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Andy Thomas: Revolution number two

I wrote about the beginning of the digital label revolution almost 20 years ago when Indigo and Xeikon launched their electrophotographic engines at Ipex ’93. I watched with amazement as the technology almost died through a lack of understanding of the PS industry, then bounced back when HP acquired Indigo and Punch Graphics Xeikon, and we saw the launch of the first industrial strength digital label presses. Today ‘digital’ is the biggest single press brand and of course inkjet has gatecrashed the party, but it has been a long and rocky road.

At a pre-drupa press conference in Tel Aviv I believe I witnessed the start of the second digital revolution, where industrial strength digital printing is extended into the field of packaging (and avoiding the mistakes of the early digital label years). HP Indigo showed prototypes of two new digital presses targeted respectively at the carton and flexible packaging and film label markets. These are heavyweight machines, weighing in at around 11 tonnes, and HP is working with a range of partners to bring complete converting lines, from pre-press to finishing, to market. The presses’ extended format size fits in with existing carton and flexible packaging workflows and allows wide web and sheetfed converters to use existing finishing equipment.  In other words, these presses sit squarely in traditional packaging print workflows.

At the same time, L&L’s technical editor Barry Hunt attended the Xeikon pre-drupa event, and learned that the company is demonstrating a 3500 press with a dedicated and robust in-line carton finishing unit. Add to this a range of inkjet options dedicated to packaging production which will be launched at the show.

Does this affect label converters? Absolutely. At the HP Indigo pre-drupa event, it was revealed that it was a label converter – Jay Dollries, president of Innovative Labeling Solutions – whom HP had consulted in the development of their new digital packaging presses. With their extensive experience of working with digital technology, label converters have the opportunity to become one stop digital packaging shops, offering end users color managed on-demand print across multiple packaging substrates.

It will be fascinating to see how this all pans out in the four years to the next drupa.

Andy Thomas
Group managing editor
Labels & Labeling


Andy Thomas is strategic director of Labels & Labeling.

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