Labels and 3D printing

By Steve Katz, Editor | August 4, 2014

Can this technology somehow play a role in the two-dimensional world of label printing?

I’ve heard 3D printing referred to as the technology that will drive the third industrial revolution. While I don’t quite know what to make of that, it got me thinking about a potential role 3D printing might play in the label industry.

So you may be thinking, how is there a connection between labels and 3D printing? I thought the same thing. Typical labels are two-dimensional objects, whereas when I think of 3D printing, I think of machinery that produces things like prototypes, basic children’s toys, and plastic-like items in general.

So “domed” labels are within the realm of the label converter, and they are indeed three-dimensional, but this product niche doesn't apply to this discussion. The 3D printing that’s making headlines primarily involves “processes in which successive layers of material are laid down under computer control. A 3D printer is a type of industrial robot.” (Source: Wikipedia)

Let’s think about the typical flexo label workflow. Could photopolymer printing plates be produced via 3D printing? How about doctor blades? Cutting dies? Anilox rols? While the technology is in its relative infancy, is it so farfetched to consider that one day this type of manufacturing is possible? This possibility gives credence to the notion of 3D printing ushering in a new industrial revolution.

But can this technology somehow play a role in the two-dimensional world of label printing, as it relates to product decoration? An internet search of “3D printed label” brings back a result suggesting it can. In 2013, Beck’s beer launched its “Live Beyond Labels” promotional campaign. Six artists were invited to design the labels for more than 13.2 million bottles. Fashion designer Marc Ecko, one of the particicpants, thought that an interesting way to approach the constraints of a flat label was to first create a 3D model of it. Check it out:

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