Mike Fairley on Digital Printing

By Mike Fairley

Over the past five years or so, the digital printing of labels has undoubtedly become a mainstream printing process, with examples of high quality printing being produced daily for the food, beverage, health and beauty, pharmaceutical, consumer products, industrial, and other labeling sectors.

More than 1,200 digital label presses have been installed worldwide since the first launches of the new technology in the mid-1990s, and close to 250 new presses are currently being installed each year into label printing companies in Europe, North and South America, Australia, Asia, and India.

While the digital label press market to date has been dominated by HP Indigo and Xeikon, the past couple of years have seen over 15 new digital inkjet presses launched, as well as new models from the main market leaders. Many of these presses were presented for the first time at the Labelexpo show in Brussels last year. Current analysis indicates that there are currently at least 36 different makes and models of digital label presses available to converters from some 30 suppliers.

Certainly, the benefits for label users of using digitally printed self-adhesive labels are now understood and accepted by many brand owner and retail groups alike. These benefits include speed of response, reduced inventories, on-demand delivery, new promotion possibilities, mass customization, and short-run capabilities.

The response to the opportunities and sales growth created by digital presses has been so great, that installations of new digital presses now make up some 15 percent of all narrow-web label presses installed worldwide each year. The value of digital label sales grows annually at up to 36 percent annual growth, against just 4 or 5 percent annual growth for conventionally printed labels. Certainly, a powerful argument for continued investment in digital technology.

Now those same benefits are increasingly being extended into other types of labels, shrink sleeve labels and heat transfer labels, among others, as well as into new opportunities within the printed packaging sectors, with digital printing now being used for the production of high quality printed flexible packaging, tubes, cartons, bottle top foils, sleeves, containers and pails, even games and competitions incorporating variable information.

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