Digital Printing – Not Only For Labels

Utilizing 10-colour digital technology to achieve very fine and uniform printing, through outstanding dot shapes

One of the biggest trends in packaging in 2010 will be the shift away from rotogravure and flexo printing and the move toward digital printing. Although digital printing is undoubtedly becoming a mainstream printing process for labels, with examples of high quality printing produced daily for all sorts of labels for consumer products, industrial, and other sectors, it is moving to other sectors as well.
Now the same benefits are increasingly being extended not only into other types of labels, such as shrink sleeve labels and heat transfer labels, among others, but 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 and folding paperboard boxes.

Furthermore for some time now, advocates of digital printing have predicted that digital presses would come to be used by packaging companies and other manufacturers whose primary activities were other than printing.
Personalisation will be an even bigger driver in the future. The ability of a consumer products company to have many different labels for a single product is new and something that will take off in the coming decade. There are also more companies leveraging their brands by allowing the consumer to design and order their very own packaging for their product. This is also a trend that has only just begun.

Photo courtesy Traco Manufacturing (

Clearly, digital printing is on the move. And, because it is such a relatively new technology, it has a lot of potential. It is also a growth segment for companies that are supplying digital printing technology.

While the digital label press market to date is dominated by HP Indigo and Xeikon, recent years have seen over 15 new digital inkjet presses launched, as well as new models from the market leaders. Analyses indicate that there are currently at least 36 different makes and models of digital label presses available to converters from some 30 manufacturers.

HP digital press used by Traco Manufacturing in Orem, Utah (

While conventional die-cutting and varnishing have been the minimum finishing options for digital label presses to date, the latest equipment is now available with options for hot or cold foiling, embossing, inkjet personalisation, 2D bar coding, booklet insertion, hologram registration, flat-bed screen printing, sheeting, over-laminating, 100 percent web inspection, turret rewinding, or slitter rewinding.

In ten years, digital printing will be the dominant technology in package printing. It may take some decades before all product packaging is printed digitally, but within ten years it is expected that flexo and traditional offset printing have become niche industries, with the vast majority of labels and packaging being printed digitally.

But it is not only labelling. the Impress Group BV, a Dutch company headquartered in Deventer, The Netherlands, and a  worldwide supplier of a wide range of two and three piece steel cans and ends, developed the Impress dPrint technology for 3-piece non-food steel can applications.
dPrint is offering fully decorated metal cans in small order quantities and within very short lead times. The core of this process is an exclusive 100% digital printing process, which can reproduce 95 per cent of all Pantone colours via the standard four colour process.
Flexibility and order-on-demand allow for process time (from final artwork to the final printed product) to be reduced to a few hours to obtain high class pictures for personalised print, niche brands or products, promotions, test markets, new product launches and seasonal products. The technology is specially interesting as it can transform steel cans in collector’s items, so that the consumer can re-use the cans.

A second new development happens in Spain, where bottle closure manufacturer Metálicas Canals (MMCanals) has installed two HP Indigo press ws4500s for printing capsules and caps for the food and drink markets.
Established in 1947, MMCanals is a family business that first focused on the manufacture of penicillin capsules, later moving into metallic cap production for applications like soft drink and beer bottles. The company had the opportunity to diversify into capsules for wine bottles when synthetic materials began to replace metal.

In the past, MMCanals carried out all its printing using nine gravure presses. Production is now being migrated to the HP Indigo press ws4500s with PE, PET, biodegradable PVC and special substrates printed with up to seven colours and finished with a range of techniques including hot foil stamping and embossing.
MMCanals’s HP Indigo presses have many advantages over conventional printing, a number of which has an impact on the environment. The manufacture of gravure cylinders is costly and requires the use of more energy and solvents than digital printing. By its nature, conventional (gravure, flexo and litho) printing has a start-up period during which ink application and register are achieved. This process generates material waste – in the case of MMCanals, waste of expensive substrates – and lengthens the overall press time. As such, it is only cost-effective for longer runs.

With HP Indigo technology, start-up waste is eliminated as print quality and ink register are immediately achieved. Job changeovers, using the same substrate, can be done on-the-fly, and HP ElectroInk is dry when it leaves the press and can be finished immediately making the entire production process more efficient.

The prepress process for the manufacture of capsules is similar to the prepress techniques used in digital printing.

With digital label sales growing annually at up to 36 percent, against just 4 or 5 percent for conventionally printed labels, it’s not difficult to imagine a similar development in other segments of the packaging industry.
The only drawback is the cost of the press. They are pretty pricey, though, insiders believe the cost is worth it and expect that the label printing industry will certainly be shifting in that direction in the future. And certainly not only the label printing industry.

© Weslley Murylo De Souza Steeman – 100375

4 responses to “Digital Printing – Not Only For Labels

  1. Pingback: Printing » Digital Printing – Not Only For Labels « Best In Packaging·

  2. Interesting piece that, Anton. Thank you very much.

    I can very well relate to what you have written to whats being discussed amongs some knowledgeable people in the industry, here. I have seen the operation of one such HP digital press machine and need i say, it left me impressed on all the above counts that you have described.

  3. For several years I already said that this would be the future, but many ” problems” have still to be overcome: speed, width rewinding, inline laminating, coatingpossibilities etc. But I must agree that within 10 years or so digital printing will be the standard.

  4. I love seeing new technology coming out in these types of genres. I primarily concern myself with screen prints and screen printing because I spent a lot of time making custom t-shirts for people. But stuff like this excites me and peaks my interest.

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