Everything You Need to Know About Digital Labels

November 19, 2020

It’s truly incredible how much has changed in the packaging industry over the last several years. Chief among these changes has got to be the huge strides digital printing has taken, especially when it comes to product labels.

Want foil stamps? Specialty varnishes? Embossing? Digital can do all of this.

While printing your labels digitally isn’t the best choice absolutely every time (more on this in a moment), it’s worth your while to get acquainted with this option. Hence, we’ve created this post as a quick overview of the world of digital labels.

What’s digital? 

First, a quick definition. Traditional flexographic printing uses flexible printing plates to transfer ink onto the label substrate. But digital printing works pretty much like your home printer, just bigger. A commercial digital printer sprays millions of dots of colour in different combinations to get the desired result. No plates as the ink is sprayed directly onto the label.

When you’re trying to decide between flexographic or digital, it tends to come down to speed and price. Creating plates for each colour in the label adds time and cost. But once everything is all set up, flexographic printers technically work more quickly than digital printers.

That’s why when you have simple labels with few colours (i.e., fewer plates to create) in a big run (think: tens of thousands), flexographic can be faster and have a lower per-unit cost.

But when your labels are more elaborate and multi-coloured in a smaller run, digital is faster and less expensive. For example, we have a lot of microbrewery clients with incredibly artful labels who don’t need huge runs. Digital makes better sense for their labels.

Superflux Beer Company – “Easy Tiger” – Digitally Printed Beer Labels

Advantages of digital labels

If your needs are similar to our microbrewery clients, it makes sense to learn about the advantages of digital labels. There are several!

Lower Costs – This is a big one. As long as you aren’t running a high-volume job of relatively simple labels, digital is going to be less expensive than flexographic. No plates, no stamps, no extra chemical processes to pay for.

Just In Time Production – The flexibility of being able to print as many labels as you want at any given time is undeniably attractive. It’s always great to have one less thing to find storage space for.

Environmental Sustainability – Digital presses can print on environmentally certified substrates and are compatible with environmentally safe adhesives, primers and inks. Digital printing increases the economic viability of shorter print runs and also produces less overall waste.

Customization Possibilities – Maybe you have a label that needs slight variations or variable print. That’s possible with digital!

Finishing and Embellishments – Digital print can provide a huge range of variety in the label’s final look. Hot foil stamping, specialty laminates and varnishes, metallics, and embossing are just a few options. 

Faster Production – In many situations, digitally printed labels can be produced more quickly. Just remember that’s not the case in all scenarios, such as when you have simple, high volume runs.

Security Features – A digitally printed label can incorporate security features that disallow others from copying it.

The process of digitally printing labels

Sold on the virtues of digitally printed labels? Here’s what the process of producing them looks like:

Step One: Finalizing the Print File

Our team prepares your design file for print, ensuring it meets all labelling requirements. If several versions of the label are needed, for example, if you were producing a product in different sizes—we’d prepare those as well. If different versions are being printed, we’ll use variable data to manage that process.

Step Two: Printing

Using the most advanced digital printing system available on the market, we run the labels in such a way that every substrate frame is maximized.

Step Three: Die-Cutting

Once the labels are printed, we die-cut them into your specific shape. Again, we use the most advanced die-cutter available because each label must be cut carefully from the substrate to minimize waste.

If you’re curious about going the digital route for your next run of labels, feel free to reach out. We always recommend weighing the pros and cons of digital or flexographic with a specialist before making a decision. Labels for your product (whatever that may be) is an increasingly dynamic world and we’d love to explore it with you!

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