DIGITAL PRINTING – CHALLENGES
June 25, 2018
June 25, 2018
Managing Digital Printing
Digital label printing is no longer some exotic technology that belongs more to the future of label printing than the present. HP Indigo, the leading digital label press manufacturer, recently reported more than 500 press installations worldwide.
The company is now one of the top three label press manufacturers in terms of unit sales. In the last two years the number of HP installed presses has doubled and the number of labels printed has quadrupled.
With this kind of success, it is fair to say that digital label printing has become mainstream. However, this doesn’t mean that going digital does not present its own unique challenges. This article will discuss some of these challenges and how to deal with them. It will focus on the HP Indigo technology because that is the leading player in this field, although today there are several other choices if you are considering a digital press.
1. Getting business
Whether you have a digital press, a flexo, gravure, screen, or offset press, the most important challenge is always to make sure you have enough profitable business to fill the press time. The additional challenge with digital is that because of its slower print speed you need to focus on the shorter runs. No doubt you will be relying on your sales people to leverage your existing customers, but you will probably need a plan to get business from new customers as well.
The good news is that there are many more businesses out there looking for short run labels than long runs, but you need a good sales plan that focuses on these smaller companies in order to get this business.
2. Putting new systems in place
Another huge challenge is how to integrate digital printing into an existing converting operation. If you use exactly the same systems as you do with your flexo press you will be wasting time and resources. The challenge is to implement new systems from sales and customer service all the way through to rewinding and shipping. Digital printing by its very nature is a more-lean manufacturing process; there are fewer steps involved in production and less waste. If you are taking more than a week to turn around your digital printing orders, then you either need more capacity or you have too much waste in your system.
You cannot run just any substrate through an HP press; most substrates have to be specially coated before the ink will adhere properly. This is not the issue it once was, because most of the major substrate vendors now have several different choices of material coated for the HP presses. Of course, there is always the option for you to coat the material yourself on an existing flexo press, but that is more challenging than you might think.
Different materials require different coatings and there is a lot of trial and error involved before coming up with the right formula. Another alternative is to outsource the coating to a company that specializes in it. Masterpiece Graphix in St. Louis is HP’s only certified North American treatment centre for coating material, and you can have them coat pretty much any material that you can run through an HP press.
4. Finding the right people
If you expect a flexo operator to jump in and operate an HP press with ease you will be sorely disappointed. HP provides two weeks of operator training at the end of which time your operator should be able to print labels and replace consumables just fine. The challenge he or she will face is in resolving problems (see point 7). It takes a great deal of experience to know just what is really causing the print problems you will inevitably experience.
As for what kind of person makes the best operator, there is some debate among HP users. A flexo operator who is good with new technology would work well, but other shops prefer a prepress person who has some mechanical skill. Either type of person should work, but it will be a long learning curve for someone who has little experience with either prepress or press operation.
5. Managing color
As with all presses, managing color is a constant issue on a digital press. The ws4500 press is the best press HP has ever produced as far as repeat-ability of color, but there will still be some issues. It is important to maintain a consistent operating environment. These presses work best with a constant temperature of around 70°F and a humidity of 40 to 50 percent.
If you stray too far from these settings you will get color problems. As with any four color process press, matching a PMS is always a challenge, but HP provides an optional six color process solution called Indichrome (CMYK plus orange and violet) that helps match the majority of PMS colors very closely. The biggest challenge for flexo shops will always be matching color between the digital and flexo presses. Prepress tools from Esko can help with this process, but with two totally different printing technologies matching color exactly will often be very difficult.
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