Manufacturers often find themselves needing new, printed labels in quantity “yesterday.” This can be due to running out, forgetting to order in time, changes to label design, or prototypes to quickly bring product ideas to market. Some manufacturers also consider labels part of a broader just-in-time (JIT) effort and want to be able to get labels on-demand, without fail.
“Like many manufacturers, we need our labels yesterday,” says Toni Derby, director of operations for Cigar City Brewing, a Tampa, Fla.-based craft beer brewery. “Labels can be pushed to the last minute for many reasons, including the occasional communication breakdown about when the labels are needed or I’ll find out a beer will be ready sooner than I expected, or we are waiting for approvals from the FDA before we can even print the label and that can push the ordering to the last minute.”
To accommodate quick turnaround or JIT orders, label printers have primarily employed two techniques: pre-printing and stocking large quantities of labels and/or investing in expensive Print-On-Demand equipment that can handle rush, low volume jobs.
Unfortunately, both techniques – though serving as an adequate solution at times – have drawbacks. Pre-printed labels can be rendered obsolete due to design changes, unnoticed errors and evolving regulations (FDA, OSHA, etc.). With each manufacturer potentially having tens, even hundreds, of different label designs, label printers are less eager to maintain the variety and volume of labels required in stock, particularly with the potential for product loss.
Print-On-Demand label presses, on the other hand, provide true same day printing of low volume jobs. POD systems are full-color digital print systems that offer greater flexibility than conventional presses in job setup and changeover times. However, manufacturers pay significantly more for this type of printing than for non-rush jobs run on traditional label printing equipment.
“Although POD label presses are popular for short, quick runs, they’re limited to about 2,000 labels per order and typically cost up to 30 percent more than flexographic printing,” says Steve Sabadosh, president of L&N Label Company, a Clearwater, Fla.-based printer of industrial pressure sensitive labels that invested in POD equipment to complement the company’s 4 flexographic printing presses.
Fortunately, however, workflow efficiencies and advances in pre-press technology in the flexographic printing process – the primary method of printing pressure sensitive labels in North America and Europe – is moving toward what Sabadosh calls “Flexo-On-Demand.”
“As flexo becomes ‘Flexo Labels-On-Demand’ manufacturers are able to get quality, same-day, mid-sized production runs of 50,000 to 100,000 labels at less cost of Print-On-Demand,” says Sabadosh. He adds that because of the quick changeover changes to labels, prototypes or even short runs can be accommodated as well.
Although the flexographic process has been popular for decades due to its relatively low cost, production speeds and quality, traditionally it has relied on a manual, time-consuming plate making process called Computer to Film (CTF). In the CTF process, a computer file image is transferred to photographic film, which is then used to create the printing plate. By the very nature of the film process, there is the potential for quality control issues which added time to the QC steps.
Today, the next generation of flexo pre-press equipment eliminates the film step entirely to go directly to Computer to Plate (CTP). This does away with cumbersome, error-prone CTF steps such as photo scanning, film separations, and film-based proofs. Besides dramatically speeding changeover time, the elimination of film also improves the quality of the final product.
L&N Label purchased an Esko Cyrel Digital flexo plate Imager (CDI) last year, and manufacturers are noticing how it expedites turnaround at higher volumes when quick turnaround is needed.
Cigar City Brewing, known for its colorful and dynamic graphics for labels for its 7, 12 and 15 oz. bottles, purchases 30-35 different labels from L&N Label and introduces a new design approximately once a month. “L&N Label can rush us up to 100,000 labels when we need them to keep production going and avoid downtime. That’s particularly important when we run short on stock or have to ramp up production after getting and FDA approval,” says Toni Derby, director of operations for Cigar City Brewing.
Just 2 weeks ago, Cigar City Brewing needed a rush job. “I was able to get the labels I needed in a tight timeframe and we were able to label our beer and ship it without any downtime,” adds Derby.
L&N Label Company