Tabletop printers are generally not be the optimal choice for longer runs or massive campaigns, but they serve a vital niche for converters. Compact digital label printers provide on-demand printing, including personalization, variable data and prototyping.
“The benefits of a desktop label solution include an increase in productivity, a reduction in the cost and waste associated with pre‑printed labels and a reduction in process lead time,” explains Andy Scherz, senior product manager, Commercial Label Printers, Epson America. “Branding, hazard warnings and assorted product sizes create too much variance for traditional bulk printing methods. On-demand color label printing puts the power in businesses’ hands, helping to reduce the risk of error or mismatching templates to pre-printed stock.”
“The benefits of desktop digital label printing are many,” states Mark Strobel, vice president of sales and marketing at Primera. “For label houses, they’re a low-cost solution that fills the needs of short-to-medium run label jobs. Print quality is superb at up to 4800 dpi, and in the case of Primera, the ability to digitally diecut any shape or size all in the same machine is a bonus.”
Additionally, they come at an affordable price point – especially when a minimal number of labels are required.
“Digital benchtop printers give users a cost-effective way to add short run and small batch label printing to their businesses,” says Katelyn Bohr, director of marketing at Colordyne Technologies. “Label converters can use the system for micro runs and prototyping work, while brand owners have the opportunity to take greater control over their supply chain with in-house label production.”
As Mohit Bhushan, global director of product management, AstroNova Product Identification, points out, printers still benefit from the same principles that apply to all digital units, from tabletop printers to production presses. “Digital printing allows artwork setup and machine maintenance to be effortless, as there are no plates or heavy machinery to deal with,” says Bhushan. “With a small footprint, most digital label printers today are no bigger than standard office printers.”
Tabletop digital printers are not limited to one market, either. They can be quite effective for medical device labels all the way to craft beverages. “We’ve seen our color labels be particularly effective with medical devices – where color helps identify the correct device to use, chemicals and where GHS labeling requirements must be complied with,” notes Scherz. “They’re also quite effective in retail, where color labels help customers find products more readily and they draw attention. Additionally, craft beer/wine or food product business owners appreciate the flexibility of printing labels on-demand, without being forced to buy thousands of pre-printed bulk labels to get a lower price per label. They can add customization or make design changes at any time without having to throw away labels or wait weeks for new labels to arrive.”
“With the high speed and durability of our printers, markets needing tough chemical- and UV-resistant labels, such as retail and wholesale chemicals and full-color GHS-compliant and BS5609 approved labels, are using NeuraLabel printers,” says Todd Wauhob, chief revenue officer at Neuralog. “Of course, in the retail world, the rapidly developing CBD market can’t be ignored and remains a growth area as more and more states and countries regulate cannabis.”
Tabletop printers can also promote efficiency inside an organization, too. “The biggest benefit of digital tabletop printers is the option for customers to print labels in-house exactly when they are needed,” adds Wauhob. “They allow designers and marketers to easily create shelf-ready labels for in-market testing. Imagine the gains in efficiency and time-to-market when your creative team has a 4- or 5-color label printers within arm’s reach.”
For many companies, tabletop printers play a vital role in proofing. Bhushan describes it as a “necessary evil,” but a valuable prepress function that can lead to the sale of a larger job destined for a bigger press. “Commercial printers can easily run proofs on digital tabletop printers, so they do not have to engage their large press for these proofing runs and offer faster turnarounds to their customers,” says Bhushan.
Cost-effective prototyping provides other benefits, as well. “By running a small batch or one-off sample, clients can visibly check the label’s quality and layout,” explains Bohr. “Customers can then make changes to the design prior to paying for plates and larger quantities, avoiding wasted label inventories.”
According to Nathan Daniel, EMEA sales manager at Afinia Label, the low initial purchase point, high-speed print capabilities and quality of modern digital printers make for a natural match in proofing. Additionally, these printers can work with a range of different RIP technologies to ensure color matching.
Modern printers have been designed to accommodate a plethora of substrates, too. AstroNova’s dye-based inkjet printers, for example, can print on a wide range of gloss, semi-gloss and matte label substrates, providing the media has an inkjet receptive layer. The company’s pigment-based inkjet label printers may be used to print on inkjet coated substrates, as well as some plain paper-based substrates.
Daniel credits the industry’s material suppliers for catering to this ever-increasing market. “If it is an inkjet coated media, you should have no problem using it through our printers,” he says. “The material availability has increased dramatically over the past few years, with the larger material suppliers, such as Avery Dennison and UPM Raflatac, having dedicated inkjet media departments.”
For Primera’s LX610, two different types of ink and a wide variety of substrates are available. Dye-based ink prints bright and vibrant colors that have been optimized for prime label applications. Pigment-based ink prints labels that are slightly less bright but stand up to sunlight and water for years.
A foray into digital
While there are a multitude of benefits to using tabletop printers, one of their greatest assets includes the ability for brands to produce labels in-house. “Modern label printing technology has developed significantly in recent years, resulting in dramatically lower costs and a more accessible marketplace for those looking to bring their printing services in-house,” says Afinia Label’s Daniel.
This capability represents a significant advantage. “Label printing can easily be done in-house by brand owners, without relying on a third party,” states AstroNova’s Bhushan. “Commercial print houses effectively use these printers for shorter to mid-size runs that aren’t cost-effective to run on large presses.”
Many converters might also be new to digital printing. “We see label converting customers using a benchtop solution to bring digital inkjet printing into their business for the first time,” notes Colordyne’s Bohr. “As demand and volumes for shorter runs or high-mix, low volume work increases, they typically scale within our suite of solutions. For brand owner customers, they are often interested in improving design and production flexibility while reducing costs typically incurred when printing short runs, variable data or customized labels.”
The speed at which companies can now apply on-demand color labels to a product is greater than ever before. “Color can aid any type of organization and any industry with business process improvement,” says Epson’s Scherz. “Having color on a label also makes operations in manufacturing or warehouse environments much simpler, providing aid with placing products away in the correct location and locating products quicker.”
For companies with multiple facilities, tabletop printers can be advantageous. “Brands are able to decentralize their print production by using benchtop units in each of their multiple production facilities instead of one larger press in a central location,” adds Bohr.
Just because these tabletop digital printers are small in size does not mean they lack in the technology arena.
According to AstroNova’s Bhushan, the printers have become more reliable and offer excellent quality. “Software and other integration capabilities have become more robust, so the users have started to think and use digital tabletop printers in new ways such as ERP or production line integration, remote network printing and more.”
The technological evolution has spurred many different industry players to get involved in this segment, including companies like Canon, Oki, Memjet, HP, among others.
“Our technology is advancing because our customers want to print more label applications in a shorter amount of time,” states Colordyne’s Bohr. “We continue to evaluate our technology so it can better meet the needs of our customers, which includes greater versatility, affordability and ease of use.”
Afinia Label has developed a range of printers to cater to nearly every market. The company’s product line has helped large chemical production plants all the way to small independent coffee producers.
Afinia Label’s complete range of digital print equipment utilizes top printer engine suppliers, such as HP and Memjet, to enable customers to find the correct product for their business, regardless of the size or label amount required.
“Our customers are very pleased that our latest offerings have increased our range of printers to include the lowest cost entry-level models in the form of the L301 and L502, right up to the full production level models such as the DLP2100 digital label system,” explains Afinia Label’s Daniel. “Many of our competitors only cater to a specific section of the market, be it the small entry-level models or the larger production-style printers. If you need a label, Afinia has the right printer to enable you to produce it yourself and save on costs.”
AstroNova markets and sells its range of digital tabletop printers under the QuickLabel and TrojanLabel brands. QuickLabel serves small to mid-size brand owners across a diverse range of industries, as QuickLabel printers are based on thermal transfer, thermal inkjet (dye or pigment), or electrophotographic (toner) technologies, depending on the model.
AstroNova’s TrojanLabel brand provides digital mini-presses that fit the needs of mid-to-large brand owners, as well as commercial printers, since their print volumes and run-sizes tend to be larger.
“AstroNova’s core business philosophy has remained fundamental since 1994 – technology-driven and customer-focused, providing expertise in digital color printing technologies to solve customer problems,” says AstroNova’s Bhushan. “AstroNova partners with the customer to understand their specific application challenges and then recommends the best solution based on our expertise in digital color printing for over 25 years.”
Recently, AstroNova unveiled the QuickLabel QL-300 five-color (CMYK+white) digital desktop printer based on EP technology. In January 2020, the company also started shipping its newest overprinter – the TrojanLabel T3-OPX, capable of printing directly on a wide variety of uncoated, readily available substrates.
Colordyne offers a suite of scalable solutions for digital label printing. Its product range spans inkjet benchtop printers to production-level inkjet presses. At the production-level, Colordyne offers aqueous dye, aqueous pigment and UV LED inkjet units as retrofits and standalone systems. Colordyne customers might enter the digital printing landscape with an entry-level benchtop system for prototyping and short-run work. Then as their demand increases, they can grow to a production-level press.
Colordyne’s 1800 Series C is a benchtop platform that uses aqueous dye-based inks, making it suitable for food and beverage applications, in addition to numerous other consumer product markets.
“Since we launched the 1800 Series C in 2019, our customers are excited to expand their marketing capabilities and improve their competitive advantage with this flexible solution,” explains Colordyne’s Bohr. “The 1800 Series C allows our customers to easily integrate variable data and personalization into high mix, low volume short-run jobs. Label converters and brand owners are excited to print full color, high-quality jobs for labels, secondary packaging and tag applications fast and cost-effectively.”
Epson, meanwhile, recently launched four new desktop color label printers that have been specifically designed as a color upgrade to black-only thermal transfer printers. They have similar speed, features and connectivity options, and are compatible with ZPL II, major middleware, SAP, Windows, Mac, and Linux for simple integration.
The Epson ColorWorks line has been designed to meet a host of industry challenges. “A color desktop label solution, such as our ColorWorks printers, is ideal not only for branding means but also for compliance,” states Epson’s Scherz. “Color plays a monumental role in capturing and focusing attention, especially as labels become more complex – due to GHS requirements with color and symbol codes for chemicals and hazardous materials, or USDA regulations for fresh food or snack and bakery applications.”
The four new ColorWorks printers include the C6000A and C6500A, which come standard with an auto cutter. This feature is ideal for fast, on-demand applications.
The C6000P and C6500P printers are equipped with an automatic peeler for fast-hand or automated label applications.
“The ColorWorks line has benefited from Epson’s development of ESC Label command software, a printer control language developed by Epson that allows our printers to work seamlessly with all major ISVs in the enterprise label space,” adds Scherz. “The ESC/L commands, ability to work with ZPLII and remote management tools make recent generation ColorWorks printers ideal for replacing monochrome thermal transfer printers, since there is no major disruption to existing IT infrastructures when adding color.”
NeuraLabel printers continue to rely on more than 25 years of experience in roll-to-roll printing. These high-quality, full-color label printers are increasingly smaller, faster and more powerful, with better accuracy and print quality.
“We have an incredible team that includes mechanical, electrical, software, and even chemical engineers on staff designing purpose-built printers and solutions from the ground up,” says Neuralog’s Wauhob. “We also have incredible partnerships with the foremost printer manufacturers and other technology providers across the globe, which helps us stay on the leading edge of technology for our market. For example, we’ve re-engineered paper paths to dramatically improve small label print applications, and developed proprietary control algorithms to simultaneously monitor unwinding and rewinding speeds, improving production efficiency and reducing waste.”
NeuraLabel has seen strong market feedback for its Sirius5 white toner LED printer. In addition, greater product offerings have helped NeuraLabel in this market. “A couple of years ago, our customer base expanded when we added finishing systems to our product portfolio,” says Wauhob. “This addition of winding equipment and finishing systems was widely needed for many small or fast-growing companies, and demand continues today.
“As an easy addition to production lines, finishing systems offer a simple upgrade path as their label production grows,” adds Wauhob.
In order to meet growing global demand, Primera has added a new model to its lineup of desktop label printers. The LX610 color label printer with built-in X/Y cutter functions as a new desktop version of Primera’s original CX/FX1200 machine, and it is completely integrated in a single unit.
The LX610, which is now available, produces short runs of high-quality labels in any size or shape without custom dies – all in a low-cost, desktop sized machine. The printer comes with a price tag of $2,495.
“The first of its kind, the LX610 combines full-color inkjet label printing at up to 4800 dpi with its built-in digital diecutting mechanism,” explains Mark Strobel, vice president of sales and marketing at Primera. “The desktop-sized printer comes complete with intuitive, easy-to-use software for laying out print and cut files, allowing users to quickly produce custom labels of virtually any size or shape. In addition, standard pre-diecut labels and tags can also be fed through the machine just like any other desktop color label printer.”
The LX610 prints short runs of full-color, high resolution labels in any size required up to 4.25" wide and then cuts them in any shape. No dies are necessary, and converters can accommodate rectangles, circles, squares and other pre-defined shapes.
“There appears to be a fair amount of confusion in the marketplace right now with so many models, features and vendors. It seems to us that there are way too many machines chasing too few customers,” says Strobel. “That’s why we are aiming our new desktop-sized LX610 printer/cutter at applications, such as prototyping and sample short runs, where our machine is singularly unique.”
According to Primera, professional print businesses, ad agencies and graphic design shops can benefit from this new product by producing samples, prototypes and short runs for client approval before ordering expensive hard-tooled or flexible dies. In addition, small businesses can print their own short runs of custom labels without incurring delays and die costs while continuing to send their longer runs to label production shops.
Both dye and pigment inks are available for the LX610, as well. The printer can also accommodate a host of substrates, including gloss and matte papers, PVC, polyester and polypropylene.