Inkjet Printers and Presses

By Steve Katz, Editor | November 29, 2012

Digital adopters of all budgets choosing the inkjet route have a plethora of options.

As digital printing technology continues to grow and expand within the label industry, so too does inkjet. The market’s growth has ushered in the emergence of a number of industry suppliers that offer inkjet machinery for a wide range of needs as well as budgets.

“Globally, there are about 15 suppliers of narrow web inkjet presses for process color label printing,” states Bob Leahey, associate director at InfoTrends, a market research and strategic consulting firm for the production print and digital media industries.

Leahey points out that while inkjet is still far behind electrophotography (EP) in terms of market acceptance in the label world, inkjet is much improved, though, in just the last two years. “The products are more reliable, the ink set is wider, and the users are more experienced,” he says, adding that several vendors now have good white inks.

In the label industry, Leahey says, the appearance and resolution of output from EP label presses – for now – are  often considered superior to output from inkjet. “EP generally has somewhat higher resolution. Also, most inkjet presses are UV curing, and while that speeds drying time and increases durability, UV cured images have a slight shine and a slight thickness that cut their usefulness for some brand owners. Also, the important food vertical is timid about UV cured print, out of concern for possible toxicity.”

Like EP presses, inkjet presses are most often used in tandem with flexo or other conventional web presses. Both types of digital presses are highly capable of printing short runs of labels, and are competitive with flexo up to a fairly high level, generally at least 10,000 linear feet. And both types of presses are able to take over short runs in converters’ shops, leaving to flexo the jobs that it excels at – the longer runs.

InfoTrends, which just completed a new digital label press forecast, estimates that inkjet systems accounted for $39 million in sales worldwide in 2011, and that sales will grow to $91 million in 2016. “Inkjet has a faster growth rate than EP, because it’s developing quickly and because it generally has lower first cost and running costs than EP presses do. A key part of the story for the next four years, though, will be the commercial placements of at least a few new, high end inkjet presses.

Today, in the label market, inkjet printers are a viable, affordable and profitable digital printing option. What follows are descriptions of inkjet products from some of the label industry’s key suppliers, and the converting advantages the machinery provides.

Allen Datagraph

Allen Datagraph attributes the success of its iTech AXXIS Digital Label System to its ability to manufacture labels of any shape without dies. “This makes the machinery highly profitable with such a minimal investment, and has been a major key to the success of the iTech AXXIS Digital Label System in the market,” says Mark Vanover, vice president, sales and marketing.

The US-made iTech AXXIS Digital Label System is comprised of both the iTech AXXIS Digital Label Printer and the iTech AXXIS Digital Label Finisher. The printer is a high-resolution, roll-fed CMYK print engine, featuring variable-droplet technology. Printing on a variety of pressure sensitive substrates in widths from 4" to 8.5" with an outside roll diameter up to 11", the system images labels at 720 x 720 dpi, up to four feet per minute. The ability to print variable data is an option.

Vanover says the finisher is the key component to finishing on-demand labels of any shape. “The finisher laminates, integrates die-less diecutting (any vector shape designed in Adobe Illustrator), strips, slits and rewinds to finished rolls of labels,” he says. “No other label system can offer the features of the iTech AXXIS Digital Label System for anything close to the low cost of acquisition,” Vanover adds. “We believe it enables every converter to never have to walk away from their customers’ short-run label production needs again.”

Vanover emphasizes that most of Allen Datagraph’s customers are using the iTech AXXIS Digital Label System for runs of 1,000 feet per job. “That’s our sweet spot, however, it is feasible to print longer runs, if required,” he says. “The significant advantage of the iTech AXXIS Digital Label System is that it is a system. It’s not just about the ability to print roll-to-roll but the ability to finish roll-to-roll.”

Epson’s SurePress L-4033A and L-4033AW are short-run digital label presses offered with pre-and post-press options that can be tailored to meet various needs and budgets. The press capitalizes on Epson’s MicroPiezo inkjet technology to create output with smooth gradations and high quality color.

The L-4033A has a six-color (Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, Black, Orange and Green), industrial-quality, water-based ink set that produces a range of colors to create consistent results. The L-4033AW includes a seventh white ink to print no-label look labels, as well as metallic-type labels often used in the cosmetic and beauty markets. Driving this inkjet technology is the included RIP and color management tools from Wasatch and X-Rite.

The L-4033AW also offers Variable Data Printing for maximum label customization, providing customers with the flexibility to serialize labels and print on a variety of label substrates without stopping or slowing down the printing process. In addition, text, graphics and images can be customized for each individual label in the same run for increased versatility. “There is a growing trend within the label printing industry for expanded printing capabilities on clear films and metallic substrates, as well as the ability to serialize labels, and the SurePress L-4033AW is designed to meet those customer needs,” says Michael Pruitt, SurePress product manager, Epson America.

The Epson SurePress also delivers on substrate versatility. With no pre-treatment or top coating required, a variety of standard off-the-shelf substrates can be used at variable web widths up to 13" wide. By working with manufacturers on every aspect of digital label production, from color management to media and finishing options, Epson’s strategy is based on offering a new, open approach designed to make adoption of digital short-run label printing easier and more profitable.

At Labelexpo, Durst debuted in North America what it touts as the world’s first UV inkjet digital device to print on a 13" web – the Tau 330 UV Inkjet Digital Label Press. The press is designed for short- and medium-run narrow web applications, covering widths from 6.5-13" and running at print speeds up to 157 fpm, while delivering precise images. Production capacity can reach 10,225 square feet per hour. The 330 also comes equipped with a Pre-Die-Cut Function/Insetter complete with detection sensor and software license, for in-printing on pre-printed and pre-diecut labels. Additionally, the Tau 330 is available in an 8" wide version.

“Precise, ‘best-in-class’ print quality is made possible thanks to our proprietary single-pass UV inkjet technology featuring Xaar 1001 print heads,” says Christopher Howard, senior VP of sales and marketing, adding that although the technology delivers a print resolution of 720 x 360 dpi, its drop-on-demand, variable-drop-size and grayscale capabilities, the apparent image resolution of the Tau 330 is more than 1,000 dpi. The 330’s capabilities include variable data jobs with variable or sequential numbering, text, bar codes, images, and matrix or QR codes.

“Color configurations are virtually unlimited,” Howard says. “The Tau 330 prints white UV ink, which is essential for applications on transparent substrates. And its standard CMYK color configuration can be complemented with orange and violet to provide up to 90% coverage of the Pantone color gamut.”

Complementing the press, Durst recently introduced Tau Metallic Silver UV Ink, the world’s first solvent-free silver ink. This ink can replace the use of foil in a broad range of metallic label and decorative packaging applications. Howard explains, “The advantage of Durst’s metallic ink is to be able to lay down – in one pass and at lower cost –  a ‘digital foil’ that meets all the demands of metallic label applications. No one has been able to come up with a formula that works - until now,” he says.

“Inkjet has the advantages of durability and efficiency over alternative label printing methods,” says Sean Skelly, vice president and general manager of EFI Jetrion. “EFI Jetrion focuses on both, with the flexo-like appearance of output and the efficiency in the short run of our digital label presses. Our systems eliminate plates, reducing labor and waste costs, while also alleviating inventory pressure and shortening turnaround times. When compared to other digital options, such as toner devices, the durability of UV inkjet provides superior performance – enabling direct printing on a wide range of media, without the need for overlamination or varnish.”

EFI Jetrion offers four inkjet products. Its most popular product is the 4830, as it has been in the industry for a while. However, the 4900ML is picking up in popularity, “as it is the leanest way to print,” Skelly says. The Jetrion 4900ML improves efficiency, productivity and profitability by doing both digital printing and finishing in a single process, on demand. Other products of the Jetrion family include the Jetrion 4900M-330, which provides a 13" print width that allows the opportunity for new applications and increased production. The Jetrion 4900M is marketed as an entry-level inkjet label printer, replacing the 4830 as EFI’s base product, with the advantage of scalability for future growth.  

“Customers can be confident knowing that their investment can grow as their business expands with the modular platform of the 4900 series. The 4900 series allows the flexibility of being able to add additional features such as laser, full feature finishing, sheeting and lamination as available in line with your business and customer needs,” Skelly says.

Skelly points to the Jetrion’s versatility as a key attribute. “The versatility of the Jetrion family allows customers to pick up more jobs by doing short-run printing, labels, packaging and direct mail jobs.The systems and inks also allow you to expand into premium margin applications, such as one-to-one marketing, ‘track and trace,’ anti-counterfeiting and brand protection,” he says.

While there are a number of digital printing processes, for Danish press maker Nilpeter, UV inkjet is the one that stands out. Søren Ringbo, Nilpeter’s manager of digital products, explains, “Nilpeter sees UV inkjet as the future-proof technology. It is quite simply the easiest solution for a printer to handle and operate. Based on this, our Strategic Development & Innovation Department has created an ideal solution for digital printing: Caslon.”

Caslon is an inkjet printing system based on Xaar 1001 greyscale print head technology. The printing unit prints 4-color process CMYK in one pass with UV-curable inks on a wide range of substrates. “The system’s design not only enhances the printing capabilities significantly, but also completely eliminates conventional prepress procedures, speeds up production times, and minimizes costs through improved job control,” Ringbo says. “A new and revolutionary workflow system specialized for labels and packaging guarantees seamless integration of all job parameters to any printing process: Caslon digital UV inkjet as well as conventional printing processes.”

Caslon has a number of value-adding features that benefit the printer directly. Nilpeter adds features such as an optional spot color unit for white, varnish and additional spot colors; high quality drop-on-demand greyscale print head technology; open TIF-interface as standard, and PDF as optional; and optimized screening for extremely even and consistent printing. “The printer gets labels on demand, cost savings due to no plates and low waste, the ideal Print-On-Demand solution, and a press that delivers high image quality and a resistant and light-fast output,” says Ringbo.

“In a competitive environment, printers need to distinguish themselves,” Ringbo adds. “Nilpeter’s value-adding flatbed unit for hot foil and embossing, the FP-4, is the ideal combination with digital printing. Our customers benefit from superior and distinguishing hot foil and embossing quality, fast setup time, minimum waste and the lowest tooling costs. Caslon brings digital printing back to the pressroom with its combination of high quality digital printing and conventional printing and converting,” Ringbo concludes.

Roland DGA
Roland DGA offers several wide-format inkjet printer options for the production of labels and decals. All of its machines feature inline contour cutting to create labels of any shape, and VersaWorks RIP software, which includes advanced spot color matching tools, variable data printing and other features designed to make production easy and automated. 

Hiroshi Ono, group product manager, points out that with the equipment becoming more affordable, more printers are reaping the benefits the technology provides. “In recent years, wide-format inkjet printing technologies have advanced tremendously, and the price points have gone down. Prices for a capable wide-format inkjet printer today run from just under $8,500 to around $70,000,” he says.

“Among their greatest benefits is the seamless workflow that they allow – taking your design through the printing and finishing stages – all without requiring any platemaking,” Ono says. “We recommend an integrated print/cut solution for the greatest levels of efficiency, especially for label production.”

Roland’s VersaUV LEC printer/cutters can print and contour cut labels in an integrated workflow all on one device. Its specialized ink sets including white and clear inks offered by the VersaUV can produce tactile effects, ranging from simple spot varnishes and embossing to faux leather and even Braille. Equipped with CMYK, white and clear inks, the LEC prints full-color graphics on just about any media.

One of the main attractions at Stork Prints’ Labelexpo booth was its DSI UV inkjet printer, a modular concept for short and medium run digital label printing. The DSI UV inkjet printer takes modularity to the next level in three aspects. There’s modularity in the configuration: standalone digital printing or a complete line with in-line (semi-rotary) converting. Secondly, there’s modularity in print positions. The DSI comes with four print heads as standard, although an additional six can be added to enable options like digital white, digital primer and an extended color gamut through the colors orange and violet. Thirdly, there’s modularity in printing widths, ranging from 135 mm to the standard 330 mm to as wide as 530 mm.

The DSI is designed to be a cost-effective UV inkjet label printer, offering high speed printing with top quality. Its combination of photographic quality and a rotary screen “look and feel” makes it suitable for everything from short- to medium- and even long-run jobs. Especially when used in combination with Stork Prints’ own-brand inks, all developed and produced in-house, it gives superior results characterized by a high resistance to light and impressive scratch-proofing, the company says.

The DSI achieves visual resolution on labels of up to 1000 dpi, as well as 3D effects that resemble screen printing. It also accurately reproduces tonal values as low as 1%. Printing on many different types of substrates can be accomplished and the new digital primer enables printing on machine-coated paper. Repeat lengths of up to 7 m are possible, and are therefore not limited by the drum size.

MCS manufactures high-resolution, high-speed monochrome inkjet systems for printing variable data, bar codes and graphics on flexographic presses and converting lines. It has two main technology platforms – the Eagle UV inkjet and the Falcon HP-Based inkjet system. 

The Eagle UV systems are available in print-head widths of 4.25" or 8.5", and multiple print heads can be configured to handle web-widths of up to 25". The native resolution is 600 dpi  – so each 4.25" print head has 2550 nozzles. “For the label industry, this makes it easy to produce detailed bar codes such as HarvestMark and linear barcodes as well as monochrome graphics,” explains Glenn Toole,  VP sales and marketing for MCS. “The large widths allow easy layout of multiple lanes of labels with less concern for ‘stitching’ images across separate print heads,” Toole says.

The running speeds of the Eagle UV system are over 300 feet per minute – making it suitable for printing in-line with traditional converting and printing processes. The UV-curable ink technology allows printing on substrates common to the label industry including BOPP and gloss papers. Recently, MCS announced the release of the Eagle AMS system, which provides automated print head maintenance including self-capping, wiping and ink management.

The Falcon is MCS’s low-cost HP-based inkjet system that also has 600 dpi resolution and  top print speeds of about 250 feet per minute.  The system is comprised of 4" or 2" print heads that are made up of stitched, industrial ink cartridges from HP. Multiple heads can be integrated to provide total print width capability of up to 24". These systems are well suited for numbering, text and simple bar coding jobs.

Each of these MCS inkjet systems operate under the MCS Raptor Controller system. It provides easy job layout – whether the need is for bar coding, numbering or variable graphics. All variable information can be driven by internal counters or from database files. In addition, MCS provides a PDF option that allows direct input of variable PDF files.

Heidelberg / CSAT
When Heidelberg acquired CSAT in 2011 it added a leader in integrated digital systems for the pharmaceutical industry. Heidelberg has since completed the process of integrating CSAT products into its own digital printing portfolio. What CSAT had marketed as the iTS 600 is now the Linoprint L, a full-color digital label printing system.

Linoprint L is an inkjet drop-on-demand system for the economical printing of complex short to medium-sized label and film runs and applications with variable content. The compact and encapsulated system meets the strict requirements and fulfills the exacting quality assurance guidelines for pharmaceutical production processes and environments. The system gives access to advanced applications, such as smart labels, security printing and traceable labels.

“Thanks to our Linoprint solutions for packaging printing, we are now in a position to reliably fulfill the high quality requirements of integrated print solutions for packaging lines in the pharmaceutical industry,” says Christian Compera, head of digital printing at Heidelberg.

The Linoprint L runs at speeds up to 48m/min and has a resolution of 600 x 600 dpi. It supports a wide range of printing substrates. Printing is done with four colors (CMYK) coupled with intermediate UV-LED curing (pinning), to assure high print quality. By incorporating a wider print head technology, the Linoprint L not only can achieve the various widths available by utilizing less print heads, but also maintains an extremely high level of efficiency, consuming less ink to produce a given image while maintaining a high degree of reliability. Due to the modularity of the Linoprint L, other print combinations can be implemented on request.  The Linoprint L digital printing system can be used either as a standalone version or, on request, integrated into an existing production process.

At Labelexpo Americas in September, INX International Ink Co. introduced to the industry its NW140 UV digital narrow web press with inline laser cutting from Spartanics. The company had initially provided a sneak peak of the machine in 2010. “It was two years ago at Labelexpo when we introduced a prototype label machine that impressed many people. Today, that device is the NW140 UV digital narrow web press and it is very unique to the marketplace. Simply put, no one else has anything like it,” says Rick Clendenning, president and CEO of INX International. 

The NW140 UV digital narrow web press with inline laser cutting from Spartanics can achieve single pass printing at speeds up to 80 feet per minute on any labelstock. It also can print 140 mm wide while providing for easy separation of printed labels.

We have made a few changes to the NW140 press since we showed our demonstration model at Labelexpo two years ago,” adds Jim Lambert, vice president and general manager – Digital Division of INX International Ink Co. “This is a very robust and dynamic piece of equipment and our partners have done a terrific job.”

The NW140 UV digital narrow web press, in addition to the inline laser cutter from Spartanics, counts on 14 Xaar 1001 printheads, which have seven ink channels.

Primera’s LX900 is its newest, fastest and most economical color label printer. Utilizing high-resolution inkjet technology, individual ink cartridges for each color let the operator replace only the colors that need replacing, thus saving time and money on every job. LX900 has individual inks for Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Black.

The inkjet technology the LX900 uses is called Primera Imaging Perfection. Color droplet size is just 4 pL and black is 5.5 pL – the smallest available on an industrial-grade color label printer. Print resolution is up to 4800 dpi, at speeds up to 4.5" per second in draft mode. The print head is designed to be semi-permanent. If a replacement is ever needed, simply snap it in and out of the printer – no tools required.

LX900 prints onto many different inkjet-qualified label and tag materials, including Primera’s TuffCoat Extreme white and clear polyester and white BOPP.  In addition,  economical water-resistant paper and synthetic labels are available in high-gloss, semi-gloss and matte finishes. Dozens of popular sizes are in stock and ready for immediate shipment. Custom sizes are also available.
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