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Is Digital Label Printing Right For Me?

What Are My Label Printing Options?

As technology develops and expands, so does your range of options when it comes to printing product labels. Assuming you’ve made it safely through the design gauntlet and you’re now looking for a label printer – what’s the first step in choosing how to print your product labels? With so many different options for label printing out there, deciding which printing method will best fill your label needs can be overwhelming.

Since we understand how important this initial decision is, let’s go over a few of the most common options that you have for printing your product labels. The three most common ways to print product labels are: “Desktop Printing”, “Flexo Printing’, and “Digital Printing” (which is what we specialize in).

Desktop Label Printing

In certain circumstances, you can certainly print serviceable labels on your desktop printer (using pre-cut sheets of labels available from office supply stores). In some cases these may be all you need - perhaps for farmers’ markets, school bake sales, or gifts for friends – but they will definitely not provide a workable solution in most retail environments, for various reasons.

The material is typically paper-based and the inks are lower quality - neither of which is suitable for high-impact, long-lasting products subjected to repeated handling. The inks can often smudge when handled over time and many products will come in contact with moisture and different temperatures throughout the product lifecycle - potentially damaging labels that have been printed using lower-quality and non-specialized materials. Rule No. 1 in label printing: use materials and inks that will withstand anything your customers throw at them – otherwise you could end up with a very tattered and sloppy looking product label. And that’s not a good image to project in any retail environment.

“Flexo” Label Printing

The next technology we’ll discuss is what’s known as “flexo” printing (short for flexographic), which is what the vast majority of label printing companies still use. It’s been around for generations and it uses flexible “plates” to print each color on the material. Having various “versions” of your design (e.g. one for each flavor of BBQ sauce) is often very expensive due to plate costs and the lengthy press setup needed to change plates and ink colors.

Regardless of cost issues, flexo label printing is not going away anytime soon. It has a place in very long runs of labels with a single design (e.g. 500,000 identical labels for a large brand-name product on supermarket shelves) – but shorter and more varied runs of labels are certainly better handled by…

Digital Label Printing

Now we get into Wizard Labels’ sweet spot, and frankly this is very likely to be your sweet spot as well. The most recent developments in label printing have largely focused on what is called Digital Printing. The printing presses themselves look nothing like old-fashioned mechanical flexo presses you’ll see in most print shops – they are high-tech pieces of electronic wizardry (please excuse the shameless plug) that need highly-skilled specialists familiar with computers and software to run, and the process itself is very different as well. Check out the video of one of Wizard's amazing HP-Indigo WS6600 digital printing presses!  Incidentally, these presses cost over a million dollars apiece - not exactly desktop printing, is it?

Digital label printing is actually more similar to the desktop printing method than it is to flexographic printing. During digital printing, a computer takes an art file created by the design software and prints it directly onto the label material in the press. No need to mix inks or mess around with plates – everything is done within the press itself. This also allows for artwork edits and label variations to be done with minimal effort, as opposed to having to change the flexo plates every time a change or variation needs to be made. This saves not only time, but money.

What’s The Next Step?
As you can see, while digital printing isn’t your only option, it is likely the best and easiest option for printing product labels for most small to medium businesses. This is also true especially if you are going to have different variations within a single kind of product (i.e. different scents, flavors, etc.)

In the next post, we’re going to start exploring the decisions that lay ahead now that you’ve chosen to print your product labels digitally!

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