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Printing Industry Exchange (printindustry.com) is pleased to have Steven Waxman writing and managing the Printing Industry Blog. As a printing consultant, Steven teaches corporations how to save money buying printing, brokers printing services, and teaches prepress techniques. Steven has been in the printing industry for thirty-three years working as a writer, editor, print buyer, photographer, graphic designer, art director, and production manager.

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Commercial Printing: Epson’s Label Printing Presses

I receive a lot of promotional mail from Epson, the maker of inkjet printers. Over the years I have consistently checked the box on the return mailer asking for samples. I can’t tell you how much I have learned from studying these samples close up with my loupe as well as reading the accompanying sales literature.

Yesterday I received two boxes of samples and data sheets, so I was in heaven. This is what I learned about the state of inkjet label printing from one vendor: Epson.

Points of Information (Noted in Epson’s Literature)

    1. One of the brochures referenced the Sure Press L-6034VW and L-6034V. These are Epson inkjet label presses that use LED UV-curing ink. What this means is that exposure to UV light “dries” the ink on the substrate instantly.

 

    1. Being able to dry ink instantly—instead of through evaporation, absorption, or oxidation—means printers can print on almost any substrate. The base material does not have to be porous because the cured ink will adhere completely to the surface of the substrate (rather than seep into the fibers).

 

    1. For label printing, it is therefore possible to print on clear and metallic films. Prior to the use of UV inks for labeling, a printer would use a flexographic press to print on such thin films (such as shrink sleeves or the plastic packaging in which loaves of bread are wrapped). Flexography is a relief printing process that uses rubber plates with raised type and images to print directly on labels and other packaging materials. Now, digital commercial printing via inkjet technology is a viable alternative for shorter or versioned press runs.

 

    1. Since Epson’s process uses LED UV light to cure the ink, the bulbs produce significantly less heat than conventional UV curing lamps. This means the UV curing bulbs last longer, and they don’t require extra air conditioning to compensate for the excessive heat that prior generations of UV curing bulbs generated.

 

    1. Instant curing of the inkjet inks means that no VOCs (volatile organic compounds) are released into the atmosphere.

 

    1. Because these inkjet label presses use LED-curing inks, the paper substrate does not need to be precoated (as with many other inkjet presses). This also means that off-the-shelf papers and films can be used (rather than substrates specifically created for inkjet commercial printing). This opens up the range of printable label surfaces considerably. It also allows for custom printing on heat-sensitive films and metallics.

 

    1. Epson’s proprietary inkjet technology reduces the spread, or scatter, of the ink particles. This allows for more precise placement of inkjet dots and therefore for crisper type, thin lines, and precise barcodes, even at smaller sizes.

 

    1. Epson has added a background white ink treatment to the inkset, which helps make the barcodes and small type especially legible, even on clear film labels.

 

    1. In addition to the white ink, Epson includes the usual process colors (cyan, magenta, yellow, and black ink). Moreover, Epson also includes both matte and gloss spot varnishes. Strategic placement of these gloss and matte coatings can create interesting contrasts and also highlight specific type or imagery.

 

    1. Epson’s LED UV inks have a strong surface when cured, and this increases their rub resistance. It also makes them durable when exposed to weather or chemicals. Therefore, labels printed on Epson’s label presses are ideal for outdoor use.

 

  1. The drum used in these Epson printers feeds the paper or film with a high degree of precision, maintaining the evenness of the color and also holding the dimensional stability of the substrate. (That is, the paper or film does not stretch, expand, or shrink, so conventional flexographic substrates can be used for the labels.)

But What Does All of This Mean?

First of all, these are just synopses of specs for two of Epson’s label printers. There were four more of these spec sheets in the two packages I received. Epson is putting a lot of resources into this specific printing arena.

Why? Based on my reading elsewhere, it seems that labels, folding cartons, flexible packaging, corrugated cartons, fabric printing, and large format print signage are some of the hottest venues within the commercial printing arena. And with more and more products on retail shelves, labels are of increasing importance to marketing.

Moreover, with a focus in the marketplace on quick turn-arounds, smaller press runs, versioning, and personalization, digital commercial printing is ideal for contemporary marketers who need labels. And being able to offer an alternative to flexography for these shorter runs is ideal, particularly since flexographic substrates can be used on the digital equipment.

All of this would not be relevant if the quality of the custom printing were not spectacular. Today’s versions of this technology can even surpass the color gamut of traditional offset lithography, particularly with the use of expanded ink sets. I was particularly impressed with the samples Epson sent me. The colors were brilliant, and the imagery was crisp. I was particularly pleased to see this level of quality produced on substrates ranging from clear film to paper.

How This Relates to You

If you design printed products (as opposed to websites), it behooves you to know where to find more work. As noted before, people who can design labels, folding cartons, flexible packaging, corrugated cartons, fabric printing art, and large format print signage are in demand. Understanding the relevant technology will help you immeasurably.

Also, this is a particularly good arena in which to express your commitment to the health of the environment, since the technology has a much lower environmental impact than traditional commercial printing methods. After all, none of the chemicals used in offset lithography and flexography are needed, and the new LED UV-curing lamps use very little energy.

If you’re not a designer, this is still a good area for you to consider, for everything from copywriting to sales to commercial printing and finishing work. In short, label printing is vital to commerce. That’s why Epson has established such a strong foothold.

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