Twenty years of progress: A note from BPIF labels’ general manager Graham Backhouse
Graham Backhouse from BPIF labels about twenty years of label production (Source: BPIF labels)
On the occasion of the 20th anniversary of NarrowWebTech Graham Backhouse from BPIF labels takes a look back on twenty years of label production.
Graham Backhouse General manager, BPIF labels
By 1998 I had already spent 20 years of my working life in the label industry, a very different animal to the one we see today but no less exciting. It would be impossible to comment on all the changes and developments over the last twenty years in this article. In the UK label industry, letterpress print was regarded as having the superior quality, many thought that flexo could not adequately meet the challenges of printing process images, how things have changed.
Even in the letterpress world many thought that unless the press was manufactured in Switzerland top quality print could not be produced especially on those common impressions cylinder machines built in Japan. They were wrong, but it was hard work proving it to the plethora of Packaging Technologists employed by the major retailers. Where are they all now?
Many UK companies used dedicated repro houses to produce their artwork and manufacture their films and printing plates. Service levels and quality were very high but as the market changed and delivery lead times were driven to become shorter and shorter, companies increasingly looked to establish in house facilities which is now standard practice. Over the next few years and on-going today, plate and ink manufacturers bounced off of each other’s developments, resulting in a virtually continuous improvement of print quality across all print processes. However the advances of flexographic plates, ink and curing have completely changed the views and utilisation of this process. Quality is now unquestionably high and the presses run at much higher speeds than many who ran the letterpress process could ever have imagined. Alongside these developments computer power has progressed at a rapid rate enabling great advances in the processing of image data both at the pre-press stage and in the advancement of imaging direct from file.
Twenty years ago few could have anticipated the scope of development of the digital process in labels and packaging. It all started around 1993 when the first digital presses came onto the market. The whole industry was interested and intrigued with the potential, but few decided to invest in those early days. By around the year 2000 HP invested in Indigo and the pace of advancement of digital was to change forever. There is now a whole range of high quality digital equipment available from an increasing list of manufacturers, prices and markets and the digital process can now run high quality process work at speeds comparable with those letterpress machines some loved so much all those years ago.
Digital print is a marketeers dream with the potential only being limited by the imagination of those with access to it, but no single process can fulfil all those visions and whilst multi process machines have been around longer than for the last 20 years we are now seeing the massive potential of combining the power of contemporary computers, conventional processes, digital print processes and a range of other embellishment processes in one manufacturing flow. Who knows where we will be in 20 years from now.