Labels weren’t always what they are today. With more product availability and the rise in brand importance, printing labels became a necessary part of sales. Before we could print labels digitally, we had to find other ways. They weren’t as efficient but they got the job done. The history of digital label printing began before digital printing was even an option.
The First Adhesive Labels
Computers have changed everything in our modern society, and the world of label printing is no different. Before computers, the first adhesive labels, invented in the 1930s by R. Stanton Avery, were designed as a sheet of paper, covered with a layer of adhesive, and then a liner with a silicone coating.
Avery developed a machine out of spare parts that used rubber printing plates for printing labels, but for commercial label printing, they required typewriters or writing utensils. As long as they could use the labels they printed for identifying the things they needed to identify, everything else came after, including efficiency.
In the 1970s, self-adhesive labels were rising in popularity. Today, they make up 40% of label usage. With the help of digital applications that were about to emerge, self-adhesive labels print faster, using rotary and wrap-around tooling, servo-drive presses, and press controls, which include color management, web inspection, register control, and more.
The year 1978 marks the first year of barcode printing for retail stores and the first time velocity code was included in the dark lines of a barcode. From then on, barcodes would be printed on product labels for many years to come. In the 1980s, thermal transfer price-weight labels were being printed on products and would continue to grow in use and popularity.
Soon after, brand owners would demand the use of polystyrene, polypropylene, and polyethylene on industrial products, toiletries, hair products, and their expectations would rise.
Digital Label Printing
When it comes to digital label printing, there are a few ways you can do it.
Liquid electrophotography (LEP) uses a special liquid ink that holds an electrical charge to control where it’s placed on a photoconductor plate. The image is transferred to a heated rubbery blanket from the plate. It then dries into a thin layer.
Ink droplets are sprayed onto label stock and its color spectrum is made from four colors, cyan, magenta, yellow, and key (black), using the CMYK color model. When the ink is in place, it air-dries and is often laminated or varnished for greater protection and durability.
Similar to aqueous inkjet printing, UV inkjet printing uses small droplets of ink, which are sprayed onto label face stock. Then the image is exposed to UV light, which cures it and creates a double image. Since the image is cured, it can use a wider selection of face stocks.
Dry printers use heat and pressure to adhere to the face stock. An electrical charge often facilitates this by drawing the toner to the sheet. Then it’s heated and pressed to make a print on the sheet. This method also uses the CMYK color model to create a complete color spectrum.
This process is similar to the dry toner process. The difference is that the particulars are so small, it acts more like a liquid. Smaller particles can create more detailed images. This process may require a priming step.
Benefits of Digital Label Printing
We’ve come a long way over the years to improve the way we print labels. Digital label printing has many benefits, which is why it’s so widely used today.
Fast turnaround time: Since you don’t have to pay for a printing plate for each color you use, the time it takes to set up your print is reduced, which means the whole process is shortened and you can get your labels quicker.
Cost: Time equals money. In the time you’re saving from not having to set up plates is also saving you money.
Quality: The quality and color vibrancy is unmatched, and these are the key elements that are considered when making a judgment about graphic quality.
Useful for small quantities: With the time and effort it takes to set up new plates, it was only worth it to print large quantities of labels. Without that hassle, you can produce smaller quantities of prints without worrying about time, effort, or cost.