Printing and Design Tips: November 2019, Issue #220

Deconstructing Label Samples from Epson Inkjet Printers

Regularly I receive printed collateral from EPSON printing. I always send the business reply card back requesting samples. Unlike a lot of people, I actually study the samples with a loupe under good light, and I read the technical materials with a yellow highlighter. You might say I am a tech nerd. I wouldn’t dispute that. But I would say that by doing so I get a tremendous amount of information on the current state of digital inkjet printing, and this covers production inkjet used for books and periodicals, large format inkjet for signage, and labels and packaging.

What You Can Learn

I would encourage you to follow my lead for the following reasons:

1. Printed Samples Tell the Whole Truth

Nothing will show you as well as printed samples exactly how the technology of inkjet printing has improved. You can get a lot of information from press releases and fact sheets, and even from reviews of this technology. But nothing will confirm or disprove what you’re reading quite as well as printed samples. And these have been stellar. Many of the samples even showcase fashion, food, and automotive subjects, which are the most demanding areas of marketing in terms of resolution, tonal range, and color fidelity.

2. You Can See What’s Popular

You can see exactly what is most popular in the realm of printing (at the moment) based on the samples EPSON provides. The samples reflect growth in these segments of commercial printing, and the probable need for design and sales professionals for these venues. In general, these successful printing arenas are the ones driving the developments and improvements in digital printing.

3. You Learn About the Technology

You can see how the processes work. For instance, I have four samples of labels I just received. All have been printed on EPSON inkjet equipment. One is printed on a completely clear base stock. When I turn it over, I see that all print areas visible on the front of the label have also been backed with white ink. Interestingly enough, when I look through a loupe I see that all halftone dots visible on the front of the label have corresponding white halftone dots visible on the back (as opposed to just having a solid white background visible on the back and a halftone printed in color on top of this). (FYI, this gives a slightly transparent look to the halftone image in the label, whereas a solid white background behind a label photo might completely overpower the image.)

So in terms of processes, in this case you learn that on a clear substrate you need a white base over which the label is printed. If you do a little more research, you learn that ambient light goes through the transparent label base and then reflects back to the viewer (but only if there’s a white base behind the transparent process colors). If the white base were not present, the colors in this label would be dull. (There would be nothing for the light to bounce off and return to the viewer’s eyes.)

Another sample has been printed on a reflective plastic substrate. It bleeds past the body of the label onto the surrounding liner sheet. Looking closely, you can see that it has been diecut (but not through the liner). This is called “kiss” cutting. The blade goes through the label but not the backing sheet. If you peel off the label slightly, you can see that the substrate is opaque, and you can get a sense that the adhesive attaching it to the liner is rather strong. If you’re curious, as I am, this might lead you to research label adhesives, and you might learn how they often need to stay on products that are wet and cold. Some even have to stay on machinery out in the rain and snow. And those adhesives and inks used on food packaging must not migrate from the cardboard box into the food products.

So in this case four of the samples I received can show you EPSON’s ability to hold tight register in small type and provide (halftone) dot-for-dot white backing ink to ensure brilliant colors, but they can also teach you a lot about the physical requirements of labels.

In fact, if you’re astute to the variety of labels and packaging available, these samples might lead you to other forms of packaging such as folding cartons, flexible packaging, and corrugated board. You might even go further to learn about shrink sleeves (clear plastic “jackets” that are printed and then slipped onto bottles before heat tunnels shrink them tightly onto the bottles, providing an all-around, eye-catching, printable wrap).

4. You Can See EPSON Do the Hard Stuff

Labels are not just a marketing tool. They are a functional product necessary for inventory management. They are also a vehicle for transmitting information. At the same time, inkjet has until recently been a messy technology, in that nozzles spray ink onto a substrate. Often the little dots of the spray land outside the target position (for example, the letters set in small type on a label, or the vertical bars in a UPC, or Universal Product Code, label or QR code.

In the latter case (UPC and QR codes), the printed product has to be exact. Stray inkjet dots can minimize the accuracy of the optical character recognition equipment. In the case of the four samples I received from EPSON, with a 12 power loupe I can clearly read what looks like 3pt type. Moreover, the designer didn’t even play it safe. She, or he, used a rich black (three, or all four, of the process colors mixed). I know this because with the loupe I can see stray dots of cyan, magenta, and yellow—as well as black—ink on the letters of each word. This used to be impossible in digital printing. In fact, it was even a challenge in traditional offset printing to keep everything in register to print crisp, minuscule type.

5. You Get the Technical Documentation

If you tried to read the tech documentation without having seen the quality of EPSON’s product, the details would probably put you to sleep. They are very dry. But when you have seen the product, the details suddenly take on life.

For instance, the technical document for one of EPSON’s Sure presses discusses the LED curing ink. If you read between the lines, you see that this means it can print on non-porous substrates, and the ink can dry (or cure) instantly. Moreover, you can see that the ink will sit up on the surface of the substrate, keeping the brilliance of the colors more faithful than if they were allowed to seep into the substrate.

You can even see that the curing lights for this process (LED UV, rather than traditional UV lights that give off more heat) will last longer and require less compensating air conditioning. In short, you can see that the process is environmentally friendly and economical. You can even learn from the documentation that the LED UV curing allows you to use off-the-shelf printing paper (rather than paying more for specially coated paper). So your business can start making money more quickly after buying such an inkjet printer.

You can even go one step further with the UV technology, if you do some digging, and learn that, once cured, UV inks are weather, scratch, and chemical resistant. So if your labels are used on equipment outside in the elements, or even if you’re printing wine bottle labels that will be cold and wet, you can see that this technology might be just right for you.

What You Can Learn From EPSON’s Marketing Mailers and Samples

The best thing you can learn from this experience is that when you receive a mailer from EPSON (or maybe even a mailer from HP Indigo, which would give you a corresponding view of the technology involved in digital laser printing--also known as xerography or electrophotography), you should consider accepting the samples they will send you for free. Just check the “Yes” box on the mailer. Then study very closely whatever comes in the mail. Sometimes they will even send you an incentive like a branded box knife or flashlight.

[Steven Waxman is a printing consultant. He 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.]