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Filip Weymans, business development manager labels & packaging at Xeikon, reviews the evolution of digital printing in the converting market

Digital label printing has come a long way since the first rollfed Xeikon DCP1 presses were introduced in 1993. This first generation was a true revelation and continued to win market share up to 2000. Its ability to provide businesses with a tool to serve the ever-increasing demands from their customers was key to its popularity. It ensured they could deliver a profi table answer to the embracing use of full-colour graphics, hence higher quality demand and greater amount of variation, resulting in short runs.

For the early adopters and innovators this proved a highly successful approach to market and encouraged the high uptake of the second-generation presses in the first decade of the 21st Century. This market development was further supported by digital press manufacturers unveiling more reliable machines in terms of productivity, quality and increased printing speeds. It fuelled a strong growth, with up to 1,400 installed presses today. In fact, digital presses made up 30% of all the label presses sold in 2011.

Digital printing has become such a well-accepted technology that we expect suppliers to dedicate their developments to better address the market needs. We have seen the start of this with dedicated toners for cosmetics labels (white opacity) or food approved toner/inks. Such developments will allow the market to continue its strong growth by addressing specific needs in greater detail.

And these not only relate to the printing press, but also to the workflow, inks/toner and finishing equipment, to ensure the whole process is as effective as it can be. It is evolving beyond digital printing to digital production.

Backing up this commitment is Xeikon’s investment of 11% of turnover in research and development. A successful R&D department is of the utmost importance. It allows us to react quickly to customer requirements and identify more ways to improve productivity while maintaining quality, sustainability and cost levels.

This is why Xeikon now has a portfolio of solutions to meet an array of market requirements, ranging from the entry-level Xeikon 3030 digital label press and X-800 digital front end, to QA-I, a dedicated toner for the label industry.

The 3500 can handle web widths of up to 516mm and printing with a maximum speed of 19.2m/min. It delivers superior quality via its true 1,200dpi resolution, and its speed is unaffected by label size or the number of colours used, thanks to its full rotary technology combined with variable repeat length.

The same technology also allows operators to print labels of different formats and sizes in the same run. With no plates to make, no film to output and minimal machine set-up time, a label job can be printed in minutes – instead of hours.

Based on open standards, the X-800 front end can be integrated into any production environment, and its modular set-up enables users to manage different aspects of production in the most efficient manner possible. Prepress functions, such as impositions and colour management, can be performed on the system in the prepress environment, which allows the press operator to focus on print quality. This results in higher press throughput and increased productivity on Xeikon presses.

QA-I toner offers signifi cant benefits in terms of image quality, light fastness and food safety. A dry toner-based technology, it also allows label converters to print on almost any type of material, offers high speed printing (no drying time needed) and is ecologically friendly (less VOC emission, less energy, less waste).

Xeikon presses can also print on an unrivalled range of substrates – all without the need for any pre-coating – including fl exible seamless tubes using the Moss Digitube heat transfer applicator. The result is a high quality, digitally printed and applied decoration that is scratch and water resistant.

In addition, the new digital heat transfer process offers higher flexibility, as the decoration can be applied later in the supply chain, compared with traditional methods (screen and offset printing), where it must be printed at the very beginning.

Digital heat transfer opens up new opportunities for label printers to start converting business away from the direct printing market into the label market.

But this is just one of many applications where digital print technology can be used: point-of-sale displays and folding cartons are among the others.

The speed of the Xeikon 3500 is unaffected by label size or the number of colours used, thanks to its full rotary technology and variable repeat length Xeikon 3500

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