Digital label-making technology mashup at Labelexpo Americas

Hall F of the Stephens Convention Ctr. was the hub of digital label and packaging printing and converting at Labelexpo Americas. Here’s my Converting Curmudgeon roundup on a handful of interesting developments.

EPSON SurePress digital-inkjet pressAfter debuting at IPEX 2010 earlier this year, the production-model EPSON SurePress L-4033 (left) short-run digital label press had its North American launch at Labelexpo Americas. A prototype unit was displayed at the Rosemont show two years ago. Now, using the company’s MicroPiezo inkjet technology, the up to 13-in.-wide press uses EPSON SurePress AQ durable, water-based, resin-coated pigment inks for superior adhesion and abrasion resistance. A wide color gamut includes six-color ink set with Orange and Green, while resolutions are 720 x 720 for paper and 1140 x 720 for film substrates. No pre-coating of standard pressure-sensitive labelstocks and film is required, and the press runs paper at 16 fpm. Since 2008, EPSON has rounded out the SurePress with Wasatch SoftRIP, X-Rite spectral color measurement, compatibility with EskoArtwork software suite, the GM DC-330mini label converter for downstream finishing, and the Rotary Technologies infeed + Reregister system. More info

Xeikon 3500 digital-press outputAlso launched at IPEX and making its North American show debut, the Xeikon 3500 digital label press (right) may be the most productive system shown at Labelexpo Americas. It runs webs up to 20.3 in. wide, and prints at speeds up to 63 fpm, regardless of the number of colors used or the size of the labels. Five color stations (CMYK standard) allows for a spot color or special security toner. One-pass opaque white can create “no-label looks” on transparent substrates. Read my report on Odyssey Digital Printing, which has been using the 3500 for the past month. Xeikon also showed its new 3030 entry-level digital press, which runs 13-in. webs at 3.15 fpm. Two units were sold off the show floor to Indian label converter Webtech, Ltd. More info

Durst Tau 150-8C digital pressThe third IPEX launch displayed in Rosemont, the Tau 150 digital UV-inkjet, narrow-web label press (left) was shown in a 6.5-in., 8-C model with the DIVA™ digital varnishing module alongside a Rotoworx® 330 finishing system. Its standard CMYK + W color configuration is completed with Orange and Violet, offering more than 90% coverage of the Pantone® color gamut. The Tau VDP option allows for full label-to-label variability at high printing speeds of 160 fpm. The DIVA provides for different gloss levels—high, semi, satin and matte—with a single fluid in a single pass. It lets converters produce special effects such as textures and even tactile elements, varying the finish from label to label. Durst sold a Tau 150 to Étiquette & Ruban Adhésif Commerce. More info

Jetrion 4830LED UV-inkjet digital pressDigitally expanding into the flexible-packaging market, the new EFI Jetrion 4830LED UV system (right) prints on unsupported and heat-sensitive substrates such as shrink-sleeve films. With an 8.3-in. web width, the printer’s durable, flexible inks are said to be shrinkable up to 90%, and most substrates do not require priming or overvarnishing. Some semi-gloss papers do need priming, however. The 4830LED has a list price of $549,000, and upgrade kits are available for existing 4830 models. More info

HP Indigo, the pioneer of digital label and packaging printing, celebrated the milestone of 1,000 Indigo presses installed worldwide among converting customers. There are more than 130 WS6000s now operating in 30 countries. HP’s Labelexpo Americas display included cut-and-stack label and carton production on a sheetfed Indigo 5500 with a POLAR LabelSystem cutter; a high-volume WS6000 integrated with an AVT PrintVision Helios II video web-inspection system; HP SmartStream Production Analyzer; and an Indigo ws4500 producing shrink sleeves finished on a Karlville K1 seamer. At the show, Andover, MA-based Reid Graphics bought an HP Indigo WS6000. It will begin printing the majority of its work on digital presses when it retires three more flexo presses as well as an older Omnius digital press. More info

INX Evolve UV-inkjet pressINX Digital tries to help converters evolve with its Evolve UV narrow-web digital printer (left) designed for labels, direct mail, packaging, rigid containers and more. It uses patented Xaar Through-Flow Technology™ inkjet printheads turning out 300 x 300-dpi resolution with INX Digital UV Evolve inks. INX says that the print engine and printer are available as both standalone products or for customization and integration into existing label-printing operations. More info

The SEI Laser Converting Label Master is said to be the most complete “roll-to-roll” system for laser diecutting and digital finishing. Processing paper, polyethylene, polyester, polypropylene and other films, it uses a 10.6 um-wavelength laser (350- or 480-watts peak power) working in a 13.7 x 13.7 in. area. The laser writes at up to 18 ft/sec. With a maximum speed of 180 fpm, the Label Master also offers optional flexographic coating, hot stamping, inspection, and downstream slitting and rewinding. More info

CSAT iTS 600 UV-inkjet digital pressThe CSAT iTS 600 digital-inkjet printer (right) runs paper, plastics, foils and pressure-sensitive labelstock at 150 fpm, turning out 600-dpi resolution on CMYK or four spot colors. It has a maximum web width of 8.6 in. and uses LED UV curing. A user-friendly, 15-in. touchscreen operator interface, download and import of industry-standard file formats, automated printhead cleaning all unite for a system that is reportedly easy to use. More info

And while not really showing something new, inkjet-printhead manufacturer Xaar was technically on exhibit across Labelexpo Americas with its equipment being part of at least 13 inkjet printer/press companies’ systems. VP Chris Lynn speculated on what’s ahead for inkjet printing in perhaps the next 10 years. Expect head prices to fall while the number of colors and print speeds rise. Cheaper whites, metallics and functional inks and coatings are on the way with capabilities such as taggants for security and thermochromics for marketing and time/temperature benefits. More info

My Thoughts: OK, all the cachet and whiz-bang excitement about digital label printing and converting aside, analog production is NOT going away…just yet. To paraphrase Mark Andy in its booth presentations, “It’s the productivity, stupid.” Some digital presses ARE getting significantly wider and faster, but they’re still quite a bit behind the curve of, say, 24 inches wide running at 350 fpm. The day may come when digital technologies will allow for that kind of productivity, but perhaps not for decades. The proof?

IT Strategies just released its study, “PRIMIR Megatrends in Digital Printing Applications,” commissioned by NPES. It showed digital print growing 11.5% annually to 2014 and analog print falling 5% a year. A closer look at specific end markets revealed a 50% annual growth for digital-print labels. For flexible film, it’s 41%; for folding cartons, it’s 61% annual growth. Impressive, no?

Except that this is all from a VERY small overall volume. “Digital production printing would have to grow about 200% a year to even approach an overall market tipping point,” says IT Strategies vp Marco Boer. Few of the 12 applications studied will tip before 2014, though some have enough momentum to possibly tip by 2020 or later. Analog printing seems to be safe…for now. Digital is still hot on its heels.

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4 Responses to Digital label-making technology mashup at Labelexpo Americas

  1. Braden Glett says:

    Great article. Exciting developments here, but (for now) only for the short-run end of the market. Of course, longer-term this technology will affect the whole continuum of label converting, but this will take quite a while. I am happy to see that there are now many viable digital label presses rather than the previous situation where Indigo was always the presumed digital label press of choice. This was one of the most interesting Label Expos I’ve ever attended because of the pace of digital press development.

  2. Your forgot one! The DICE GT retro-fit; the 4 color inkjet system system that utilizes your current press. It turns your analog press – 7″ up to 22″ into a hybrid or digital press and allows you to use your present inline finishing.

  3. Pingback: How The Converting Curmudgeon did (traffic-wise) in 2010 | The Converting Curmudgeon

  4. Pingback: The Converting Curmudgeon Top 10 Hits | The Converting Curmudgeon

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