Digital Printing Update: Suppliers are answering demand with greater resources for high quality, customization and variable data.

With more manufacturers of digital tabletop printers and full production presses than ever before, it's no wonder that the labels and packaging industry is keeping a watchful eye on the technology. At Labelexpo Europe 2019, a record number of visitors flocked to the Brussels Expo Center, with many eager to learn about the newest digital--and hybrid--equipment.

Digital printing is leaving its mark on the industry, even though roughly 90% of labels are still printed flexographically. According to LPC, Inc., 75% of future press sales will be digital. Much of that can be attributed to label converters already owning productive flexo presses, but the fact remains: there has been and will continue to be a substantial investment in digital.

"Everyone in the industry can feel the winds of change blowing from the direction of the brands and their demand for digital," says Eli Mahal, head of marketing, labels and packaging, at HP Indigo. "Our customers are embracing this change as an opportunity to grow, even though others may still consider it a challenge. With Indigo print users growing 4-5 times faster than the broader market, it is easy to understand why our customers are bullish about digital print with HP Indigo."

The perception of digital printing is changing, too. Once thought to be limited to short runs, digital has evolved in terms of quality and speed. More label converters are relying on customization and variable data to drive their digital departments. For example. Simon Smith, managing director of CS Labels, utilized a Xeikon press for a digital job consisting of 500 million labels. "Digital really has been a game-changer for us as a company," he notes.

"When we originally started selling digital back in the early 2000s, the idea was taking these really small runs--starting them off on digital and then moving them over to flexo," says Joseph Sanchez, Northeast regional manager at Dantex. "What we're seeing now is that's no longer the case. Once you start with digital you keep the runs on digital. And with the speeds and technology that have been released, particularly with UV inkjet, we're running at faster speeds than some customers I know run flexo presses full-time."

Domino, meanwhile, started with single-color monochrome with its K600i digital UV inkjet printer, which was geared for printing variable data, sequential numbering, bar codes and QR codes. Using the same printhead technology, the company's offerings have extended to 5-color (CMYK+W) roll-to-roll with the Domino N610i digital UV inkjet label press. Digital printers now have more options, as Domino offers a wide range of configurations such as roll-to-roll, roll-to-inline, roll-to-nearline, and hybrid (flexo + digital) with choice of the flexo and finishing from several OEM...

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