By Cassandra Balentine
Digital print enables personalization as well economical short runs. One application trending is labels. The ability to offer cost-effective runs in the hundreds presents value to start ups as well as big brands looking to experiment with versioning.
While digital penetration is still fairly low when it comes to the overall label printing industry, it is a growing market.
Companies looking to add a new revenue stream may want to consider investing in printing and finishing equipment that supports digital label production. Some wide format printers and printer/cutters are ideal for this application, as well as stickers and decals. Dedicated digital label systems are another option.
Here we profile three very different print providers, each offering digital label production in some capacity.
Above: DLS, headquartered in Itasca, IL uses an INX NW210 to produce labels for a range of markets, like breweries in the beverage industry.
Our first example illustrates the expanded capabilities a wide format printer/cutter presents to a small three-person run print shop. Situated in Costa Mesa, CA, Inkgenda is a print service provider (PSP) passionate about the industry it serves. Jim Gray, partner, Inkgenda, evolved from professional skateboarder to business owner. His print background stems from his days as the owner of Acme Skateboards, where he was introduced to screenprinting.
The road to Inkgenda began when Gray decided to create decals and stickers for the skateboard brand in house. The business as it exists today started in 2009, and primarily consists of screenprinting stickers for well-known skate and surf brands. It’s Gray’s background and knowledge of the industry that keeps the shop’s clients loyal and happy. “We have a broad base of customers. Our model is different in that we don’t have salespeople. I was a professional skateboarder and have gotten to know many in that industry. What drifts outside of these types of clients is from referrals,” explains Gray.
While a majority of the shop’s business is produced with screenprinting methods, Inkgenda decided to invest in digital print technology about three years ago. This decision was based on demand from customers asking for different types of work as well as lower volume sticker runs. A wide format printer would meet these needs. When it was time to shop for a machine, Gray was referred to Roland DGA Corporation by a fellow skateboarder that worked for the printer manufacturer. Shortly after, a Roland VersaCAMM printer/cutter was installed.
Since the addition of its digital wide format printer, the PSP expanded its services with lower runs of stickers, and the addition of new applications like labels, decals, and wide format output like banners, posters, and point of purchase displays. The company has also digitally print and cut labels for water bottles, beer bottles, and other containers.
The Roland VersaCAMM runs Roland Eco-Sol MAX inks and Inkgenda favors a range of media, including products from 3M Commercial Solutions, FLEXcon, and General Formulations. In addition, it employs a standalone Summa America LLC cutter.
A lot of the work Inkgenda completes is still better suited for traditional analog processing, but when the volume makes it a close call, Gray says the decision to use digital or screenprinting often comes down to color. “If it’s one or two colors, screenprinting is typically more efficient,” he offers. He points out that for jobs with six or eight colors, digital makes more sense.
The company follows the general rule of thumb that if an order over a couple of thousand comes in at one or two colors, it’s usually screenprinted. Gray stresses that they don’t limit themselves by these guidelines. Occasionally, a job will come through the door that makes sense to utilize both printing capabilities. “If someone needs a fluorescent or metallic color that we can’t digitally reproduce, we print the effect on the screenprinter and move it to digital for cutting rather than creating a die. As a business, we use versatilities that we learned, and we keep getting more versatile.”
Gray estimates that about 70 percent of its work is still produced with screenprinting. Its digital capabilities make up a smaller, but rapidly growing segment of the overall business.
When the press was first installed, the team had theories about how long it would take to pay for itself. “Now it never stops printing. More projects are requested in the lower volumes and we serve more start ups asking for smaller numbers,” offers Gray.
Inkgenda’s digital print capabilities complement its traditional business. With digital wide format printing, it is able to take on different types of jobs—like labels, as well as accommodate lower runs of stickers and decals. By taking advantage of the latest technologies, in addition to its own versatility and personality, the shop experiences success without stress. “We have fun with what we have. The customer base isn’t made up of big purchase orders from random people; they are all in direct contact with us. Half of our customers can text us their orders,” he shares.
Next, we profile a PSP that added digital label printing capabilities a few years ago to accommodate the latest demands. Strategic Print Solutions (SPS) is a print provider located out of a 12,000 square foot facility in Hiawatha, IA. Established in 1996, it operates with 19 employees.
The company got its start by offering high-quality remanufactured toner cartridges to local technology companies. To better serve its clients, SPS expanded based on customer demand. The cartridge business eventually evolved to providing service repairs to copying machines, then selling new machines, and then expanded into creating small print jobs.
Today, the company offers a range of print services, from post cards, business cards, and booklets to wide format products like posters, blueprints, and canvas printing. Recently, the company decided to add label printing. SPS serves a lot of retail customers, including grocery stores, breweries, and dairies. Adding label production made sense to better help these clients.
Casey Ealy, president, SPS, admits that while its label business is currently minimal, the service is just getting up and running and is expected to pick up rapidly. The goal is to have it be one third or more of its business by the end of 2017.
The company set out on its journey to find the right label printer about a year ago. This decision was sparked by requests by two of its existing clients. The SPS team hit the Labelexpo floor in 2016 and came across the Epson SurePress L-4033AW. They were intrigued by its ease of use, footprint, and price tag. “It seemed like a great starter machine for us,” shares Ealy.
Since its installation, the company produces runs that are typically 1,000 to 2,000 labels. It uses Epson ink and media from Mactac Distributor Products for label production.
Ealy comments that advancements in digital made it easier to invest in a label press. “The Epson SurePress L-4033AW allows us to print labels and opened the door to many new clients and revenue streams,” he adds.
Finally, we spotlight Diversified Labeling Solutions (DLS), a business-to-business supplier of high-quality, custom-printed pressure-sensitive labels that began offering digital services several years ago.
Established in 1985, DLS offers everything from blank to full-color high-definition labels produced using a variety of equipment. The company operates facilities located in five states—including Atlanta, GA; Cincinnati, OH; Dallas, TX; and Reno, NV—and is headquartered in Itasca, IL. Overall, it employs over 200 people.
The company invested in its first digital press in 2011. “We are motivated by conversations with distributors where there is a desire to work together in order to come up with a unique solution for an end user,” says James Cirigliano, director of marketing, DLS.
DLS initially settled on the INX International Ink Co. NW140 narrow web digital press for its small footprint, small amount of waste generated, durable inks, and the ability to print on nearly every type of material without the need for a topcoat. Two years later, the company invested in the INX NW210 inkjet UV digital narrow web press. The INX NW210 offers speeds of up to 80 feet per minute and incorporates JetINX Printhead Drive Electronics and Recirculation System.
For its label production, it runs INX ink and uses a range of media, its go-to is a semi-gloss polypropylene material. It also operates flexographic and offset printing equipment, as well as butt splicers, turret rewinders, and laser die cutting services.
Since the implementation of the INX digital label presses, DLS is seeing more digital business come through the door. “We have opened up the market for smaller jobs that were costly to run on flexography,” he shares.
Cirigliano says DLS’ customer base is distributors. “Our jobs can really cover just about any market. What runs on the INX NW210 the most are warehouse rack labels and signage, or durable labels. We see a lot of marketing labels for the short runs,” he offers.
When determining whether to run a job on flexographic or digital, the primary determining factor is the size or number of labels for the job. “The breaking point is somewhere around 7,000 to 10,000 feet of material,” says Cirigliano. “Beyond that, it is more economical to run them on our flexographic equipment.”
For its digital work, typical runs are usually in the 500 to 10,000 foot range, but can be as long as 20,000 or 30,000 feet. The INX NW210 produces both labels and tags for the print provider and Cirigliano estimates that about ten to 15 percent of its business is currently made up of digital jobs.
DLS plans to continue to grow its fleet of digital presses and expand into new markets. “We see more work for the digital world as it becomes more popular,” concludes Cirigliano.
Digital label printing equipment comes in many forms, from dedicated, entry- to production-level systems to wide format printer/cutters. Adding digital to a traditional printing environment enables print providers like Inkgenda and DLS to effectively handle short-run demands. For SPS, adding label printing is a new adventure made possible with advanced technology.
Each of these three examples indicates the growing interest for digital label applications and the variety of solutions available to support demand.
Nov2017, Industrial Print Magazine