Today's modern Label Printing and Die-cutting. June 09 2016

June 9, 2016

There is no denying that digital technologies are forcing the label printing and graphics industry to evolve. Most of the time, when the term “digital” is used, it is in relation to a new press or output device. But digital is changing the finishing side of the business as well, and die-cutting labels is one area that is reaping the benefits.

Like with label presses, digital die-cutting technologies shine the brightest on shorter runs or even variable jobs. Like the inkjet label presses, they can easily produce 500 completely unique pieces in a single run, whereas the traditional methods, like the flexo printing technologies they evolved alongside, were designed for longer runs. Digital die-cutting equipment brings a host of potential benefits to a shop. A few of those include:

1. The Dies.

One of the single biggest benefits to going digital versus the traditional die cutters is the fact that there are no dies. “The biggest advantage to any digital technology is the ability to produce short runs profitably and far more rapidly than conventional methods,” said Roy Harris, CEO, “There is no die – so reduced time and expenses there – and the digital process means that the entire process is streamlined and allows for last minute changes, edits, etc. This means that anyone with digital capability can start immediately reaping the benefits on existing jobs while building a new and incremental business with the extended capabilities.”

Label Printers traditionally would have to wait 1-3 days for a die to be created and shipped, and then once the job is done, it has to be stored somewhere, incurring additional costs. Not to mention, if the client wants to re-run the job, the die has to be shipped back from the storage warehouse, which is frequently located elsewhere. This is one area where digital label printing truly shines, since it eliminates a wide range of time and money costs directly out of the jobs.

2. Craftsmanship.

There is no denying that label printing's past was all about art. Label Printers were master craftsmen, and the finishing side of things was a big part of the finished product. Even a decade ago, creating dies was an art, and knowing how to run jobs on different substrates and sizes and get consistently good results was something a professional could dedicate an entire career to learning.

But more and more, label printing is becoming a manufacturing process, which requires quicker turn-around times and consistent results no matter who is running the job. And digital die-cutting machines allow that mentality to carry through the entire line, instead of coming to a screeching halt when the printed pieces hit the finishing department.

“Unfortunately, the quality of the die can still be quite variable and building them is still a black art. When the die is running on the press, there is a challenge to the physical act of a die press.

Different paper reacts differently to the die and release liner. There is  software to tell a die-maker how to make the die correctly. A real pro knows how the substrate will react to the die, and he can tweak it. However, if the expert is on vacation, the die might not be made as well. Digital die cutting does not have this problem. It cuts the same way all the time. The digital file is just sent to the finisher and it carries off the task.”

3. Run Length.

The label printing world is moving toward shorter, more personalized runs. That’s not to say that the longer runs will ever vanish completely, but, especially when it comes to marketing, brands and companies are looking to stand out from the crowd and personalized materials help them do just that.

But the personalizing doesn’t need to end with the print job. 500 individually printed labels could all be printed the same way, but they don’t necessarily have to be exactly the same size with digital die-cutting equipment.

“Today's  digital die-cutting systems offer varying degrees of automation and very quick changes combined with high production speeds, which make them equally as efficient and profitable for short run digitally personalized runs as they are for longer run applications.

4. Footprint.

Label Printing presses are not small machines. And the equipment needed to finish those jobs is not small either. In the past, this was a good reason for many printers to outsource the work — on top of not having to invest in the equipment, personnel and materials, they could use the limited space in their shops for machines with a higher ROI.

Today, however, while they still wouldn’t be called minuscule, the footprint of the digital die-cutting equipment is quite a bit smaller than it used to be.

“The biggest difference between a traditional die-cutting machine and the new digital model is the footprint of the machine,” noted Roy Harris. “With machines which run on a magnetic cylinders, the footprint is relatively small compared to the larger clam shell or flat-bed die-cutters that remain popular in the market. All applications that would normally be done on the bigger footprint machines can now be done on much smaller units.”

5. Flexibility.

Traditional die-cutting equipment had certain limitations and the type and thickness of the substrate had a major impact on the finished product. Not to mention, it was difficult to cut more exotic materials. And it’s not just the flexibility of the output either. The newer machines are far more modular in design, allowing Label Printers to evolve and grow without needing to re-invest every few years.

“High-performance digital cutting systems cut just about any material you can imagine,” Roy said,  “That makes a digital cutting system much more versatile and cost effective than a traditional die-cutting machine. The biggest pros for a digital cutting system are their unique functional versatility as well as their ease of use and compelling cost-benefit ratio.

Thanks to their unique modular design, [these] cutters have the ability to evolve right along with our customer’s needs. At any time, they can be easily upgraded or reconfigured, ensuring their long-term productivity and ROI.”

6. Time and Speed.

All of these benefits add up to two basic things: savings in the time it takes to produce jobs, and the speed at which they can be produced.

Not only that, but the newer equipment can even be run directly in line with the press, instead of needing to be two completely separate process, often run in different areas of the shop, freeing up the man power and storage space needed to move and queue jobs waiting to go into finishing.

Label Printers can cut costs and improve their bottom line, but they can also better sell the value of the service, as they can provide near immediate, finished pieces in a matter of days or even hours, as opposed to needing weeks or months from start to finish.

There is no denying that, like offset presses, there is still a place in the industry for traditional flexo die-cutting equipment.