New inkjet companies were also evolving in the late 1970s, 1980s and early 1990s. Mainly spin-offs from Cambridge Consultants, there were a whole cluster of inkjet companies that developed around Cambridge, including Xaar, Inca Digital, Domino, Epson, Danaher (Videojet, Elmjet, Willett), Linx, Generics, TTP and Xennia. Of these inkjet companies, Elmjet was responsible for the development of the binary array, a curtain of droplets produced extremely quickly by using hundreds of nozzles instead of just one.
Later came ‘drop-on-demand’ inkjet, developed by Xaar, in which ink was only squirted when it was needed. A number of these companies in the 1980s were undertaking various market research projects to look at the applications for the use of digital inkjet printing for printing ‘best before’ dates, bar coding, variable text, garment labels and overprinting on label applicator lines.
FIRST INSTALLATIONS OF DIGITAL COLOR PRESSES
Full-color print-on-demand (POD) digital printing of labels was first launched into the world of labels nearly 20 years ago. The first installations of some digital color toner presses, whether liquid or dry toner, began in the mid-1990s. Installations of these technologies grew at somewhere between 30 to 50 presses a year between 1996 and 1999. These were the first generations of the Xeikon and the Indigo Omnius (now HP Indigo), plus the variations of these machines being sold through Nilpeter, Gallus and Agfa. In general, all these early color digital presses were relatively slow to gain market acceptance.
Having said that, some 185 of these new full-color digital toner machines had been installed in the global label industry by the end of 2002.
Then came something of a hiatus for digital toner technology during which Xeikon went through an unstable period until it changed ownership and became part of Punch Graphics, and Indigo was being taken over by Hewlett Packard. During this time there was little real market innovation; the technology more or less stopped in terms of sales growth and there were still some performance and technical issues to be resolved. Overall growth for color digital label printing was no longer matching the market forecasts of the late 1990s.
However, developments in digital printing were still taking place. Labelexpo in 2002 saw the introduction of the Chromas Argio single color inkjet system. Developed by the Digital Label Alliance, this machine printed labels with UV inkjet at 600 dpi.
Mark Andy also showed the DT 2200, a combination of six-color digital inkjet and flexo printing which used the Dot.Factory SPICE (Single Pass Inkjet Color Engine) with Xaar inkjet heads. Both the Argio and SPICE machine were installed in a number of beta label plants.
Then in 2003, HP Indigo and Xeikon each started to introduce the second generations of digital color toner technology and sales of digital presses now started to increase rapidly. Indeed, 2005 proved to be a milestone year for digital POD color label printing, with 170 new generation label presses installed during the one year; something like 10% of all new narrow-web label press installations. More than 4.5 billion labels were printed digitally that year, with the number of labels printed digitally on HP indigo presses alone in 2005 increasing by 137% over 2004.
Figure 1.1, based on research by Labels & Labelling Consultancy and Info Trends shows the growth in the installed base of color digital toner label presses over the ten years from the first installations in 1996 up to the end of 2005.
Figure 1.1 - Installed base of digital color label presses 1996-2005
Other new series presses came in from around 2006, while 2008-2009 saw further new models from HP Indigo and Xeikon coming into the label marketplace. New generations of higher performance inkjet presses and combination conventional/digital machines, such as those from the likes of EFI Jetrion, Atlantic Zeiser, Nilpeter/Caslon, Impika Solutions, SolarJet, Stork Prints, Konica Minolta, Mimaki Engineering and Xennia, also all came into the label market place in the period up to the end of 2009. 2009 also saw Durst and Domino enter the UV inkjet label press market.
By mid-2012 there were estimated to be some 33 different makes and models of digital label press on the market. One year on (July 2013) that number had already increased to an estimated 53 makes and models of digital label (some producing printed packaging as well) presses on the market. To that can be added a further half-dozen dedicated digital package printing presses that have been announced. Such is the pace of digital printing innovation.
Certainly, the volumes of labels printed digitally has increased dramatically over the past 10 years or so. It’s difficult to calculate these volumes exactly because it depends on label sizes and so on, but by working on the click number from HP Indigo and through talking with Xeikon, it looks as if somewhere between 15 billion and 20 billion labels were printed annually on digital presses. That’s quite a considerable volume . and much of that kind of volume has come just in the last 5-6 years. Around 90% of all that (mainly) digital full color label printing volume is on self-adhesive materials.
There are some labels being produced on blank materials, there are some on related areas like shrink sleeve, in-mold or wet-glue labels, but about 90 percent of all the digital label printing is currently on self-adhesive materials. There are also some narrow-web label converters that are printing folding cartons, tube laminates, sachets, etc, although up until 2012 this has been a small proportion of the digital label and package printing market; probably no more than 50-60 machines.
DIGITAL COLOR BECOMES ACCEPTABLE
So what changed to make digital color label printing so acceptable? It was not just the fact that digital label presses had become more reliable, faster, wider, and could produce a quality of printing accepted by most major end-user and brand-owner organizations, it was also advances in the digital design, origination, artwork and pre-press stages of digital label printing, enhanced color management and front end technology, a better understanding of how to manage digital printing and workflows in the label plant . with all these factors combining to take the digital label printing (and the beginnings of package printing processes) rapidly forward.
Most of the early problems that were experienced with full-color digital printing have long been resolved, such as the consistency of reproduction of house and brand colors, the consistency of pick tests on inks and primers, and the initial finished label costs. Undoubtedly, it was the ongoing new generations of HP Indigo and Xeikon machines launched since 2003 that mostly influenced the new acceptance of digital label printing.
These new generations of machines were now being built as industrial printing machines rather than for an office environment, they were faster and more reliable; they offered enhanced output and a higher breakeven against conventional label printing using flexo, UV flexo, offset or letterpress and their output is today accepted by thousands of end-user customers in all kinds of applications and in a wide range of run lengths – with up to 50,000 labels or more (1,500 to 2,000 or so linear meters) not being unusual.
Add to that the greater understanding by converters of how to integrate digital printing into a flexo or conventional printing and converting plant; of how to meet new and changing customer demands for personalization, random numbering, product differentiation, variability or brand protection and also that it is now possible to make money with digital printing solutions, and it can soon be recognized why digital label printing has now become a key mainstream printing process . alongside flexo/UV flexo in particular. Combining conventional and digital in one press line is also creating interesting opportunities.
DIGITAL COLOR PRINTING TODAY
So where do we stand with digital color label printing today? Over the last 2-3 years there have been in excess of 250 to 300 new narrow-web digital label presses coming into the label (and now package printing) industry on a world basis each year. The end result is that by the end of 2012 there were well over 2,000 digital label presses installed in the world of labels (see Fig 1.2) and billions of labels printed digitally each year.
Figure 1.2 - Total number of narrow-web digital color label presses installed in roll-label industry 1996-2012
Indeed, it is now forecast that the installed base of digital label presses alone will rapidly increase to more than 3,500 machines over the next four to five years.
The newer generations of digital toner presses that were launched by HP Indigo and Xeikon between 2008 and 2012 saw the process becoming wider and faster – now close to matching the speed and performance of conventional presses . and more competitive for the printing of medium and longer run label (and package printing) jobs.
However, the large digital engines tell only one side of the digital label printing story. An emerging group of smaller presses is also now sharing the limelight. Among these are Primera, Colordyne, iSys Label, Oki Data, Allen Datagraphic Systems, Swiftcolor, Memjet, and VIPcolor, whose printers perform with inkjet and electrophotography. Many suppliers, such as Matan Digital Printers and Quicklabel Systems, also produce digital printers but using thermal transfer technology.
Add to this the new generations of fast narrow-to mid-web color ink-jet machines, including UV ink-jet and nanographic printing that were on show at the Labelexpo shows in 2009, 2010 and 2011 and/or at DRUPA 2012 – such as Durst, Domino, Epson, Stork Prints, Epson SurePress, Landa etc, and it soon becomes evident that few converters will be able to ignore the process in the years ahead. Indeed, digital label printing in one form or another is already quite widely used by label converters around the world, while digital package printing looks set to take off as wider (up to B1 and B2 size) and faster, sheet and web-fed digital presses from Landa, HP Indigo, Xeikon, Epson and others enter the market.
Put together POD digital color label presses made up around 19 per cent of all new digital label presses installed worldwide in 2011 – and 20% by the end of 2012. This is up from just one per cent in 1996. An indication of this dramatic growth in market share of new narrow-web digital press installations can be seen in Figure 1.3.
Figure 1.3 - Market share of new digital narrow-web label presses installed worldwide bteween 1996 and 2011 as a percentage of total new presses (analog and digital) installed
In other recent surveys and market research studies undertaken prior to Labelexpo shows or by organizations such as Info Trends, it can be seen that all the global markets are already significantly using or beginning to use digital label printing as an important part of their future.
Currently, Europe (including the Middle East and Africa) is the leader, followed by North America. The whole of the Asia Pacific region, including China, India, South-East Asia, Australia and New Zealand, has also been investing in digital printing technology. An indication of the market shares of the regions is shown in Figure 1.4.
Figure 1.4 - Figure shows where digital label presses were installed in the key regions worldwide up to the end of 2011
BRAND OWNER ACCEPTANCE
It is probably the acceptance by brand owners of the role that digital label printing can play in managing their own businesses that has been crucial to the rapid growth of digital label printing. Ask brand owners what they really want from their label suppliers and you get some interesting responses: more versioning and brand variation, more personalization, more product differentiation, unique authentication, accelerated time to market, reduction in lead times, rapid response to change, reduced or exact inventory and improved supply chain management.
It is perhaps therefore no surprise to those converters well established in digital label printing – or their customers – that digital printing can actually tick all these boxes in a way that cannot be easily achieved with conventional printing. Any printing technology that provides solutions, enhances business objectives, reduces supply chain costs and creates new business opportunities will undoubtedly succeed.
Digital is able to do all of those things – and will undoubtedly continue to grow. Particularly when some of the leading brand owners have commented that they will only deal with label converters that can offer both conventional and digital printing capabilities in the future.
So what are the markets for digital label printing today, whether black and white, spot color or full color digital? Quite varied in fact. Digitally printed labels of all kinds are now being used in a wide range of end-use applications. In particular:
Paints, inks and chemicals
Self-adhesive postage stamps
Typically, many of these digitally printed jobs contain lots of different designs or variations, may need language changes, have a variety of different container or pack sizes, have batch printing requirements or need long runs of variable data. Consequently, digital is gaining an increasing volume share of the label market and is also growing much faster in value. This can be seen in Figure 1.5.
Figure 1.5 - Figure shows global label growth between 1970 and forecast to 2015 in billions of square meters, plus growing portion printed digitally.
There are also moves with digital into facilities management applications and into serving customers that require both flexo and digital printing.
Inkjet, in particular, is now capturing increasing levels of work in the industrial labeling field, as well as for the printing of blister pack foils. Little wonder then that more and more label converters see investment in digital printing as a key part of their future growth, many now purchasing the second, third, fourth or more digital label presses. More recently, they are often looking to invest in more than one digital printing process – perhaps much the same as they would have invested in UV flexo, offset, screen, etc, in the past.
OPPORTUNITIES FOR GROWTH
Certainly this perception is confirmed through the label industry surveys carried out by the Labels & Labeling and Labelexpo group, through studies by InfoTrends and others. One of the questions asked of converters around the world is: Where do you see the main opportunities for investment and growth over the next few years? The end result can be seen in the diagram below.
As indicated Figure 1.6, North American and European converters continue to anticipate major growth opportunities for investment in digital printing, with emerging markets such as India, China and Latin America somewhat behind in their investment intentions.
Figure 1.6 - Figure shows where global converters see opportunities for future digital growth and investment. Courtesy Digital PR
Interestingly, recent Labelexpo shows in India and China seem to indicate significant interest in the potential and opportunity offered by inkjet, particularly for the whole field of industrial labeling, and this technology may well see more dramatic growth in the emerging markets than the toner technologies.
Outside of labels, there is no doubt that the launch at DRUPA of digital printing presses more suited to B1 and B2-size carton printing and wider-web flexible packaging coming to the market during 2014 will start to have a major impact on the world of package printing. Landa, in particular, made a somewhat dramatic impact at DRUPA with a range of new package printing presses and has created massive market potential and a significant number of letters of intent for their futuristic-looking Nanographic printing presses (Figure 1.8). HP Indigo, Xeikon and Screen Europe have also had significant interest for their next generation digital presses for the package printing market that were exhibited and presented at DRUPA.
All four companies – as well as others – believe that the future market potential is undoubtedly much greater for digitally printing folding cartons and flexible packaging than even for labels – and both sectors are certainly forecast to have a higher growth potential for digital printing than labels.
Indeed, HP Indigo sees the flexible packaging and folding carton markets as undoubted major avenues for growth, with predicted compound annual growth rates for digital printing of 31 and 50 per cent respectively (See Fig 1.7).
Figure 1.7 - estimated value and digital current share
Figure 1.8 - Landa nanographic printing press
There seems little doubt that digital printing will continue to have a major impact on the future of the label and package printing industries, with North America and Europe looking certain to continue leading the way in future investment in digital solutions. However, it does require a different approach to that used in the selling of conventional label and package printing.
Key to the success of digital printing today seems to be for the printer/converter to talk to the brand manager or product manager , not a label or package print buyer. It should also be marketed as a means of enhancing image and brand quality, sold on quality, added value and service and certainly not compared with other printing processes or purely sold on price.
Interestingly, many digital label printers do not even tell their customers that a job has been printed digitally, or they cost all jobs for both digital and conventional printing and then let the customer choose on the basis of quality and price. Increasingly, digital is the winner.
Digital label printing is undoubtedly now one of the important mainstream label printing processes. It will continue to play a key role in the future of the label industry, but will not replace other printing processes , they all have a role to play. However, it can provide profitable solutions where other technologies struggle to compete and, today, can offer a good return on investment.
If the package printing industry now invests in and utilizes the latest generations of package print related sheet and web-fed presses in the same way that the label industry has invested in digital label presses over the past 10 years or more – and is continuing to invest at a rapid rate – then the number of digital POD color printing presses producing labels (self-adhesive, heat transfer, in-mold and wet glue), folding cartons, flexible packaging, sleeves, sachets, tubes, blister packs and pouches may well exceed 4,000 machines within the next five or so years. That will be impressive.