GERARD WINN, Xaar’s Senior Product Manager, highlights how digital inkjet print technology is driving innovation in labels and packaging…
Labels are used for many different applications, including product identification, promotions and as decals for product branding. They are typically printed roll-to-roll, using a combination of conventional print processes including flexographic, letterpress, offset, gravure and screen print processes.
The label sector is still growing – current estimates are that growth rate will remain at approximately 3% per annum for the next five-years at least. Alongside market growth, there is increasing demand for shorter run-lengths and special or customised designs, and a drive to increase the speed of design change and reduce label inventory levels.
Digital printing is perfectly suited to meet these customer requirements, and the recent development of hybrid printing solutions, like the Xaar Print Bar System, means that for more and more label converters it couldn’t be easier to make the most of all that digital technology can offer.
Digital printing enables cost effective production with no limit on the run length. Short print runs for limited
editions or localised promotions become much more achievable as there is no minimum order quantity. Similarly, image size is also completely flexible and not restricted to the limited repeat lengths of analogue plates and presses. The ability to print short runs of labels means that printing in a single language is possible, for example, which frees up space that can be used to maximise brand exposure or add targeted messaging for brands. In addition, because digital enables printing on-demand, there is no need to produce unwanted labels or overs due to a minimum batch size which is associated with standard printing.
The exact order quantities help to significantly minimise stock levels and prevent the cost of label waste due to design changes. Similarly, the extra costs of set-up time and material make-ready incurred with analogue print processes are eliminated.
Digital printing also offers rapid order turnaround once the design is agreed, as it can be sent directly to print with minimal set-up requirements and make-ready. Samples, proofs and final product runs are identical, ensuring job-to-job quality acceptance and ‘right first time’ production.
Why digital inkjet?
UV inkjet inks exhibit physical rub and chemical resistance characteristics that ensures 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 associated costs.
UV inkjet also has excellent adhesion to a wide range of substrates, including the main types used in label printing, such as PVC and PE films. Pre-treatment of substrates with a primer is not required, eliminating a process step and associated costs.
Inkjet systems can also be modular by nature, making it easy to incorporate additional colour stations or other in-line processes, such as laser cutting or foil blocking. Inkjet printheads are readily integrated to create variable print widths up to the standard label width of 330mm and beyond.
Outstanding print quality
As an example, the Xaar 1003 printhead is now the first choice in many single-pass inkjet label presses, often built
in-line with other processes such as laser cutting and over-varnishing, and where high-quality images, fine text reproduction, and reliable, continuous printing are a must. The Xaar 1003 incorporates both Xaar’s unique TF Technology® (ink recirculation) and the unique Hybrid Side Shooter® architecture so that ink can flow directly past the back of the nozzle during drop ejection. This ink recirculation means that air bubbles and dust particles present in the ink are carried away, which radically improves reliability even in the harshest industrial environments and ensures continuous artefact-free roll label production.
One thousand optimised geometry nozzles deliver precise drop placement accuracy which ensure fine detail and reproduction of fine label text alongside outstanding image quality on a variety of substrates. With 360 nozzles per inch and up to eight grey levels, this results in an effective print resolution greater than 1000dpi, providing smooth tonal gradients for the ultimate print quality.
Combined with the versatility and capability to make every label different, this means that digital inkjet has now come of age and is delivering real value and quality to a product’s packaging.