Is Your Labeling Process Inefficient & Costly?

The labeling process can be timely, expensive, and cumbersome – but it doesn’t have to be. Like with anything, the more you understand about the labeling process, the more you can work on integrating efficiencies.

When you step back and look at your current labeling process, have you considered hidden labeling costs? Do you actually know the total cost per label? Is your operation as efficient as it could be?

Stop Wasting Unnecessary Time and Money –
understand your print costs

While it’s true an estimated print job varies technology to technology, there are variables to keep in mind when it comes to the actual ink costs, regardless of the specific technology.

  1. Size of the image
  2. Ink/color coverage breakdown- what amount of coverage are you looking for?
  3. Price per ink/toner cartridge – and approximate number of labels printable with a full ink cartridge

It’s important to note the type(s) of material(s) are important too and will ultimately play into the total cost per label but to keep things simpler, let’s focus on ink costs specifically.

How Are Ink Costs Calculated?

When it comes to digital printing, the process of estimating ink costs is done differently depending on the technology used – inkjet vs. toner.

Inkjet: A manual process where the label image is rendered and offers a breakdown of the amount of cyan (C), magenta (M), yellow (Y), and black (K) the image is comprised of. Based on this breakdown of colors, a cost per page (CPP) is provided along with an estimate of the expected ink costs over the lifetime of the printer.

Toner: A manual process where a PDF of the label image is loaded into a proprietary software tool which determines the percentage coverage of the area of a label for each toner cyan (C), magenta (M), yellow (Y), black (K) and white (W). A CPP is provided with a cost breakdown for each toner and other supplies such as the fuser unit and transfer belt.

It’s worth noting for either digital technology, the cost is calculated based on an average – not based on an individual label. This is because, over the lifetime of the printer, there’s bound to be extra ink consumption- from the automatic printhead cleanings and maintenance, ensuring optimal print quality to the toner particles that’ll inevitably stick to internal hardware to electrostatic charge. While these totals are typically insignificant, it’s essential to receive an average ink cost estimate to account for these things to ensure the best accuracy.

Want to get a better idea of your ink costs?
See how you could be saving money with a free ink cost calculation

For a free ink cost calculation, simply send us your label artwork and receive an accurate, complete cost per label – including ink and label materials. Stop wasting label materials, time, and money.
Learn more and find out how much you could be saving on ink costs and improve efficiencies and productivity today!

Which Printing Technology is Right for You?

New to Printing In-House, Or Considering Making the Change for Your Business? It’s Important to Understand the Key Differences in Printing Technologies

 

While no single printing technology is perfect for all applications, it’s important to understand your specific application and the unique challenges it presents.  From there, you can find the best printing solution specific to your needs.

There are a variety of printing technologies on the market today, but which one is the best fit for your business or personal needs?

What are the different fundamental printing technologies used in desktop color label printers?

There are three fundamental printing technologies used in desktop label printing: Water Based Inkjet (WBIJ), Electrophotographic (EP), and Thermal Transfer (TT). Let’s take a deeper dive into each one and examine the attributes that make each of them unique in the world of printing:

Electrophotographic (EP): 

Originally a photocopying technique, EP technology (also called laser or LED printing) provided a way to do higher volume document printing at faster speeds and lower maintenance frequency. Instead of using light reflected from an original document as in the old photocopiers, a laser (sometimes an LED) was used to translate computer data into light pulses that would expose a light-sensitive, photo-conducting drum or belt. The coloring agents used in electrophotographic systems are called toners. They come in two forms – dry and liquid. Dry toners are used in all desktop and office printer/copier systems. Both dry and liquid toner systems are used in electrophotographic digital presses.  Dry toners consist of pigments or dyes embedded inside polymer beads. The fusing process melts the polymer beads to the surface of the paper. In addition to the colorants within the polymer beads are “charge agents” that allow the toner to be charged opposite to that of the photo conducting drum. EP technology provides a unique capability-  EP allows you to print with White ink (toner) along with traditional CMYK (Cyan, Magenta, Yellow & Black), so these printers can offer a 5-color format – CMYK + White. With water-based inkjet (WBIJ) printers, you’re largely limited to printing on white substrates using just CMYK coloring. However,  the availability of using white toner with EP printers opens a huge world of possibilities in label printing, especially on colored and clear substrates.  The black matte Castle Vineyards label shown here displays the branding possibilities using white toner provides.

Water-Based Inkjet (WBIJ):

While this technology has been powering our small home and office printers for a long time now, it has matured and become robust enough for the desktop label printing segment in just the last decade. It revolutionized this segment by allowing people to rethink how to best fulfill their needs for short-run prime labels without the constraints of hiring a third party, where long lead times, high minimum order quantity, and outrageous label costs are typically the norm. As this technology continues to improve and advance, its appeal continues to attract new customers in different segments. An inkjet printer creates an image by firing tiny droplets of ink onto the paper. The complete image is built up from many small dots and it’s important to note the quality of an image is determined by the number of dots per inch (DPI) and the range of colors possible. A few different colors of ink can be combined to produce virtually any color (except for white). Cyan (C), Magenta(M), Yellow(Y) & Black(K) are commonly used colors, referred to in the industry as CMYK. The liquid portion of the inks used in these printers is predominantly water, hence “water-based inkjet”.

These water-based inks have color components that can be either dye-based or pigment-based, the ink chemistry and properties differ accordingly. In dye-based inkjet inks, the colored dyes are chemically bonded to the liquid portion of the ink, forming a “solution.” In contrast, pigmented inks are “suspensions.” That is, particles of coloration are suspended within a liquid and held between water molecules. Dyes seep into the paper substrate more easily than pigments, which primarily sit up on the surface of the paper. Ultimately, dye-based inks are brighter and have a wider color range than pigmented inks. Also, they can typically print on a wider variety of label substrates. 

Pigment-Based Inkjet:

Pigmented inks have a longer life span and are more color-fast than dyes. If prolonged exposure to sunlight or other elements of nature is expected, dye-based inks will need some protection like lamination or varnish to prevent color fading over time while pigmented inks can withstand the elements for longer without fading. There are important niches like chemicals or even other consumer labels or packaging applications for which printed labels must withstand exposure to sunlight or moisture for extended periods of time. However, protection may still be required for pigment inks if continuous outdoor exposure over several weeks or months without any color shift is expected.

Thermal Transfer:

Thermal Transfer Printing is the oldest print technology around, the printers based on this technology are ubiquitous in space of monochrome or one-color printing. These printers are fast, economical, easy to maintain, and generally do a good job when the objective is to put on simple information like product manufacturing/expiry dates or bar-codes near the point of sale. At resolutions of 300 or 600 dpi, the labels out of thermal transfer printers are generally not suitable for most prime label applications. However, there are a few niche labeling applications that still favor thermal transfer technology over competing technologies, which is why you’ll still find some manufacturers making 4-color thermal transfer printing systems. There are niche labeling applications that still favor thermal transfer technology, which is why AstroNova still manufactures its QLS 4100Xe printerA few advantages of Thermal Transfer Printing technology include:

  1. Availability of CMYK process AND spot color ribbons such as metallic gold, silver, white, signal red or blue, and many more
  2. Ability to print on low-cost substrates of varying thicknesses with a very high level of durability and resistance to solvents, moisture and UV exposure
  3. Low maintenance requirements & can easily handle dusty, dirty, manufacturing environments

There are several unique applications calling for thermal transfer technology. For example, many electronic applications require that the labels applied are UL recognized, which means they have been tested and proven to withstand a battery of tests as detailed in the UL 969 standard (for example). Or perhaps you’re looking to produce multi-layer flexible electronic circuits in short runs on high-temperature PET substrates.  Thermal Transfer is the technology of choice for such demanding applications.

Next Steps:

Now that you’re aware of the three key technologies available in a desktop format for printing color labels, you can start identifying the right printer and label materials that fit your needs. When buying a label printer for the first time, it’s advised to consider professional installation and a training package. This is not only to ensure the label printer is installed and works properly but to also ensure that you or any employees who will be using the printer are trained to use it properly and perform essential maintenance on a periodic or as-needed basis.

Have any questions on which label printer, inks, or materials will best suit your business and printing needs?  Contact us today, we’re here to help! 

7 Tips for Evaluating a Color Label Printer

These 7 Tips Will Help you Evaluate Any Color Label Printing Solution

Whether you’re currently printing your own product labels, or you’re considering printing your labels in your facility, you want to ensure you’re making the right decision and best investment for your business. Many companies consider their first or additional systems for several reasons – keeping up with demand, looking to reduce total cost of ownership or cost per label, or improving operational efficiencies. But, currently, the biggest reason is that people want to control their labeling under their own roof.

While there is undoubtedly a breadth of benefits labeling in-house and on-demand provides, there are several factors to consider before making a decision. Considering label printing systems for your business is more complicated than evaluating a standard at-home desktop printer.

Here are some tips to make this process easier for you:

1. Observe as a full roll of labels is printed
Get an in-person demonstration 

This is vital.  It’s important not to rely on “canned” printed label samples or a video from the manufacturer.  Witnessing the labels print will expose any technical shortcomings in the printer.   Ultimately, you’re the expert on your labels and how they should look.  If print quality and color-matching is a priority, you’ll get the best demonstration of a printer’s capabilities by seeing your label artwork printed.  So, before committing to a purchase, it’s advised to schedule a demonstration and request to watch while your labels are printed in real-time.

2. Ask to see your label format printed
You can evaluate your own labels better than a sample or pre-printed label 

To ensure you see all the capabilities of the printer, provide digital label artwork to your printer salesman prior to the demonstration.  It’s important to note that if your artwork was designed for a different output device, whether it’s your office inkjet or a commercial flexographic press,  your salesperson may need to adjust the colors to match expectations.

Color Label Printer3. Compare “how long it takes to print”, not just “print speed”
Time the print job while you watch 

When evaluating “print speed,” it’s natural to assume that you are evaluating “how fast it takes to produce a print job.”  However, there are many technical reasons why this is not the case.  Factors such as pauses for maintenance procedures, processing time delays, and the time it takes to load a printer with blank labels and inks all have a significant impact on throughput.  These are all factors your production department needs to measure when evaluating.

4. Compare “print quality”, not just “print resolution”
Be the judge

All label printers list a specification for “resolution”, but this does not necessarily imply “print quality”.  “What resolution should I be looking for?” is a notoriously difficult question to answer, given there’s often some trade-off between print quality and print speed.  In addition to the physical dot size produced by the label printer, the halftone printing algorithm, substrate material, and ink set each has a tremendous bearing on the appearance and color gamut of the printed label.  So, when comparing 1200 dpi to 1600 dpi to 2400 dpi, your own perception of quality is much more accurate than the technical specification.

5. Ask how much it costs to print your roll of labels
Request a quote 

Importantly, after the full role of your label designs is printed, ask your salesperson to calculate the cost of the printed label roll, including the costs of the ink and the label material.  This will give you a realistic estimate of the finished cost per label, so ultimately, you can extrapolate how much you’d be paying each time you print your own labels.

6. Determine where you’ll purchase your labels
Select a substrate and a provider 

If you have a special performance or print quality requirement, the odds are that you will want to “spec in” a particular label material that works well with your printer.  So, determine who offers labels created from the material and whether the delivery timeframe and cost of the die-cut label is in line with your expectations.  Be advised, a good label solution provider should be able to offer a variety of compatible materials in a range of different price points.   AstroNova’s GetLabels division offers the widest variety of premium label materials for all of your labeling applications.

7. Ask who will maintain and repair your printer?
Who will service and fix any problems? 

Regular on-site maintenance of a printing system is necessary to prevent breakdowns due to wear.  So, don’t be afraid to ask who will be available to provide on-site maintenance service (or whether you are expected to do this yourself).  Because a label printer is a critical part of the packaging process,  it’s essential to find out whether on-site repair service and 24-hour telephone support are available.  These things may come at an extra cost or may be included as part of the warranty – find out!

Questions? Let us know, we’re here to help!

Interested in how bringing label printing in-house can provide you with significant cost and time savings?
Contact us to schedule a free, web-based demonstration and to speak with one of our specialists!

Are Natural Flavors No Big Deal?

What natural flavors are in your favorite candy?
What natural flavors are in your favorite candy?

The Truth About “Natural Flavors” Not Listed on the Label

Cocaine, poison ivy, spider venom.. Not exactly what you think of when you hear the word natural, is it? Okay, maybe those things can’t be labeled as natural flavors in food and beverage products, but you get my point. Sometimes we do want to avoid things that are natural. So, do we have a right to know what “natural flavors” are in our favorite foods?

According to the FDA, manufacturers can list “natural flavors” when products include ”essential oil, oleoresin, essence or extractive, protein hydrolysate, distillate, or any product of roasting, heating or enzymolysis, which contains the flavoring constituents derived from a spice, fruit or fruit juice, vegetable or vegetable juice, edible yeast, herb, bark, bud, root, leaf or similar plant material, meat, seafood, poultry, eggs, dairy products, or fermentation products thereof, whose significant function in food is flavoring rather than nutritional.”

Should all MSG in snacks be labeled?
Should all MSG in snacks be labeled?

Many times I’m guilty of glancing at the nutrition label and seeing “natural flavors,” and not giving much thought to it. I know it could include ingredients I try to avoid, but how can I know if it’s not on the label?

 

One ingredient I especially try to avoid is MSG (Monosodium Glutamate). In fact, just this week I was wondering about MSG. I know that I shouldn’t have it, and it makes things taste good. Mostly what I found while doing research is all the reasons to avoid MSG, some people even develop allergies to it. It made me wonder if all ingredients that fall under the “natural flavors” category should be listed individually. This would allow consumers to make more educated choices when it comes to food. Personally, I’m allergic to avocados, which definitely could be a “natural flavor,” lucky for me that’s not a very common flavor, but I do see how “natural flavors” could be scary for someone with severe food allergies. 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFood allergies aside, as I’ve researched this more I’m more convinced that the FDA should reconsider this use of natural on labels. According to a Washington Post article “Many consumers appear to believe that natural is a synonym for good or healthful, as opposed to anything made or processed by humans, which is inherently evil and harmful. But Nature hides many decidedly unfriendly chemicals in our foods. Consider, for example, that the chemical amygdalin, found in “natural” apricot and peach pits reacts with stomach acid to produce hydrogen cyanide, the lethal gas that has been used to execute convicted criminals.”

So, that seems like quite an extreme example, but I do think it leads to some interesting questions. I really am wondering why manufacturers are permitted to include a long list of ingredients under the title “natural flavors.” This is a question that I have not been able to find an answer to. Is there a benefit for consumers and/or manufacturers in this ability? 

 Maybe this will never be changed by the FDA, but that doesn’t mean manufacturers with nothing to hide can’t label ALL of their ingredients. We know many of our customers are proud of their high quality ingredients, and love the Kiaro! inkjet label printer for its ability to print ingredient labels with very small, yet crystal clear text that shares with their customers exactly what they are getting. 

 Are you a manufacturer that’s proud of your ingredients? It may be time for you to enjoy the benefits of the Kiaro! color label printer. Your customers will be so impressed with your beautiful packaging, and delicious products!