My previous post provided an overview of where inkjet fits among digital print technologies serving the label market. We covered toner, UV inkjet and aqueous inkjet in the context of different labelling applications.
In this post we discuss the characteristics of 3 categories of inkjet label printers: low volume, mid-high volume, and hybrid with an overview of the key players in each of these groups. With over 20 OEMs offering label printers, often with multiple models in the line-up, we have provided the high-notes here and support your research with additional details, specs and compare option available on the Inkjet Insight Device Finder . First let’s look at the categories and then at where the market is headed.
Low volume devices have a very small footprint and can sometimes even fit on a desktop. They are not designed to run 24/4, rather are for occasional prints. This makes them suitable for small shops or distributed printing. The latter is done at the site where the label is needed (and are not necessarily operated by a printing company).
The devices share some traits. Most solutions are aqueous inkjet based, often using Memjet inkjet heads as print engine. Oki and Konica Minolta are bringing dry toner to that segment. Colours are typically limited to CMYK. Quality can be good, but the range of substrates is typically more limited.
The devices can offer integrated finishing solutions. The price of the finishing solution often does outpace the price of the engine. Engines prices in this tier range from $10k to $100k
Mid and High-volume
There is a lot of activity in the mid-volume market. HP Indigo with their liquid toner technology have been the best-selling digital label printers for years. Xeikon is offering dry toner technology in this segment – and has a strong line-up in inkjet as well. Konica Minolta is moving into this market as well with the latest dry toner models. Most other suppliers offer inkjet technology – predominantly UV inkjet.
The devices are designed for multi-shift operation and support a wide range of substrates. Primer stations can be included to improve the substrate range. Often finishing modules are offered. Base devices start at $200k and full-blown lines can go beyond $500k.
Often the devices offer white and additional spot or gamut enhancing colours. They feature a professional DFE that allows for advanced color control, batching, imposition, and can interface with pre- and post-press systems. It is worthwhile checking the capabilities of the DFE as well, as they are a major factor in productivity.
High volume devices have higher speeds and a larger footprint than the mid-volume devices, but there is no unambiguous distinction. They are designed for multi-shift operation and offer the best productivity in digital so far. Inkjet tends to have a speed advantage, although the HP Indigo 8000 with a twin-engine approach can reach 60 m/min. All devices offer at least white and often have additional colour options.
Hybrid presses are a special breed. They combine a conventional flexo press having multiple flexo units with an inkjet printing module. The idea is that static portions are printed in flexo, using the lower cost flexo ink and only the variable portions are printed in inkjet. The imprinting can be monochrome or multi-colour. There are usually no extra inkjet colours available beyond CMYK, as those are printed in flexo.
If continuously large areas are printed in inkjet the approach loses appeal, as in addition to the higher inkjet inks costs still plates are needed, including change-over time and waste. This could end in combining the worst of both worlds. The ideal market for hybrid is versioning, when large parts of a label remain static.
Types of label presses
Afinia, Arrow, Epson, Oki, Konica Minolta, New Solution, Rapid, Trojan
Aq. Inkjet + dry toner
Often Memjet heads are used
Up to 20 m/min
Typically CMYK only
Small printers and Distributed print
Dilli, Dantex, Durst, Epson, HP Indigo, Konica Minolta, JETSCI, Miyakoshi, Xeikon
Dry toner+ liquid toner
+ UV inkjet
Up to 50 m/min
Typically offer white, sometimes additional colours
Small to mid-size printers
Canon LabelStream, Dantex, Domino, Durst, HP Indigo, Mouvent, Screen, Xeikon
Aq. + UV Inkjet
+ liquid toner
Up to 100 m/min
Offer white, often additional colours available
Mid to large printers
Colordyne, FFEI, Gallus, IPT, Mark Andy, several others
Aq + UV Inkjet
CMYK inkjet + flexo; includes some retrofit modules
Larger printing plants
Where is the market heading
With so many vendors active, there is a constant stream of new products and upgrades. Some of the more remarkable developments are:
- Inkjet with 1,200 dpi native imaging resolution for the mid and high-volume markets, now offered by several vendors.
- Mouvent is bringing aqueous inkjet to the high volume market with the LB702W.
- HP Indigo announced the V12, which could lift liquid toner print speeds by up to four times. The target is moving high quality digital print into mid-volume label runs.
At the low end digital printers are going to trickle into more and more markets and establishments. With the low price and ease of use, end users will be tempted to bring some production in house. Especially when tight targets in logistics are involved an on-site approach has a lot of appeal. Those devices can allow quick printers and small service providers getting a foothold in label printing as well.
Among established labels printers almost all invested in mid and high-volume devices already. Apart from a few newcomers to label print, the overall base is not likely to grow a lot. Faster speeds and lower running cost will increase the addressable product range, as will increasing quality and more embellishment options. Although this will drive volumes, the higher speeds will also allow for consolidating devices.
There are some trends to keep in mind, that can limit the label uptake:
- Direct-to-shape printing can make labels superfluous. For cans and bottles this is already used to some extent, but in other market the uptake is low so far.
- Environmental legislation and waste concerns can get users to shrink the size of labels, adopt direct-to-shape print and move away from labels containing plastic towards paper labels in general
- Electronic alternatives like E-Ink labels can substitute labels in some markets, e.g. on shelves or POS. The impact will be low, however.
In general, however, the outlook for pressure sensitive labels is bright, even if there is no rapid growth phase expected anymore. Digital label printing is established and with higher speeds and lower running costs will expand its field of use.