There are 2 principal label printing technologies currently in use in the UK (UV flexography and EP digital) and Mercian Labels are heavily invested, expert and believe in both. Neither one solves all problems, and as a full “end to end” manufacturer we help our customers to use both technologies to meet their needs.
Letterpress, hotfoil, thermal and gravure label printing are still available, but more often used for specialist applications now as they are not economic in today’s marketplace due to slow running speeds, high origination costs or inadequate quality.
The different production options can sometimes result in confusion by our customers as to which is best to manufacture labels to meet their requirements. There is no right or wrong answer to this question as each label printing method has its own benefits, but in order of popularity we find that digital label printing is most popular with most customers spending under £10,000 a year on labels, followed by UV flexo for spot colours or long runs where there is price sensitivity , and then for very small runs or specialist finishes hotfoil printing and thermal transfer printing.
We are one of the few label printing businesses in the UK to adopt both top end EP digital and UV flexo printing technologies, enabling you to have the best of both worlds across your profile of label requirements – EP digital for short, fast runs with many different designs, and UV flexo for longer runs where digital isnt as cost effective.
Electrophotographic (EP) Digital Label Printing
We are passionate advocates of digital label printing technologies because of the benefits it brings to our customers including the very best quality printed images, no plate charges and fast turnaround times. Mercian Labels is a technology leader in digital labelling technology and a Xeikon preferred R&D partner, most recently having been the first global user to install the CX3 ‘Cheetah‘ technology. In common with all the leading label printing business, we use electrophotographic (EP) digital printing technology (only available from Xeikon and HP) rather than the inferior industrial inkjet technologies that are more suited to logistical and non-shelf edge labels where image quality is not so important.
The most immediate benefit seen when choosing digital label printing as your preferred method of label manufacture is that allows you to change your design many times without incurring any additional origination charges whatsoever.
For customers who have many different designs of labels but also has a tight budget, then digital label printing would more than likely be most suitable for you. Our Xeikon digital label printing machines can print short, medium and long runs of absolutely top quality 1200dpi process colour labels, incorporating photographic images to be printed. Our longest run to date is 59,000 meters! Customers who choose to have their labels printed digitally have the benefit of not having to pay plate/origination charges, and are able to have any type of image on their labels without having to pay any extra costs per design.
Click here for read more about digital label printing.
HD Flexo Label Printing
Flexographic label printing is another very popular manufacturing method, though there are more limitations that digital in some respects. That said, the majority of labels printed in the UK today are printed ‘UV flexo’‘, with UV cured inks. UV flexo is the highest quality available, and is superior to the older water or solvent based flexo machines. UV flexo printing is mainly used for larger productions with colour combinations up to 8 colours in our case plus variable data, unusual constructions and die cuts etc.
The main benefits of flexographic label printing is that it is a economical printing method used for medium to long print runs as the production speeds are higher, and the inks are cheaper than digital toners. However there is a substantial cost to “setup” each different design in machine time, but most important is that you have to pay for a set of printing plates that are unique to each design. Consequently UV flexo‘ is usually chosen for long runs.
A more recent evolution in the industry has been so-called ‘HD Flexo‘ where the resolution of the plate imaging has been combined with highly optimsed plate mounting tapes, superior UV flexo inks and the very latest servo driven machines (including our presses) to create image quality that matches that of ‘offset litho’ and electrophographic digital images, and sometimes can approach that of gravure.
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Hotfoil Label Printing
Hotfoil label printing remains a popular choice as it enables us to economically produce high quality labels with metallic silver and gold foils quickly and economically with a range of effects:
Hotfoil labels are frequently used by brands to advertise their products, and are sometimes used for very short runs. By choosing short run hotfoil label printing you can have your own design, logo and text professionally printed onto papers, synthetics or transparent or clear materials with low origination charges. You also benefit because if you have a special size/shape requirements for your labels you do not have to pay hundreds of pounds for a cutter, which can occur if the label is very small or unusually shaped with other processes.
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Thermal Transfer Label Printing
Thermal transfer printing may be the best option for some people who want short runs of simple barcode labels as it is a relatively low end technology. Usually we produce either large or very small text barcodes, with simple logos, consecutively numbered labels. They are mainly used for industrial labelling applications such as tracking. The main benefit in using thermal transfer label printing to print your labels is that it is simple and cost effective for very small runs.
Need advice on the best label printing technology for your application?
If you want some free advice on what label printing method is best for your idea – drop us a line or fill in the enquiry form above. Our advice is free!