforating) and off the machine (slitting, rewinding, logistics, packing etc)?
16 Check maintenance contract options. Although routine maintenance can be covered by the printer himself, a yearly maintenance contract is readily available. Furthermore an Ethernet connection back to Gallus allows fault finding and other work - such as software updates – to be done remotely.
17 How good is the supplier’s service, support and spare parts service?
18 How am I going to use the additional capacity that the latest generation technology will give me?
A label printing machine must be robust, reliable, productive and profitable. For more information contact Heidelberg UK label specialists Chris Jackson on 07825 781481 or John Hopkins on 07976 624722.
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