Digital print technology in labels and packaging is enjoying an adolescent growth spurt. Like young folks the world over, nobody wants to reach maturity, not while we’re having great fun finding new and different ways of changing the old things. The time will come to gracefully surrender the things of youth, but that time is not now.
During the recent pre-adolescent phase of narrow web digital tech, converters began to feel far more comfortable with equipment and processes that have established themselves fairly and firmly in the shop. The basic technologies are now beyond their developmental stages – some well beyond – so that a printer lacking the digital alternative could find it quite difficult to catch up at this point.
For those deep into digital print, Hewlett-Packard’s introduction of the Indigo WS6800 no doubt will be considered more than an upgrade. Three extra millimeters of web width will mean dollars, pounds and euros to those converters, as will the prepress and colour calibration improvements.
Indigo, acquired by HP in 2001 from creator Benny Landa, uses electro-photography – described as digital offset – to lay down proprietary inks.
Xeikon, the phoenix of digital label printing, has had positive growth for several years, and is supported by many allied vendors who appeared at its recent Xeikon Café event in Belgium. The company’s dry toner print process is the only method of its kind in the narrow web field, and it has expanded into folding carton, heat transfer and in-mould labels as well as pressure sensitive applications.
The other child of the digital world is inkjet. Here is an old technology that has worked long and hard to compete in label printing, and it does, but it’s still a work in progress.
Inkjet press manufacturers might not agree with that assessment, but the adoption rate doesn’t lie. Inkjet companies far outnumber the HPs and the Xeikons – those are proprietary processes, after all – and they are still with us and improving, but they do not dominate. Inkjet does have the beauty of LED curing, which is no small achievement.
And then there is Landa, Benny Landa. He captured drupa two years ago with nanography, a new printing technology that nobody knows much about, but which caused Altana to invest EUR 100 million into it just yesterday. That’s big.
NarrowWebTech will examine digital label printing in depth in our fourth quarter issue. Stay tuned.