By Industrial Print Staff
The label segment is rapidly adopting digital printing technologies to accommodate increasing requests for smaller runs and versioning. It’s up to each label printer to decide when it is time to invest in digital, and to what extent, but inevitably it is where the industry is heading.
Above: Middleton Printing of Grand Rapids, MI recently printed beer labels for Brewery Vivant’s Wondersplosion IPA.
Middleton Printing is a print provider based in Grand Rapids, MI. The shop focuses on label applications, offering custom labels, decals, sale stickers, thermal transfer, and cut vinyl.
The company started in 1960 as a general small format commercial printer with multiple commercial sheet-fed presses. In 1972 it incorporated high-speed envelope production, adding flexographic label printing in 1976. Today the shop staffs ten employees and operates out of a 10,000 square foot space.
The company installed an Epson SurePress L-4033AW digital label printer in 2013 to help it transition out of flexographic printing. It made the full move to digital recently with the purchase of the Epson SurePress L-6034VW.
“As the commercial printing market started to break away from analog printing and transition to digital printing as an industry, we took a step back to observe how this trend would affect us and our customers and decided to adopt digital printing as quickly as possible,” comments Steve Middleton, president, Middleton Printing. “This allows us to meet our customers’ growing needs for digitally printed labels and adopt the growing trend in automation that digital offers.”
While the company first installed a digital press five years ago, it began researching solutions in 2009. In 2012 it attended Labelexpo and got a firsthand look at the Epson SurePress L-4033AW and decided to make the jump to digital.
“At this point, Epson already had a reputation for amazing quality and color accuracy, which helped with our decision to purchase the press. The quality of the labels printed from the press is excellent, offers a simple workflow with its automation features, and also meets our needs for short-run label printing,” shares Middleton. “We were also impressed with Epson’s commitment to the market and how they use their own technology in the SurePress,” he adds.
The print provider expanded its digital portfolio in 2017 with the installation of the Epson SurePress L-6034VW in March. According to Middleton, it was one of the final pieces the shop needed to make its full transition into digital printing. “We chose the Epson SurePress L-6034VW because its quality lives up to Epson’s high standards, including its simplicity, durability, and automation. One of the main factors that helped us decide to purchase and install the L-6034VW is its white ink capabilities, as well as our customers who like the look and feel of labels printed with UV inkjet,” he says.
With its two digital solutions the company provides UV LED cured ink with the Epson SurePress L-6034VW and aqueous inks with the Epson SurePress L-4033W.
The Epson L-6034VW features an Epson-developed PrecisionCore linehead, center drum system, and digital varnish. It integrates all of the functions required for label production, such as corona treater, white ink, digital varnish, and an additional UV curing unit.
It features newly adopted pinning technology that controls the range of ink scattering and realizes ultra-sharp dots and thin lines. The device offers speeds of up to 49 feet per minute with a 13.4-inch width.
Meanwhile, the Epson SurePress L-4033AW features Epson’s MicroPiezo inkjet technology to create output with smooth gradations and incredible color quality. The L-4033A offers a six-color—cyan, magenta, yellow, black, orange, and green—industrial-quality, water-based ink set, which produces a range of colors for consistent results. The L-4033AW includes a seventh white ink to print a transparent no-label look, as well as metallic-type labels frequently used in the cosmetic and health and beauty markets.
The Epson SurePress L-4033AW also offers substrate versatility. With no pre-treatment or top coating required, a variety of standard off-the-shelf substrates can be used at variable web widths of up to 13 inches wide.
With these devices up and running, 100 percent of Middleton Printing’s label products are produced on digital label presses.
“It is easier for us to use digital label printers because of our set up, which allows us to produce a variety of labels as well as the SurePress’ automation capabilities,” says Middleton.
For jobs that are difficult to run spot PMS color or textured substrates, the shop elects to use the L-4033AW because of its wide color gamut. On the other hand, the L-6034VW has a more durable ink set, including matte and glossy varnishes, which Middleton says are popular with customers that require beer and wine labels.
“Implementing digital print technology has allowed us to be more efficient in our process and expand our capabilities. We are able to produce more products with fewer people and create labels that many flexographic companies cannot. We also tend to run a lot of jobs for label and printing companies that still run flexography,” adds Middleton.
He says the benefits of working with digital printing equipment include the increase in efficient production with reduced prepress steps. “We also have less suppliers to deal with and no longer have the need to purchase inks from other companies.”
One challenge the shop has faced is in regard to software. “Software solutions available to the label printing industry are priced for companies much larger than Middleton Printing and are not exclusively designed for digital label production from the ground up,” admits Middleton.
Middleton Printing recently printed beer labels for Brewery Vivant IPA, Wondersplosion. The shop used the Epson SurePress L-6034VW to print these labels due to its varnish capabilities, which include glossy, matte, and white ink.
The creative was submitted by the customer and measured 8.2x.125 inches. The design was printed on silver metallized BOPP film with the Epson SurePress L-6043VW then die cut on a METAS 1-Series semi-rotary die cutter.
“There was no way to cost-effectively print the labels without digital technology. The quality requirements for white ink and varnish registrations would’ve been challenging. Thanks to digital, we had minimal waste,” shares Middleton.
2,000 labels were printed on this run, which was a pilot run for a larger job.
“This specific label run showed the Epson SureColor L-6034VW’s strengths with the ability to print white registration and the varnish effects with pixel-on-pixel registration,” says Middleton.
Middleton Printing realized early on the importance of digital printing to its success as a label creator. It continues to watch for technologies to stay ahead of the curve.
“Middleton Printing is looking into areas to bolster its ability to support customers and label consumers, which include developing innovative technology and manufacturing hardware solutions, as well as exploring and developing new applications for our digital press,” concludes Middleton.
Apr2018, Industrial Print Magazine