The Label Makers Ltd. (www.labmak.co.uk) is a private, family-owned designer and manufacturer of premium-quality, self-adhesive labels based in Bradford, West Yorkshire, U.K. In business since 1963, the company employs 52 personnel and until recently, had converted all its label products using a range of conventional printing technologies, including flexo, litho, letterpress, and silk-screen production techniques, all featuring the use of UV-cured inks.
But in 2010, The Label Makers found itself falling behind in its ability to competitively provide short-run, high-quality labels to its customers, which comprise some of the U.K.’s leading brands, including companies in the food, beverage, personal care, petrochemical, and decorative coatings markets. “We produced short-run labels by the letterpress printing method,” recalls managing director David Webster. “However, we felt we needed to bring that department up to scratch with a modern technology. We were losing out on price to other digital printers who were not charging for origination.” (Origination, he explains, involves the creation of the film and plates needed for conventional printing methods.)
In November 2010, The Label Makers installed a Xeikon 3030 digital color label printing press from Xeikon (www.xeikon.com), a division of Punch Graphix, along with a custom-designed ABG Digicon finishing line from AB Graphic Intl. Ltd. (www.abgint.com) for offline label enhancement.
Upon finalizing the agreement to purchase the Xeikon press at Labelexpo Chicago in September 2010, Webster noted: “The combination of the Xeikon digital engine and a highly sophisticated finishing line means we can truly satisfy customer requirements for premium-quality short-run work at competitive rates. The market is requiring greater flexibility from its supply base with shorter and variable print runs, and this latest investment program means we will have the facility to deliver the expectations of our customers, irrespective of run length.”
Press meets all requirements
The Label Makers prides itself on providing a tailor-made, personal service from design concept through to finished labels, and is dedicated to communicating the strongest on-pack message to its clients’ customers. Also important to the company is reducing the environmental impact of its business. It currently operates a recycling scheme for a range of manufacturing byproducts, as well as promotes the use of recycled and recyclable materials.
After evaluating competitive digital printing technologies, The Label Makers found Xeikon’s dry-toner electrophotography process the best fit for its requirements. “We looked at a variety of ink-jet machines but felt like they were not suitable for label work,” says Webster. “The inks were too raised and looked like screen ink. We needed to be able to move longer runs of labels from digital to conventional printing methods. HP digital was considered, but we did not like the pre-coating of materials along with the click-charge pricing method.”
The Xeikon 3030’s dry-toner imaging process enables the use of conventional substrates—including self-adhesive label stocks, paper, transparent and opaque foils, and paperboard—without the need for coating or pretreatment. The press prints at a resolution of 1,200 x 3,600 dpi, using a five-color print engine that allows for the use of four standard process colors plus the choice of a spot color, a special security toner for anti-counterfeiting applications, or a one-pass opaque white for the “no-label” look on transparent material.
The web-fed digital press uses a proprietary dry toner, QA-I, developed specifically for the label and packaging markets. All process colors and standard available spot colors are FDA-compliant for indirect food-contact applications, while direct food contact is allowed with dry foods that contain no surface oil or fat. Additionally, QA-I contains no solvents, so the Xeikon 3030 produces no hazardous emissions of VOCs.
For job preparation, the Xeikon press is equipped with an open, scalable, and modular digital front end, the X-800. The X-800 combines extensive prepress functionality, including a high-speed RIP with variable-data print processing. The system is also equipped to handle complex operations such as sequential numbering and bar codes.
Personalization, embellishment options
Since installing the Xeikon digital press just over a year ago, The Label Makers has been using the machine to produce jobs with run lengths measuring 1,500 to 2,000 m (roughly 5,000 to 7,900 ft) of total roll length per substrate. The press handles a substrate width of 330 mm, and provides for an imaging width of 322 mm. The slower speed of the press—it runs at 31.5 ft/min—versus conventional printing processes means that these short-run jobs are the most profitable applications for the Xeikon 3030.
According to Webster, the press is ideal for virtually any small runs, especially if they have a number of print variations. “Personalization is something that can really only be achieved with digital, and customers are already looking to this as a potential way to differentiate their products from the competition, especially at the high end of the market. By adding these capabilities, we open up a whole range of new possibilities.”
The addition of the Digicon offline finishing equipment also offers The Label Makers’ customers a range of high-quality finishing options for their short-run label jobs. “Due to the fact we have a sophisticated finishing machine from AB Graphic International, we can offer our customers cost-effective hot foil, screen ink, cold foil, and lamination, and separate emboss and flexo varnish. This allows them to have high-embellishment labels at a fraction of the cost conventional print methods can offer.”
One example Webster cites of a label recently produced using the new digital press and postpress equipment is a two-part beverage label. The label was first printed in four colors and consecutively numbered from one to 10,000 on the Xeikon 3030. It was then finished on the Digicon, where it was hot-foiled, flexo-printed on the foil, embossed, varnished, and die-cut. “As the Digicon is a flat-bed foiling and embossing machine, the dies were cheaper than conventionally rotary printed,” says Webster. “We would not have been able to do consecutively numbered labels anywhere else in the plant.”
So pleased is The Label Makers with the Digicon, that it has ordered a second model, the Digicon-Lite, an entry-level model that offers varnishing, coating, and converting functions.
Technology expands business opportunities
Having built a strong reputation for high-quality conventional print through its UV-litho and UV-flexo combination presses, the move into digital printing has only served to enhance The Label Makers’ offerings to both new and existing customers. Says Webster, “We have received a very good response from customers. It has helped them move into new markets, and we have picked up new customers because we are able to offer them cost-effective, high-embellished labels.
“The Label Makers’ investment in Xeikon digital print technology continues to drive the business forward while keeping customer service as its central focus.”