For decades, the name Xeikon has been synonymous with dry-toner technology. Earlier this year, the company announced its strategic entry into the UV-curable inkjet market with the introduction of its Panther technology, expanding its range of capabilities for digital label printing. Filip Weymans, vice-president of global marketing, discusses this development and what it means for the company.
While digitally printed labels represent a small percentage of the overall label-printing volume, this area is anticipated to grow quickly as digital technology continues to evolve, and the market responds to brand-owner demands for smaller lot sizes, faster turn times, a more efficient supply chain and labels that increase personal communication with the consumers.
"Dry toner is a proven technology. It has a great deal of value to offer the label-printing arena, and we will continue to invest and bring innovations of this technology to our customers," explains Filip Weymans, vice-president of global marketing at Xeikon. "There are, however, certain end use applications that can be better served with UV-curable inkjet. A combination of Xeikon's deep experience in label production and its dedication to listen to the needs of its customers were the factors that drove the development of Xeikon's Panther technology, and the new Xeikon PX3000, the first commercialisation of that technology."
These days, label converters have many choices. On the analogue side are flexography, gravure, letterpress, offset and screen printing, each with its own specific benefits. On the digital side, there are also several technology options, each with specific attributes and features that make them suitable for particular applications. Most commonly used are dry-toner and liquid-toner electrophotography, and UV-curable inkjet. Also, water-based inkjet solutions are available, although these are less common in label printing.
Label converters and brand-owners are increasingly recognising the value of digital printing. Weighing in favour of digital are shorter print runs, a proliferation of SKUs and a growing demand for eye-catching, sophisticated labels to win customers and fight counterfeiting, and, as such, supply chain efficiency that allows for more interactive communication with consumers. This is exactly where digital printing adds value, and the productivity gains made possible by automated workflows in a digital printing environment make these technologies truly shine.
"Perhaps because digital printing technologies are relatively new compared with their analogue counterparts, one might fail to see the forest for the trees when determining which technology is most optimal to produce a given project," says Weymans. "The crucial thing to understand is that there is no one-size-fits-all digital printing technology for labels. Each label project is different, and different applications require different technologies."
Whatever the end use application, every label has its own aesthetic and functional requirements. Wine labels do not necessarily have to be chemically resistant, whereas that is a must for industrial, and health and beauty labels. Pharmaceutical labels require extra fine print, and food labels should simply be food safe. In short, the optimal choice of digital printing technology for a given project depends on the application.
Xeikon not only has a profound knowledge of the digital label-printing market, its worldwide sales, service and support organisation is unmatched. Now part of Flint Group, Xeikon has access to an even greater market knowledge, with Flint Group being unmatched in conventional ink for narrow web. This combination positions Xeikon in a powerful advisory role for label converters looking to offer unique and sustainable digital printing services. "Our professional services team has the ability to analyse customer requirements and recommend which digital printing technology best fits each label project," Weymans explains. "And while we would, of course, like to see every label converter choose a Xeikon solution to meet their digital printing needs, we understand there might be cases where another technology is a better fit. We approach each analysis project as agnostically as possible to ensure customers make the right choices that will serve them profitably into the future."
Based on in-depth analysis of different digital label-printing technologies, Xeikon has recommendations for the most optimal technology for the prime label markets, and whether a UV inkjet or dry-toner solution is best suited. The analysis looked at quality basics (dot positioning and dot sizes), substrate compatibility, process reliability and characteristics such as look and feel, durability and sustainability:
- Food labels: a very specific application due to stringent regulations for food safety, and demand for high image quality. When it comes to food safety, dry toner has an advantage over other technologies in terms of migration and chemical composition. This process also makes for reliable and consistent printing, ensuring food labels look their best on the shelf.
- Beer and beverage labels: a growing niche, there are countless new craft beers entering the market. They require a specific approach to get the desired white opacity level, and the correct look and feel. When offset quality is required, dry toner is most appropriate and UV inkjet comes in play when very high gloss and a unique tactile impression are desired.
- Wine and spirits labels: technically among the most difficult for any label converter as they are often printed on challenging materials and include high-end embellishments. They require a printing technology capable of delivering high-quality labels on a range of substrates that absorb liquid inks, which is what dry toner excels in.
- Pharmaceutical labels: different from any other type as they are often subject to counterfeiting. To protect brands from such practices, robust anti-counterfeit measures must be used. These labels also feature fine details and are often printed on certified substrates. To achieve high-quality results under these requirements, digital printing with dry toner is essential.
- Durable labels: intended to last many years and often subject to extreme conditions, such as high or low temperature, excessive exposure to UV light or contact with chemicals. To meet end user and brand-owner expectations, the labels must be durable as well. Here, UV inkjet is the perfect technology.
- Health and beauty labels: very specific requirements in terms of substrates and white opacity levels. Cosmetics, fragrances and make-up labels are primarily produced with synthetic substrates, and must be resistant to humidity, contain sufficient levels of white opacity for clear labels, and look stunning on the shelf. Both dry toner (offset look) and UV inkjet (tactile look and feel) are suitable, and the choice ultimately comes down to the brand-owner's desired image quality.
- Chemical labels: either for industrial (paint or chemical labels, for example) or household use, must appeal to the consumer, be UV-light resistant, and resist chemicals and mechanical stress. UV inkjet is the most optimal technology due to its durability, although dry toner can come into play when a high offset-look quality is desired, in which case a proper protective layer is required.
Visitors to Labelexpo Europe's Hall 5 can discover Xeikon's UV-curable inkjet and dry-toner offerings, as the company will be exhibiting the Xeikon PX3000 UK inkjet label press, aka Panther, and the Xeikon CX3 dry-toner digital label press, aka Cheetah.