Print to shape!

Digital printing is gradually making inroads into newer territories, the latest being printing directly on bottles, balls, drinking glasses, ceramic cups, flacons, tubes etc. in round, oval, square, cylindrical or conical shapes. Varsha Verma explores this new technology trend and how it will affect the label printing industry.

Labels and packaging is by far experiencing the maximum growth in the printing industry. According to Markets and Markets, a market research firm worldwide, the industrial labels market is expected to exceed 50 billion dollars (USD) by 2020.

Packaging is all about innovation as every product clamours for attention. The winner is the product that stands apart and packaging plays a major role in the selection process. Even a good quality product fails to make the first impact if it has poor packaging. Substrates, shapes, curvatures, value added effects and now personalisation – all are changing the packaging industry.

Digital printing has already made inroads into the packaging segment, with its label printing machines, corrugated machines and digital direct-to-shape printing.

Packaging demands…

Packaging industry is more demanding as it requires different pretreatment for different materials like glass, plastic, cardboard, metal, etc. Also, it is characterised by numerous shapes and curvatures. Besides, eco-friendly packaging, food-grade packaging – all make it all the more challenging. It is a constant effort to make the packaging better day by day.

Direct-to-shape: the next technology

Ever since the time digital printers were introduced, the digital printing industry has come a long way. Their quality has become at par with offset, the consistency has increased and it has become more feasible for short runs. With direct-to-shape printing, the technology has eliminated the cost of producing and applying the labels. This would result in considerable cost saving, would be faster and can be used for newer product ideas. There would be minimum changeover time from one job to another and run lengths can vary from one to many.

It can print full colour images and text directly onto cans, bottles, sleeves and other shaped containers for beverage, personal care and home care products, etc. Thus, you can use the full package for printing as there is no limit to the label size. One can print on ridged or grooved edges as well. This opens up the entire surface for printing, which advertisers and product companies can make use of.

Further, it can be personalised – one can create different designs or messages for different target audience or location, thereby engaging the consumers at a different level, enhancing brand loyalty and driving new revenue streams. It can also be used for test marketing new products.

What’s more? One can also integrate coding and marking into the printing process, which include barcodes, manufacturing dates, expiry dates, etc. One can print when one wants, thereby reducing the cost of storage.

Technology for direct-to-shape printing

Xaar 1002 is the core of the direct-to-shape printing. Xaar’s TF Technology keeps inks in constant motion and prevents sedimentation so that heavily-pigmented white ink is jetted smoothly and consistently onto clear PET and glass containers in a single pass as opaque under- or over-coat layers and for liquid labels. It also enables printing onto curved and shaped surfaces in both horizontal and vertical ‘skyscraper’ modes, making Xaar printheads compatible with many production line handling systems. They also give the flexibility to configure multi-colour units and dedicated spot colour print stations/carousels to suit specific applications. Its 1000 Optimised Geometry nozzles deliver precise nozzle uniformity and highly accurate drop placement. With 360 nozzles per inch, and up to 8 grey levels result in an effective print resolution greater than 1000 dpi/li. These combine to deliver exceptionally smooth tones and wide gamut vibrant images, alongside pin sharp text and fine detail.

While, adhos, Germany, has launched the aLITE technology (advancedLight Initiated Thermal Emission) at drupa 2016. It is based on an area-focussed, high intensity energy source, to allow instantaneous thermal processing. Thus water based or solvent based coatings can be instantly dried or even cured, which is a mandatory requirement to overcome the present application barriers to coating applications in “direct to shape printing”. aLITE also allows the performing of inline drying and sintering of functional coatings applied by inkjet or aerosol, as necessary, for cost competitive 3D-production of 3-D components. Typically these are only processed today in hot air ovens, mostly offline in standalone production units, requiring much space and much time.

Printers in this category…

Heidelberg and Fuji offer “Omnifire” 4d technology – which customers can use to personalize and individually print on objects. Be it footballs, packages or, in future, maybe cars or planes. Soon, the company will launch “Omnifire 1000” which is capable of printing on objects of up to 1 meter in size. Furthermore, they are working on a robot-mounted “Omnifire XL” as an alternative to individual coating.

Mimaki offers UV inkjet printer UJF-7151 plus, which enables high-precision ink dot placement and beautiful printing through Mimaki’s proprietary technology and at top-level productivity. It can print on media up to 28- by 20-inches – a familiar format size in the screen printing industry – and on materials up to 6 inches thick. Mimaki’s Kebab option can print on cylindrical objects such as bottles and cans, and is expected to be available in late 2016.

Roland offers LEJ-640FT UV flatbed printer, which delivers exceptional graphics that are anything but “flat”. In addition to unmatched material size and thickness capabilities, the LEJ-640FT utilizes CMYK, White and Clear Coat ECO-UV inks for stunning special effects including textures and simulated embossing. It all adds up to powerful visual impact. The LEJ-640FT UV flatbed printer has a 64”x 98” print bed that works beautifully with both thick and thin substrates - print on delicate film one job, and dense, rigid materials the next. While the LEJ-640FT is ideal for use with standard materials like foamcore, plastic, wood, glass and metal, it’s also the perfect solution if you want to print on hundreds of USB drives, smartphone cases or distinct items like guitar cases, water bottles and more.

There are many more such printers on the block, which are poised to take packaging printing to an absolutely new level. While it is still early to comment whether it will replace labels in the long run, but one thing is clear –this new technology is creating lot of interest and making headlines all over.

Group Publications