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Finishing Options for Digitally Printed Labels

by Jeff Peterson

February-March, 2014
Digital printing is finding a true niche within the label printing industry because of the need for short runs (typically print jobs of 5,000 lineal feet or less) and quick changeovers from one job to another. The quality of the finished product has improved as well, which adds to its acceptance. “The closer that a digital print has come to achieving the ‘look and feel’ of flexographic printing, the more successful the strategy to add digital label printing capabilities has become,” states Sean Marske, president of Colordyne Technologies (www.colordynetech.com). “If the investment in digital printing is rationalized in this manner, existing flexo capacity can be freed up to produce more profitable, longer run or specialized jobs.”

Many label printers are realizing that having both digital and flexo printing capabilities make a lot of sense. “For short-run label work, digitally printed jobs can run instantly, and there is no need for long changeover (plate changes),” explains Spartanics (www.spartanics.com) Vice President of Sales & Marketing Mark Bacon. “Digital will not overtake flexo; it is simply an alternative solution for short-run jobs, which is becoming an increasing need in the label market.”

With continued growth in the digital label printing arena, the technology on the finishing end has had to adapt as well, spawning the introduction of inline or near-line finishing options.

Inline Laser Cutting
To complement the elimination of plates and tooling on the printing end, many digital presses are incorporating laser cutting technology versus conventional rotary diecutting methods. Colordyne’s CDT 1600-PC Laser Pro digital press with a full inline finishing system, incorporates an inline laser cutter that allows users to move from one print job to the next, regardless of image, color, shape or size, minimizing set-up time and waste. “Inline laser cutting on the digital press requires no dies or cylinders, cutting inventory or retooling costs associated with traditional rotary finishing,” explains Marske. “Furthermore, converters are able to offer more creative shapes and more intricate designs to their customers, making them more marketable and competitive without the cost of purchasing dies for custom jobs.”

“The main advantage of inline laser cutting is the ability to take a print/cut file from prepress and produce labels immediately,” states Bacon. With an increase in short-run and private labeling, the label market is moving toward lean manufacturing practices that reduce the number of total movements in the printing and converting processes.”

Although laser cutting provides many advantages, it may not be the best choice for all jobs, especially as a part of an inline solution. With this in mind, Spartanics has designed the L350 Laser Cutting System that can laser cut near-line to allow the press to run at optimum speeds and then laser cut in a separate pass. There also are limitations on the types of material that can be cut by laser. Plastic-based materials, such as PVC and certain PE or vinyls, are not able to be cut by laser. In those cases, a traditional rotary diecutting system will need to be used. Both laser cutting and rotary diecutting units can be installed inline or near-line with a digital system.

Other Finishing Options
In addition to inline laser cutting, there also are inline lamination and coating stations that are available on digital label presses. Current models of presses, such as Colordyne’s CDT 1600-PC Laser Pro, can be configured to flood coat UV- or aqueous-based coatings, which then are cured through a hot air dryer or GEW lamp system. Colordyne also offers systems that include underside lamination and slit and dual rewind capabilities.

Grafisk Maskinfabrik’s (www.gm.dk) DC330 and DC500 label converters have been designed to work inline or near-line with a digital label printing system. A complete converting and finishing unit, the label converters were specifically created for use with digital presses and can set-up as inline extensions to a digital system, allowing the web to continue directly into the converter from the digital press. The units include semi- and full-rotary diecutting with precision print-to-cut registration, a UV flexo coating station with registration and serve-driven web tension control. GM also offers flatbed hot stamping units that can run inline or near-line with a digital system. The units offer high precision servo drives for perfect registration and can perform both hot and cold foil decorating.

Telstar Engineering (www.telstareng.com) has developed a highly compact and efficient Offliner™ Web Transport Platform, specifically designed to help digital label printers add decorating capabilities as companion systems to presses such as the HP Indigo and Xeikon digital presses. “These systems typically are aligned with or situated near-line the parent press,” states Telstar Engineering President Tom Kirtz. “Our engineering and retrofit capabilities have never been more important to customers looking to blend digital and web capabilities.” Typical retrofit modules ideal for digital finishing applications include hot stamp, Cast & Cure™, diecutting, rotary screen and DecoMod (cold foil transfer). The base of the Offliner unit has the flexibility to extend and allow for multiple decorating processes.

Spartanics offers hot stamping units as part of its L350 converting package. “In general, hot stamping can slow down the digital printing process, so our recommendation is to utilize a near-line solution for hot stamping,” explains Bacon.

As the technology has grown for digital label production, the demand to efficiently decorate digitally printed labels has emerged. Companies are taking advantage of this opportunity and developing both inline and near-line diecutting and decorating systems to meet the needs of today’s label manufacturer. “Both digital and flexo have strong roles as we move into the future of label production,” states Marske. Digital printing and finishing providers who stay ahead of the curve will be the companies that will continue to succeed in the marketplace.