We get this question a lot – which is surprising because we’re among the fastest in the label-printing industry. Our normal production time is 2-3 working days from the time we receive your approval of the proofs (plus delivery time of course). This is much faster than industry norms (which can often be weeks rather than days), but many people don’t understand why it takes even that long. Let’s explore the various steps in the process…
First, you place your order and supply us with the appropriate artwork (assuming of course that it’s not a simple repeat order, in which case we already have the artwork). Whenever we receive new art files, our pre-press department then has to “pre-flight” every file you’ve sent. This process is necessary to produce proofs for your approval, and also get the files into a press-ready state. The amount of time taken to complete this process varies a lot (depending on how good the art is when we receive it), but we allow on average 5 minutes per file. Hence, a 20-version order (i.e. 20 different files) might take 100 minutes of pre-press time just to get them ready to print.
Proofing. Regardless of whether you’ve sent new files or are re-ordering artwork we’ve used previously, we still need to “proof” the order (i.e. we send you a PDF with all the versions you specified) – this is necessary to make sure we pulled the correct versions and we also got all the quantities etc correct. While this may seem unnecessary, it’s our only way to ensure we correctly interpreted your needs – and we often get customers realizing they accidentally ordered the wrong things – so proofing is an essential step.
Once the proofs have been sent to you, we obviously have no control over how long it takes you to check and approve them (or advise us of any corrections). That can often be very quick, or some customers can take days (or even longer) to do their part in the proofing process. That’s why we NEVER schedule a production job until we get the final approval to proceed. So, here we are – 4 steps into the process of delivering your labels, and we still haven’t even got into the actual production part. It’s our goal to get through the proofing process well within one workday, but we usually beat that goal unless there are problems with your artwork or some other unexpected issues occur.
Okay – so now we have an approved job to produce physical labels. This is when the real fun starts, beginning with scheduling the job. We normally allow a couple of workdays to complete the job and ship it out to you, and here’s why we need that long…
Printing. Our digital printing presses are very sophisticated electronic beasts, costing around a million dollars apiece (and we currently have six of them, with more being added as we continue to grow). Each unique “job” requires a variable degree of setup time before the first label gets printed – depending on what material you’ve chosen and whether a changeover is needed. Obviously we try to schedule like jobs together to streamline the setup process, but changing materials can take 20-30 minutes to complete, and that normally gets done several times each day. Once the appropriate material is mounted and the press calibrated for that material, the operator can normally hit the “Go” button and the magic starts – your labels begin being printed onto the substrate (that’s a fancy term for the label material).
Depending on how many labels you ordered, this initial printing pass can take anywhere from a few minutes to quite a few hours – with the average job taking maybe 10-15 minutes of actual print time. The output from this printing pass is a roll of material (called the “web”, which is 13” wide) with your labels printed side-by-side across the width of the web. For example, if your label is 2” wide, we can print 5 of them across the web, whereas a 5” wide label can only be printed 2-across. Regardless, we end up with a printed web with your labels arranged in their beautiful glory in the most efficient way possible (to keep costs and waste down).
Die-Cutting/Laminating. The printed web is just the beginning – the roll is then dismounted from the printing press and passed across to the next department in the process, which is die-cutting and laminating (where a thin film of clear protective lamination is normally applied on top of the printed material). This all occurs on a completely separate piece of mechanical equipment (about 20 feet long). The die-press operator has to mount the correct cutting die to “punch” out your labels in the proper size and shape, removing the waste between the labels in the process. Mounting a die and adjusting the die-press for each new job usually takes 10-15 minutes and then the operator hits “Go” and the magic continues – the web streams through the die-press and out the other end comes a die-cut web with appropriate lamination in place and all the waste removed. This web is then passed on to the next department…
Slit/Rewind. In the Rewind section, yet more equipment lies in wait for the die-cut web (which still has a number of labels printed across it). The rewind operator mounts the web on the slitter-rewinder, and adjusts rotary knives to slit the web into individual rolls of labels – and the machine also mechanically counts the labels as required. The rewind operator is also responsible for making sure the rolls end up in the correct “unwind direction” for your intended application method – the output from this department is a collection of finished rolls of labels. These rolls then get conveyed to the Packing/Shipping department.
Packing/Shipping. This area is the last step in getting your order out the door. The finished rolls arrive in their hands and the packers assemble the order into boxes suitable for shipment. They also print and insert a Packing Slip to indicate what they’ve packed, then the UPS shipping label gets printed and applied to the box(es). Late in the afternoon, a UPS truck comes in and collects all the orders for that day and takes them off for delivery per your instructions.
Delivery. This is when the rubber really hits the road. Our free 2-day delivery to anywhere in the US is unique to the best of our knowledge, and depending on your location it may actually happen overnight at no extra cost. However, obviously we have no control over your shipment once it leaves the plant – we rely on UPS to deliver it to your nominated location in the most efficient way possible, but things can sometimes go wrong. Adverse weather, mechanical breakdowns or other unexpected issues can affect that process too. Delays in delivery are surprisingly rare in our experience, but it’s important to understand they can happen – in which case we will need to work with you to arrive at the most efficient solution possible.
As you can hopefully see from the above, there are many individual steps involved in producing each and every label order. In short – Proofing, Printing, Die-Cutting/Laminating, Slit/Rewind, Packing and Shipping, and lastly the Delivery itself. Each of these steps are necessarily time-consuming to achieve the best possible quality, and a single job typically takes a couple of workdays to wend its way right through the plant and onto the UPS truck.
Given that the plant ships between 50 and 100 individual orders per day (involving many hundreds of unique versions of artwork), hopefully you can begin to appreciate why it’s not simply a matter of pressing a single button and everything happens without significant manual and mechanical involvement. We believe that our stated goal of 2 working days in production is extremely competitive and efficient – while we constantly look for ways to improve it even further.
It’s also important to note that our entire business is focused on “custom labels”, and that implies we make everything to order from scratch. We do not carry inventories of off-the-shelf items, because every customer has unique needs for their products.
If we could offer a single critical piece of advice to our customers, it would be this…
While most orders should arrive in your hands within a working week of you placing the order, it makes sense to allow for exceptions in advance. Don’t leave your orders until the last possible minute and then expect everything to go according to plan. Murphy’s law is invariably most likely to strike when there’s no wiggle-room to play with, so building in some extra time will certainly help to minimize stress levels for all parties.
Lastly, at Wizard Labels we do not offer a “rush order” facility. We consider every customer (and every order) to be equally worthy of our best efforts, and we consider rush charges to be an abomination. We certainly recognize that some label printers charge such fees, but we feel that approach is nothing more than a sneaky profit-spinner with adverse affects on the loyal customers with orders already in the queue.
Also keep in mind that our normal 2-day production times largely remove the need for rush charges anyway. In many cases we can upgrade the shipping to Overnight, but our finely-tuned production process is not something we feel is worth tinkering with and upsetting the entire apple-cart.