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Market Trends

Label Printing

Regarded as a key growth market at present, Rob Fletcher takes a look at the latest developments in label printing and the opportunities for print-service-providers in this sector

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Put a label on it

Labels may be among the oldest forms of print, having been around for thousands of years, but the value of these applications still stands in the modern market.

Pretty much any sort of product carries some form of label, be it information on how to take a certain type of medication, facts about a bottle of wine you have picked to complement your evening meal, or those all-important nutrition details for your lunchtime snack.

With companies becoming increasingly transparent in terms of showing information about their products, coupled with manufacturers trying to capture the eye of consumers with attractive labels, this opens up all sorts of opportunities for print- service-providers (PSPs).

Rise to the challenge

First up, Durst has a number of options in terms of label printing. Simon Cosh, label business development manager for Durst UK and Ireland, says labelling is a stable and steadily growing market. He says upcoming trends offer great opportunities for the label industry, whereby digital print will be an essential technology part to master current and future challenges.

Simon Cosh, label business development manager for Durst UK and Ireland

“The global challenges including material and labour shortages for a raft of unprecedented reasons have accelerated the adoption of digital printing in the labels sector as it directly empowers customers to become more efficient and now with Durst Tau RSCi presses, which can run up to 100m/min, longer runs are a viable option,” Cosh explains.

O Factoid: Durst TAU RSCi presses can run to100m/min O

The Durst Tau 510 RSCi

“Overall, the food labelling industry is driven by global population growth, economic expansion, and rising consumption with a growing emphasis on sustainability. Taking one sector as an example, there are a number of current and potential future trends that will positively influence food labelling. These include trends such as the changing eating habits that continue to be a driver for growth in food labelling.

“Then the proportion of single-person households is rising continuously, which is driving demand for smaller package sizes and overall growth in food labelling. Also, alternative packaging materials and re-closure functionality are essential features for which self-adhesive labels offer good solutions.”

Cosh goes on to say that a key trend to be aware of in labels, as well as in the wider print industry, is that more brands and end customers are looking for environmentally friendly label production, which is part of the entire end-to-end supply chain. He says customers are wanting to “green up” their factory by looking at areas such as minimising production waste, stock obsolescence, power consumptions, and so on.

“Consumers care more and more about the planet and this is wise,” Cosh says, adding: “Otherwise, not much will be left to care about in a few hundred years.

The brand owners and manufacturers of the goods we consume must respond; and they will respond. This means their requirements to the label converters will change.

“Reliability, simplicity, automation, productivity, cost efficiency, and fast turnarounds are all essential for delivering any label.”

Reliability, simplicity, automation, productivity, cost efficiency, and fast turnarounds are all essential for delivering any label product

Cosh says Durst’s current Tau portfolio has all the key capabilities and is well-positioned to cover the requirements of the different print runs. Options include the RSC E and RSC for short and medium runs, as well as the new RSCi for medium and long runs.

“All our press solutions run with 1200dpi heads and so print quality is second to none,” he says, adding: “A big advantage to running 1200dpi heads with a 2pl dot size is they use less ink than older 600dpi technologies so running costs are lower. Furthermore, we have extended our product offering for long runs with partners to offer hybrid printing and inline converting.”

Durst Tau RSC production presses can run up to 100m/min, but Cosh says production is not all about print speed, explaining that having front-end solutions to enable customers to feed these production presses efficiently with minimum intervention is also a key component.

“Our customers can count on Durst’s continuous development of RSC technology as we continue to push the boundaries of innovation as part of our pixel to output strategy,” Cosh says, adding: “All our products are backed up by market-leading service, inks, and software.

“Our products provide answers to customer requirements such as high levels of automation, reliability, simplicity, and speed; and of course cost-effectiveness – to be able to deliver any label and any run digitally.”

New opportunities

Another well-known name within this sector is Konica Minolta. Jon Pritchard, label and inkjet consultant at Konica Minolta Business Solutions UK, says the manufacturer is seeing a noticeable increase in labels work, with press production among its UK customers up 16% in the past six months compared to the previous six-month period.

“We believe this is only going to grow as customers find new opportunities to promote their digital offerings,” Pritchard says.

“Food labelling remains a prominent demand generator for label producers, but UK label production in general is increasing due to Brexit trade restrictions. For many businesses, sourcing labels from abroad has become far more challenging due to lead times and increased costs, so UK label producers now have a stronger position to cater for these needs.

“This has been compounded by general material shortages which are prevalent worldwide of course, and means a UK label producer that has the right stock will be in a prime position to win the business from UK customers. In some cases, businesses that use the labels may even consider bringing their production in-house, which adds another dynamic to the demand and supply structure.”

Another noticeable trend, Pritchard says, is the increasing use of multiple digital technologies alongside each other. In the past, he says there has been a rush to buy ‘the next big thing’ in terms of technology, but Pritchard says Konica Minolta is now seeing a growing acceptance among label producers that no particular technology will necessarily answer all their current or potential needs.

“Each option has its pros and cons, whether its limitations on printing certain types of imagery, the types of materials being used, or the costs of purchasing the press versus running costs,” Pritchard says.

“My advice would be not to fear buying the technology you need now, as in reality you will probably need to invest in further technology to cater for your needs as they evolve. It’s not uncommon now to see commercial printers running different types of toners and inkjet alongside each other as they all offer something different.”

My advice would be not to fear buying the technology you need now, as in reality you will probably need to invest in further technology to cater for your needs as they evolve

Something Pritchard recommends is that as they scale their offering, businesses can justify offering more technologies to fill gaps and complement each other.

“There is no need to see them as competing solutions,” he says, adding: “There are many considerations when you invest in a new label press, and most will be unique to the specific needs of your business. Rather than looking at long-term needs, I would say it is far more important to consider your current and mid-term requirements as these will have the greatest impact.

“Obviously food and drink labelling are key areas for many commercial printers, and these require a considerable and accurate understanding of regulations and the necessary certification. There are also considerations here on the recyclability route, and therefore the adhesives you are using. Similarly, there are specific requirements for healthcare products which also require the right knowledge and implementation.”

With this, Pritchard draws attention to the Konica Minolta AccurioLabel 230, which he says has gained considerable attention and has proven to be particularly popular with customers. The machine offers per-minute speeds of 23.4m, 18.9m, and 9.45m. To match the type of media being used, the flexible machine processes colours at a resolution of 1,200dpi x 8bit with 256 gradations expressed in one pixel.

The Konica Minolta AccurioLabel 230 offers per-minute speeds of 23.4m, 18.9m and 9.45m

Other features include the ability to operate the device using on-screen instructions, with no specialist training required, without the need to pre-coat media. In addition, the manufacturer says that tasks such as colour adjustment that are usually time consuming only take a matter of seconds with the Konica Minolta AccurioLabel 230.

“Easy to use, with high media compatibility, high productivity levels with no waiting between jobs, and easy alignment of paper web, it’s a perfect choice for commercial printers looking for flexibility, practicality, and value for money,” Pritchard says.

Differentiation through design

Switching attention to the companies on the front line of label printing and production, AA Labels bills itself as a ‘one-stop shop’ for labels and stickers with a range of shapes, sizes, and colours. Ian Axelsen, business development manager at AA Labels, says while the business has noted a slight decline in demand for labels over the past eight months, reflecting the inflationary pressures experienced with the UK economy, there is still scope for growth.