Decorating and Finishing Keep Up with Digital Label Printing Technology

by Jeff Peterson, editor-in-chief, PostPress
The Mark Andy Digital Series integrates label production into a single-pass workflow, allowing for greater flexibility.
We all know that digital printing has infiltrated virtually all aspects of the printing marketplace. The production and printing of labels is no exception. Possibly the most interesting aspect of label printing presses has been the creation of what is characterized as “hybrid” presses, where the label press is built to utilize both flexo and digital printing technologies. “The growth of this trend in digitally printed labels specifically played a significant role in our development of inline hybrid solutions,” stated Jill Smith, marketing manager for Mark Andy, Chesterfield, Missouri.


With the growth in digital printing for short- to medium-run labels, and the emergence of hybrid label presses, a need has been created for decorating and finishing solutions to fit the digital format. Press manufacturers have developed both inline and offline converting/finishing solutions that can offer everything from diecutting and hot and cold foiling to UV coatings and laminates. “With the growth of digital printing, there continues to be more options and features with digital finishing,” explained Jim Kehring, strategic partner coordinator for AB Graphic International Inc., Elgin, Illinois. “Customers are finding great flexibility in new digital finishing technology.”

Telstar Engineering’s Offliner® Web Transport Platform performs critical register/re-register with built-in servo-driven unwind and rewind units and can support various finishing modules.Telstar Engineering has been developing digital finishing machinery for several years for a variety of narrow-web customers. This led to the design of its Offliner® Web Transport Platform. This offline finishing machine allows printers to operate the digital printing press for other jobs while decorating and finishing operations can be completed on the original job. The Offliner actually allows narrow-web printers to take in jobs from other printers that do not have this type of offline capacity. The Offliner performs critical register/re-register with built-in servo-driven unwind and rewind units. The platform can support various finishing modules including cold foil, lamination, Cast & Cure holographic, rotary screen and diecutting. It can even be mounted with digital print heads, switching the process to “finishing with digital.”

“We have shown many traditional label printers that they can thrive in the digital world and offer a variety of decorating and finishing techniques as well,” stated Tom Kirtz, president of Telstar Engineering.

Mark Andy has developed a line of hybrid press offerings, including its highly configurable Digital Series platform, to create flexibility for its customers. The Digital Series offers the ability to run both flexo and digital print inline concurrently and includes inline modules for options such as cold foil, lamination, coating and inline diecutting. “By integrating all aspects of label production into a single-pass workflow, the resulting savings on time, waste and labor are significant,” explained Smith.

The Digital Series hybrid label press is a true production-level digital solution that runs high-quality consistently at speeds of 240fpm (73mpm). It is available in a printing width of 13.25″ (336mm), supports repeats for flexo print stations from 5″ to 24″ (140 to 610mm) and is supported by Mark Andy’s digital front end ProWORX (powered by Esko). The Digital Series is engineered to be highly configurable. It features high-resolution UV inkjet printing and offers top-coating, fully integrated inline flexographic printing modules and a full range of inline converting/finishing options.

ABG International has developed digital decorating and finishing equipment that can provide operations the flexibility to run inline after the digital label printing press or near-line where the finishing operations can be performed separately.

“The best part about running “near-line” is you get to choose by the push of a button if you want to run inline or offline,” stated Kehring. “The length of the run is what usually helps determine this – the goal is to always keep the machine running.”

The ABG International Digicon Series 3 was designed to add value to the operations digital printing technology, including the ability to meet the strong demand for higher speed cutting.

The ABG International Digicon Series 3 was designed to add value to the operations digital printing technology. One of the newest developments for the Digicon 3 is the FAST Track die, claimed to be the world’s fastest semi-rotary diecutting system. The system was developed to meet the strong demand for higher speed cutting with the speed of digital printing presses continuing to increase. Another new addition is ABG’s Big Foot 50-ton capacity hot foil and embossing module that allows multiple foil feeding along and across the web, and raises narrow-web embossing to a new level. In addition, the Digicon 3 can include a Lamination in Register module that produces full width multilayer constructions, allowing for a preprinted web to be laminated to the main web in perfect register.

Gallus has introduced its Labelfire 340 digital printing press, developed with Heidelberg Druckmaschinen AG. This unique digital press features a printing module with state-of-the-art inkjet printing heads and includes inline finishing processes that have been specifically optimized for digital printing. This allows the Labelfire 340 to varnish, foil embellish and further process labels inline – from the roll to the finished diecut label in a single production run.

Integrated Gallus ECS modules support the digital flexibility of the Gallus Labelfire 340 as well. Labels can be varnished, laminated, embellished with cold foil and diecut in a single operation. The conventional modules support the use of primer, spot color, security or cold foil features, varnish or lamination without interrupting production, regardless of the complexity of the label.

Several factors must be considered when determining what is the most efficient way to decorate and finish digitally printed labels. With hybrid label presses that run at maximum speeds, the ability to perform operations such as foil, embossing, laminating, etc. inline can be advantageous. However, offline or near-line options may be a better solution for small- to medium-sized runs or for digital presses that run at slower speeds. The bottom line is that press manufacturers are staying up with the times and providing solutions for digitally printed labels that can fit specific operations and specific applications.

“As the digital revolution continues, manufacturers of narrow-web printing and converting machinery must have the ability to provide solutions for decorating and finishing that match the technology of the digital printing growth,” concluded Kirtz. There seems to be little doubt that this will be the case.