Introduction

Manufacturers of almost any type of product often find themselves in need of short- run, full-color customized product labels. The reasons are many: for use on prototype products, promotional campaigns, and perhaps most often, because the manufacturer has many different products that are all produced in smaller quantities.

In all of these cases, the printed quality and appearance of these labels are extremely important. Providing a professional appearance on packages can easily make the difference between a product selling well or simply sitting on the retail shelf.

But finding a cost-effective and convenient way to produce high-quality, full-color labels has not been easy. Until now, your choices have been limited to:

Flexographic (“flexo”) printing. This is the most common method of printing “primary” product labels – those that go onto the product itself. However, flexo technology is generally affordable only in larger production runs – usually 10,000 or more identical labels at a time.

Creativity can be compromised on flexo since you are generally limited to several hundred PMS (Pantone Matching System) spot colors. If photos are required on labels, a visible dot pattern becomes apparent and is generally equivalent to only about 200 to 300 dpi.

Set-up costs for flexographic film, plates and “make-ready” (aligning four separate printing plates, mixing ink, etc.) are substantial, adding significantly to the cost when printing short-run jobs. Delivery usually takes about 3-4 weeks. Often, labels will need to be discarded when product information changes and the job needs to be reprinted.

  • Traditional offset printing. Like flexo printing, full-color offset printing is generally appropriate only for longer runs. Offset printing is also limited to sheet-fed presses. Most end-users prefer rolls of labels because they can be used with automated applicators and are more compact to store on a warehouse shelf.
  • Digital offset printing. Offers many of the advantages of variable information and shorter runs. Presses are very expensive. Unless you can justify such a large equipment investment, these types of labels are usually sourced from an outside supplier. Delivery times are usually several days to a week. Print quality is better than flexo, but many digital offset presses require expensive lamination films to protect the inks from abrasion and handling. This is especially true of digital presses that use so-called liquid toner.
  • Color thermal transfer printing. Offers the advantages of printing variable information and short runs. The major disadvantage is that print resolution is very low – only 203 to 400 dpi. Machinery is also expensive. Does not produce a professional, offset-quality result, so thermal transfer is used mostly for industrial shipping and box labels. 


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ClearTEK (Pty) Ltd, 197B Jutlander Rd, Beaulieu, Midrand, South Africa 1684, tel. +27 11 468 1705