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12-09-13
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Label printing in upheaval – how to escape the ruinous competition

Every sector in the printing industry – be it commercial offset printing, newspaper and magazine printing, packaging printing or label printing – is experiencing upheaval. Technical and commercial innovations have stoked up an increasingly ruinous price war. But what are the root causes of this development and how can labelprinters respond to the situation?

Print buyers adopting a new approach to procurement
In the past, it was standard practice for printers to meet with customers to find the best way of using the latest printing and surface finishing technologies to produce the most attractive label possible. Today, however, these meetings are becoming increasingly rare. Customers are either choosing to work with agencies that will take responsibility for the entire product design process or are outsourcing labels to a print shop through their purchasing department. Price is usually the most important deciding factor. Due to its higher printing speeds, flexographic printing often has an advantage over screen printing, although it is not able to produce the same printing quality or any visible or tactile haptic effects. The main benefit for buyers is that there is a huge number of print shops that can reproduce the quality of exclusively flexographic labels, including businesses with presses that have no surface finishing capabilities such as rotary screen printing. As a result, the number of potential label suppliers increases and the purchasing price for the labels sinks accordingly. As direct contact with customers continues to decline and label quality drops, label printers become increasingly expendable and pricing pressure grows.

Label printers focus too much on output
Thanks to continuous technical developments and innovation, label production has become easier, faster and cheaper. This progress, however, has resulted in a price war in which print shops have tried to gain an edge through growth, by winning more customers, expanding into new sales regions or taking over domestic rivals, for example. Many label printers drawn into this price war are endeavouring to increase label output to keep production costs as low as possible. Nevertheless, higher output can only be achieved if the printing technology used to manufacture labels is kept as simple and fast as possible – in other words, surface finishing is best avoided. The end result is that print shops themselves are often keen to produce labels that are increasingly similar and interchangeable in terms of their look. All the same, by avoiding combination printing, labelprinters are inadvertently opening themselves up to much more competition.

Take up the cause of combination printing
Ultimately, the customers of labelprinters have one goal – to sell their products successfully. But how exactly is that going to work if all the labelled products in shops look the same – if they more or less blend into the crowd? One of the most important things printers can do today is support creative agencies with their extensive know-how and highlight the benefits of combination printing. Only products that stand out on the shelf – thanks to screen printing effects such as brilliant images, three-dimensional text, glitter or tactile reliefs – will catch the eye of consumers and help customers boost their sales figures. When it comes to designing labels, the problem is that many creative agencies are unfamiliar with the technical options they could use to turn flexographic labels that have been produced for the lowest possible price into appealing sales aids. It is these agencies that labelprinters need to approach, showing them how they can boost the appeal of their labels
without driving up printing costs too much. After all, inline production on a narrow-web label printing press such as a Gallus press also helps to lower costs. Label print shops have to show buyers and creatives how to strike the ideal balance between low-cost production, which is supported by the Gallus inline solution, and sophisticated design.

Exploiting the full potential of inline production
Cost-effective label production can only be achieved when there are as few breaks in the value added chain as possible. In other words, all printing and finishing processes have to follow one after the other in a single pass on a single machine. Labelprinters should combine as many printing and finishing processes as possible inline in their presses, and should do so as often as possible. On the one hand, this will help them stand out more from other labelprinters, thus making them less expendable. On the other, they will be making better use of the potential their presses offer for inline production. The Gallus product portfolio of modular, narrow-web, reel-fed presses has something for every labelprinter, offering presses that can be tailored to the relevant order profile and are based on a sound approach to cost-effective inline production using combination printing.

For example, the Gallus RCS platform, which is available in printing widths of 330 mm and 430 mm, currently offers exceptional productivity and flexibility for the production of sophisticated labels. This modular inline press with direct drive technology can be extended to include up to 12 printing stations and runs at a speed of up to 160 metres per minute. The Gallus RCS can be used to print on materials ranging from extremely thin films such as PE, PET, PVC and OPP from 20 μm to paper from 60 gsm and lightweight cardboard. Depending on the type of label that is required, operators can use UV flexographic printing, UV offset printing or reel-fed screen printing and combine the chosen technique with coating, relief embossing, hot foil stamping and cold foil printing. Gallus also supplies a gravure printing unit that can be deployed anywhere in the press to apply silver, gold and metallic hues.

If we take a closer look at rotary screen printing, it becomes clear that reel-fed screen printing offers an appealing and cost-effective printing process and a simple means of generating added value. Print shops can also retrofit additional, new screen printing units for existing narrow-web, reel-fed printing presses, thereby enhancing the potential of their machine park. As a solution provider, Gallus offers its customers a screen printing system comprising three components – the printing unit, the Gallus Screeny screen printing plates and production of the rotary screen. A Gallus screen printing unit can be moved from one position to another in the press with ease, thereby saving time and money and enabling operators to reconfigure the press for subsequent jobs with exceptional speed (plug & print). The Gallus Screeny screen printing plates – available in eight resolutions from 100 μm line width to full area – are supplied as formats or reel stock, are coated with a layer of
light-sensitive photopolymer and feature a protective film. The production process for a print-ready rotary screen is straightforward and lasts less than 30 minutes. Thanks to cost-effective inline production and simple and rapid blockmaking, rotary screen printing is an interesting option for making better use of the full potential that a press offers.

Escaping the price war
Tackling the root causes of the price war in label printing is a long-term process. Labelprinters have to show their customers the benefits and added value that combination printing and surface finishing techniques bring – and screen printing is an ideal printing process to do just that. Indeed, it is only by applying combination printing that labelprinters and their customers can really stand out from the crowd and beat off their rivals. If labelprinters can succeed in selling the added value of combination printing, they can automatically make better use of their presses thanks to cost effective inline production.