Digital Printing Benefits and Limitations
Digital Printing has changed the landscape of printing over the last several years, and it will continue to do so in the years to comes. As technology advances and digital press speeds increase, digital printing will become more and more the printing method of choice by label buyers.
We would like to share with you the benefits and advantages that digital custom label printing has to offer, along with a few of the limitations that have yet to be overcome.
The Benefits and Advantages of Digital Printing
- Registration: Digital printing has perfect registration of colors. It's the only printing method that can do this.
- 100% consistency: When your orders run each time after the first, the output will be the same as the first run.
- Minimum Dot: Screens in the artwork can fade to 0%, meaning no harsh lines like you would see in traditional flexographic printing.
- Dot Gain: Dot gain is the amount that a printed CMYK dot expands when it is printed. Printing plates used in flexographic printing have a dot gain of several percent. Digital... only a couple. Less dot gain equals a better looking image.
- Trapping: In traditional printing, colors must be trapped together to try and disguise normal color registration movement. This leaves you with lines where colors overlap. Digital required ZERO trapping. This means you have a better looking label.
- Line Screen: Flexographic printing has a line screen of 133 - 150 line screen. Digital line screen is 175. This means digital prints a higher resolution image.
- As long as the artwork provided is of high resolution and prepared properly, the output of the printed graphics are unmatchable.
- Quality and Consistency mean no worries and peace of mind for you.
Low costs at low volumes compared to traditional printing
- Printing Plates are not required, saving money on pre-press expenses. For what you used to pay for in just plates and films for traditional printing, you can often have your entire digital order.
- Machine setup is much quicker. For small runs on the traditional presses, at low volumes it would often take longer to set up a press than it would to print your order. Hours of setup and minutes of printing. By cutting out machine setup, you cut out a substantial portion of the custom label costs.
- No Plate and/or Color Change-Overs, unlike traditional presses. When a traditional press is shut down to change over a plate or a color, it is quite an ordeal. The downtime is factored into your label costs or charged separately. And it can add up quick if you have multiple items. Digital Printing at most only charges an item change-over fee, which is only a fraction compared to a traditional press change-over.
- Press Proofs for digital printing are a fraction of the cost compared to traditional presses. You are not setting up a large press, so printing out a press proof is far lower in cost. No plates or pre-press either.
Multiple Versions or Variable Data flexibility
- As long as the material and dies sizes are the same, digital printing is able to switch over to a new label within minutes, as compared to a traditional press. Time is money... which you get to keep in your pocket. Less material is also wasted on a change over = more money saved.
- Variable Data capabilities on the digital presses are awesome! Let's say you need each digital item to have a new sequential number. No problem. The digital presses can pull data from a database and print the data on the label... with beautiful graphics.
- As long as the variable information is pulled from a database, the press keeps running. Only when switching to a new label or tag version must the machine stop. This is to allow for items of any volume to be kept separate on the floor. We wouldn't want to see your vitamin C and vitamin D labels get mixed up, now would we?
Short Lead Times
- Eliminating the need for printing plates and the reduced machine setup times will save you days if not weeks in getting your digital order delivered.
Prototyping or Constantly Revising Artwork
- Digital is awesome for test market applications! Since digital printing is ideal for lower volumes, it is typically the only route to go if you need prototypes or are looking for a small quantity to be used in a test market. This keeps your Marketing Department happy and the Accounting Department off your back.
- Keeping up with the FDA's regulations can be a headache on its own. Adding that to the cost of updating your labels and throwing out the old ones can be an added killer. The flexibility and low cost for low volumes capability of the digital press eliminates half of your headache. Now if you could get the FDA to quit screwing with things, you would have far fewer gray hairs.
Limitations of Digital Printing
As with any process, there are limitations that have yet to be overcome or advantages that other processes are built to be exceptional at. We'll outline the limitations of the digital process so that you are aware. We see no good come from burying the truth, as we are a very open and honest company who values our customers dearly.
Large Volumes Cost More
- The digital presses run up to about 50 fpm (feet per minute) down to as low as 15 fpm, depending on the label size being printed and the number of color stations being used. This is fine for low volumes. Typically 10,000 - 15,000 items or less. The traditional label presses run at 300 fpm up to 500 fpm. Even though the traditional presses cost more to set up and run, there is a massive savings on them when it comes to pumping a long run of material through them at high speeds.
- HP's Digital Press operates with what is known as a "Click Charge". We'll spare you the details, but essentially every X repeat has a charge that is paid to HP which covers maintenance and ink to run the press. This can add up on large runs.
Color / Ink Limitations
- For the most part, digital printing can duplicate a large part of the color gamut, but some limitations are present, since most of the digital printing is duplicated from CMYK.
- Metallic Inks are not able to be run through the HP ws6600 press. Since the press uses an electron charge to transfer ink, the metallic inks would short circuit the press. Can you say half-million dollar paperweight?
- The HP inks can not be used for direct food contact applications. Do not take this is "Oh no! The ink will kill you!" That's not it at all. When it comes to direct food contact, there are a lot of rules to follow. Special materials, adhesives, inks, etc. For more information on this, check out page six of the HP Indigo Digital Printing Ink Q & A.
- In direct sunlight, digital inks will fade quicker than flexographic ink or offset ink. All inks fade over time. It just happens a little quicker with digital ink. If you want ink to last for a better part of a decade, have your labels screen printed. There are special UV inhibitor laminations that will help the ink last longer, as an option. Most products are used long before the printing ink has a chance to begin to fade.
- The digital press can actually print CMYK a little better than a traditional flexographic label press. But there are some limitations on duplicating spot colors. It's easier to mix spot colors on the flexo presses.
- Opacity of the inks on a digital press are not as great. The ink is laid down a little thinner than say a flexo press. This is only noticeable on clear or a metallic materials, but an extra bump or two of white laid down first will pretty much eliminate that concern.
Well, that pretty much covers the good, the bad and the ugly. Digital printing is quickly becoming the wave of the future. In a nutshell, the benefits are quality, cost and flexibility. Add that to Passion Labelstm "We love our customers!" attitude, you found the perfect label and packaging partner.