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The future looks digital - or does it?

Certainly there are already well-over 1,000 digital web-fed printing machines installed in label converting plants worldwide. Most of these are currently digital toner presses from HP Indigo or Xeikon, although the first color inkjet systems are now also being installed.

Many label converters that I have spoken to in the past year seem to believe the real future for digital label printing however, will be in high-quality, high-speed inkjet technology with high performance finishing systems. But how close to reality is this? 

Well, read the latest news story about the Daily Mail in New York now being produced full size at 128 meters a minute by inkjet, in full color and at a quality level indistinguishable from the original version, then the reality perhaps seems very close. Particularly so when you also read that companies such as Hunkeler and Dainippon, both well-known to the label industry, were part of this major achievement.

Digital high-speed color inkjet, together with existing toner technologies, offers tremendous potential for the future of label printing in both long- and short-run jobs, in personalization, in sequential coding and numbering, in brand protection, etc, and it might therefore be interesting to ask the industry: where will digital label printing be in five or ten years time?

It already makes up around 15 percent of global annual new narrow web label press installations which, even without inkjet, are expected to rise to 20 percent or more within the next five years. New generations of high quality, high speed inkjet might then take the annual installed label press base of new digital presses to nearer 40-50 percent within ten years - or maybe sooner.

What does the label industry really see as its long-term future? Digital printing to dominate? Conventional printing to dominate? Both to have an ongoing important role? I would certainly welcome feedback and comments on these thoughts before the Digital Label Summit on March 24-25.

As a further comment, if the Daily Mail can be printed in New York today in color at 128 meters/min, why not digitally print Labels & Labeling this way in the future? Satellite digital printing plants in the USA, India, South America, etc, could print the magazine locally in the future and obviate the current vast global postal costs. Faster distribution, instant up-to-date news - even personalized local news items. Now there's a thought.


Mike Fairley is Labels & Labeling's strategic consultant.

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