How to Optimize Your Digital Label Printing Process
In the label and packaging industry, high-quality prints and a fast turnaround time are
requirements for most projects. When it comes to labels, there are a plethora of printing methods
and papers to choose from to best meet customers’ needs.
Two of the most common printing methods at ID Images are flexographic printing and digital printing. In recent years, digital printing has grown in popularity. Offering many advantages
compared to flexographic printing, digital printing typically allows for a faster turnaround, has the
ability to print variable data and alter artwork, and has a lower setup cost for short runs.
However, to fully capitalize on the digital printing advantages, it’s extremely important to select
the right digital paper and have an optimized process in place.
Considerations for Digital Paper Selection
When it comes to selecting the right paper for digital printing, it’s important to first identify the
printing technique being used as it’s not often a one-size-fits-all approach. While inkjet, thermal and laser printers all fall under the digital printing umbrella, differences in techniques and
capabilities can certainly impact which paper is best for the printer being used.
Be sure to specify the digital printing method being used. For instance, is it a water-based, UV or
dye-based inkjet, or a toner-based print engine? Depending on the print method, there are specific
digital paper and film options that are available. Also, matching the digital substrate to the print
engine is important for the print quality and durability of the finished label.
In addition to selecting paper based on the type of printer, it’s also important to consider the
following when selecting digital paper:
- What are Your End Goals?
Understanding your customer’s end goals at the beginning of a project is an important first
step. From quality requirements to end-use applications, these goals often drive the paper
selection process and impact other consideration areas as well.Depending on what your objectives are, there is a range of paper options that can be
considered within the good, better and best categories. Factoring in label quality in the
beginning also minimizes the risk of a finished label not being ideal for its post-production
handling and application purposes. Discussing the end goals in the beginning alleviates
potential problems that can result in unhappy customers and rushed replacement orders
- What is the Heat Sensitivity of Your Label?
All substrates going through a digital printing process are going to experience some form
of heat. However, the specific heat level required will impact your paper selection. For
example, toner-based and electrophotographic printing are typically more heat intensive
than inkjet printing. Therefore, it’s important to think about how much heat will be
generated during the toner-fusing process. If the selected substrate is not suitable for a
high-heat print, then there’s likely a better option available.Additionally, it’s important to think about the heat sensitivity levels that the finished label
will be able to handle. Varying environmental factors—such as humidity, sunlight and
extreme temperatures—can impact the finished labels. Compared to film labels, paper
facestock labels are more sensitive to extreme environment conditions, so it’s important
to keep these sensitivities in mind from the beginning. For paper labels that will be exposed
to less regulated environments, using thicker paper and UV varnishes may help mitigate
the potential risks.
- What are the Coating Requirements?
The paper coating is also an important decision when it comes to digital printing.
Depending on your end goals – including the desired look and feel of the label – it’s
important to decide if a coated or an uncoated paper will provide the desired results.Typically, a coated paper is more resistant, making the printed label last longer. It also holds
the ink closer to the surface, resulting in a brighter, sharper design. Alternatively, uncoated
paper lacks the coating fill between fibers and results in a rougher-to-touch label that’s
more porous. On the other hand, if a customer needs a warm-colored design, the uncoated
paper may be the better option since the ink will naturally soak in deeper.
Best Practices for Digital Printing Optimization
Improved productivity and optimized operational efficiencies are important for all businesses,
especially during a time when supply chain issues and labor shortages have become the norm. This
applies to paper selection and the digital printing process as well. For successful digital printing,
you can optimize your paper selection and printing processes by keeping these practices in mind:
- Understand the Specifications and Requirements
It’s always a good idea to double check the specifications and manufacturer’s
recommended use type before printing your label. To optimize the digital paper selection,
there must be a process in place to quickly check paper requirements and specifications.
Evaluating the appropriate thickness and smoothness of the paper for a desired project
and confirming its compatibility with any specialty print capabilities, like embossing, is
important for a digital printing project. Understanding the paper and printer compatibility
will impact the print performance as well.
- Properly Store Your Digital Paper
To make sure that the digital paper has been well maintained and is ready for use, it’s best
to store paper properly in a controlled environment—such as away from sunlight, extreme
heat, high humidity or other potential threats. This will minimize any damage to your digital
paper and ensure it is ready for use when needed.
- Update Inventory Frequently
Keeping an updated paper inventory is extremely important for a successful digital printing
process. Without knowing the current levels of inventory, it becomes very difficult to select
the best digital paper without running the risk of something better being in stock or
running out of the paper halfway through a print project. Knowing what paper is in stock
or running low also allows for orders to be placed at the appropriate times, ultimately
streamlining the overall process.
- Maintain Equipment & Enforce Proper Training
Selecting the right paper for digital printing is only beneficial if there are digital printers to
use. To ensure the digital printing process is optimized, it’s important to enforce frequent
equipment maintenance and proper training for anyone on your team who will be
responsible for the actual printing in order to eliminate any potential mishaps during the
- Test Your Digital Paper
Finally, the best way to optimize digital printing and ensure the right paper was selected is
to test it. Using manufacturer guarantees and understanding the printer-paper
compatibility may be helpful when narrowing down the paper options, but until the paper
is actually used, it’s difficult to tell the print quality and application results. So, be sure to
conduct a test or two prior to starting any new digital printing projects.
Need Help Choosing the Right Digital Paper for Your Labels?
For tailored support, contact your regional customer service team: