As you tour the current state of digital label printing technology, you may get a strong feeling of deja vu. For almost a decade now, label converters have found themselves pursued by equipment vendors touting familiar digital promises, year-in and year-out: short-run efficiencies, faster turnaround times and reduction in substrate waste, to name just a few. In many ways, it is reminiscent of the classic film, "Groundhog Day," where Bill Murray wakes up every morning only to find out that he is reliving the same day over and over again. But don't confuse repetition for stagnancy; there is considerable progress happening throughout the industry on this very long "day," and cause for great optimism going forward.
Although Bill Murray's character keeps waking up on the "same" day, he doesn't experience duplicate 24-hour periods; rather, he lives each day with the full knowledge of what has taken place during all those repeated "yesterdays." Likewise, converters, vendors and end users who are immersed in their own "Digital Groundhog Day" can awaken each day and learn from the far-reaching impact that digital is having on the label industry. A quick look at the industry's digital evolution will highlight how far we have already come, and how close we are to being on the verge of a new day in label production.
Just a few short years ago, you could easily count the number of digital label vendors on one hand; that has changed dramatically. Printing equipment manufacturers are seeking sustainable growth and profits, and the allure of package and label printing is attracting them to this enduring market space. Unlike other print markets that are declining due to online digital replacement, labels and packaging are not easily replaced with a virtual solution.
This has resulted in an explosion of vendors across the globe offering a wide range of products with various value propositions. Nowhere is this more evident than at Labelexpo, where dozens of exhibitors have their latest and greatest technology on display, showcasing products ranging in price from $50K to more than $1.6M.
Where did all these vendors come from? Some of them have parlayed their digital expertise from other printing markets, such as wide format or commercial printing, and applied that expertise to labels and packaging. Others are traditional flexographic press manufacturers who recognize the threat of digital and are leveraging their market muscle by offering their loyal...