The future of labels and labelling is bright – products will always need to be clearly identified and promoted to consumers, whether through traditional labels and print technology, or by printing directly onto the product’s primary packaging. At Xaar, we are ideally placed to meet the growing demands for labelling in its widest sense and are, above all, confident that one technology is capable of answering many of the needs and trends – from globalisation and consumer engagement to personalisation and versioning – that characterise the industry today: namely, digital inkjet technology.
Market researchers agree that, as things currently stand, less than 5% of labels are printed digitally. However, the demand is growing, and around one in three new label presses are now digital rather than analogue. Yet the two technologies do not necessarily need to be seen as mutually exclusive. Indeed, what we are seeing is a general trend for utilising both digital and analogue, with companies opting to add digital capability to their existing analogue label systems.
INNOVATING THE TRADITIONAL
Digital technology is leading the way in meeting the needs of shorter run-lengths, improved speed of design change, and reduced label inventory levels – and it is also the technology delivering new features for brand owners. With inkjet, the latest UV inks exhibit the physical and chemical resistance characteristics that ensure labels remain in pristine condition with no ink offset or adhesion loss due to scratches, rubbing, or exposure to water or chemicals. This makes inkjet ideal for the ‘no look’ clear labels used for many beverage and health and beauty products, and means over-varnishing is unnecessary, eliminating a process step and its associated costs. UV inkjet has excellent adhesion to a wide range of substrates, including the main types used in label printing, such as PP and PE films. Also, pre-treatment of substrates with a primer is not required, which saves more money.
As an example, the Xaar 1003 printhead is a popular choice in many single-pass inkjet label presses, such as the Durst Tau 330E, EFI Jetrion 4950LX and Dantex PicoColour – often built in-line with other processes such as laser cutting and over-varnishing – and wherever high-quality images, fine text reproduction, and reliable, continuous printing are a must.
In addition to this print capability, with Xaar’s unique new High Laydown (HL) Technology, digital inkjet is also capable of printing a range of textured effects onto labels, folding cartons, and other products. Such high-build, textured embellishments can be used to significantly enhance the shelf appeal of products, transforming them into high-value packaging that commands a premium and ensuring they stand out when on display.
DIRECT TO SHAPE
When looking at the future of labelling, an alternative to – rather than the wholesale replacement of – the traditional label is Direct-to-Shape (DTS) printing. DTS offers a number of outstanding and unique benefits, including the fact that it removes the need for a separate label, as the information is printed directly onto the product. This means that, amid calls for a reduction in packaging, it may provide the ideal solution for labelling any product, reducing the need for separate label inventory and, of course, simplifying waste and recycling streams.
Indeed, digital inkjet has been reducing the need for labels through its coding and marking applications for more than 20-years. By printing product information and bar codes directly onto secondary packaging boxes, it has removed the need for an additional label, thus helping to save materials and reduce costs across a spectrum of FMCG products.
An example of this is a promotion linked to the popular Belgian TV comedy FC De Kampioenen, which saw Martens Brouwerij demonstrate the creative and marketing capabilities of its new Direct Print system, powered by Xaar, by launching a new brand of beer in association with a well-known Belgian sitcom ‘F.C. De Kampioenen’. The PET bottles carried images of different actors which came to life using a special smartphone app, and the characters interacted with one another if two bottles were placed next to each other. This is an example of direct-to-shape helping a brand build a closer relationship with the customer – priceless at a time when brand loyalty is constantly tested.
MIX & MATCH
While the drive for less packaging may favour direct-to-shape in the long-term, it is clear that labels and labelling – both traditional and direct-to-shape – are with us for the foreseeable future. The industry is moving with the times, combining existing and new technologies; and it is digital inkjet, with its versatility and capability to make every label or product different, that will continue to ensure its survival in a rapidly changing climate.