Twenty years of digital label printing – A comment by Durst

Helmuth Munter from Durst commenting twenty years of digital label printing (Source: Durst)

Significant developments and markets trends within the digital label printing market since 1998:

Three key technological components have led to the digital label print breakthrough: ink, print head and electronic data-rate. Helmuth Munter from Durst looks back at approximately two decades of technological developments and market trends in digital label printing and highlights several significant milestones.


A comment by Helmuth Munter, segment manager labels

 Initially Indigo made its first steps in digital labels with its liquid toner technology, this is when on-demand printing became a reality with run lengths of one or more. In combination with the growing market demand for product customization, the printing run lengths have continued to reduce making digital the more economic choice given its apparent “digital offset” quality. However, its limitations of print speed, press complexity and ink cost per square metre has meant that it cannot yet be seen as a substitute for conventional print.

QUOTE: “Since 1998, which technological development(s) and market trends have had the most impact on the (digital) label printing market?”

The availability of excellent UV liquid ink technology was the first prerequisite for faster and higher quality output. Viewed together with print-head technology, the ability to consistently jet ink through smaller nozzles has resulted in a winning combination of high quality print, an expanded colour gamut and low print head maintenance. Many ink sets are now available, depending on the requirements of the print application, including low migration suitable for specialized market needs. With ink volumes increasing exponentially, the cost per square metre is at last dropping significantly allowing much longer print runs to be achieved within the “digital domain”.

The second component is certainly the drop-on-demand print head technology. In the past, it was always considered that one could have print speed to the detriment of print quality so that drop-on-demand technology was not seen as a viable alternative for labels. Print head technology has exploded that myth. New generation print heads now jet with high precision, low maintenance and extended lifetime performance, giving years of label print production without the need for head replacement.

The third component has to be electronic data-rate, i.e. the speed which drives print heads. What does it matter if you can jet great ink through wonderful heads if you are then limited in print speed by the inability to control each nozzle to yield the required print quality? Modern digital label print production presses allow individual control of tens of thousands of nozzles in real time and at speeds of close to 80 m/min (262 fpm). The data-rate required is phenomenal and has only recently been able to give results reliably. Just think of the full variable data required for printing where each label is different.

What does this all amount  to? The highest label print quality, in line with market expectations, at speeds of close to 80 m/min (262 fpm) in 8 colours giving the colour gamut needed with a press that is easy to use and maintain and with a low variable and total cost of ownership, is the answer. A game-changer that now is challenging conventional print technologies that will allow it to become the mainstream technology of label printing in the near future.

Editorial comment: This personal review was first published in Digital Printing Today Special 2-2018, available in our Shop: 

More comments regarding the 20th anniversary of Narrow WebTech and thus, twenty years of label printing, please find in our overview of “20 years NarrowWebTech” with all published articles – click here!

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