Like it or loathe it, digital print technology continues to make great strides in the narrow web market in which we operate, and those who choose to refuse it, do so at their own peril. I wonder if offset caused such consternation and debate when it began to take over from letterpress in the commercial and newspaper markets back in the 1950s and ‘60s?
It seems that part of the problem is fear that the narrow web print world as we know it, will in some way disappear, or at best be no longer recognisable. Well, one thing is for sure, there is going to be change, but that change can and should be for the better. Digital print is a unique offering – that’s the most important fact to remember. It can achieve things that other print techniques cannot – but that is no reason to see it as a threat to our livelihood. Look at it as an enhancement to existing capabilities that open new market opportunities, and it starts to look like an ally rather than a frightening enemy.
It is expected that, in five years’ time, the value of digitally printed labels will increase by 10–15% per year and this trend is likely to accelerate. Print speeds and efficiency will increase, and hence the breakeven point between digital and flexo rises. Paradoxically, print quality will probably not gain in importance as most of today’s digital label presses already offer quality level which is good enough for all but a few end-users.
If proof were needed of the importance of digital print to our market, one needs only to count the number of manufacturers involved – around 40 exhibited at Labelexpo Europe 2015. Aside from the two ‘toner’ companies, and all of the inkjet engine suppliers, consider now that nearly all of the leading flexo press manufacturers offer a flexo/digital hybrid. Elsewhere in this Issue of NarrowWebTech you can read my report on the latest of these, a tie up between Omet and Domino, the latter of which is also providing the digital element for MPS’ hybrid, introduced to the public at the recent Labelexpo Europe.
Are these hybrids genuinely taking the market forward, or allowing unconvinced converters to hedge their bets? No doubt, time and the market will provide the answer – but what it tells me is that the best way of looking at digital printing for the time being is as a complementary technique to existing capacity, and not as a complete replacement for it. At the end of the day, what’s important is that each print job is produced by the most appropriate technology available.
This brings me to our new special “Digital Printing today”, which will be a regularly part of two issues of NarrowWebTech. We have introduced this special to provide our readers with a forum of information about this seminal production process and the general market trends fuelling the spread of this technology. As the term digital printing stands for various procedures we accordingly start with a condensed overview of the current status of digital label and package printing, explaining the benefits and highlighting notable conditions. In addition, “Digital Printing today” provides an overview of some of the current inkjet systems for label printing. To prove our general down-to-earth attitude, it also includes a report about the speedy progress, a large European label manufacturer achieved with digital printing.
Finally, it would be remiss of me not mention drupa 2016. Though not essentially a narrow web show, a number of suppliers to our market will be exhibiting and the NarrowWebTech team will be there to report on what’s new and important. We look forward to seeing you there, but if you can’t make it, you can read all about it in issue 3, due for publication in August.