Label Manufacturing

At insignia we are unashamedly passionate about labels. In this edition we will take a behind the scenes look at the process we use to make your label.

Fast, Efficient Flexo

Flexographic printing is globally recognised as the label industry's leading printing technology. Combining fast press speeds, excellent print quality and efficient plate and colour change regimen, Flexo ensures a flexible, efficient and cost-effective printing process. Ultimately, each order requires less press time, which reduces costs and lead times for customers while providing outstanding image and colour integrity.

Living Colour and the CMYK Process

CMYK or Four Colour Process technology is the universal industry standard means of transferring full colour artwork onto a substrate through a printing press.

Using combinations of four colours - Cyan (C), Magenta (M), Yellow (Y) and Black (K) and incorporating half tone dots & solids – printers can achieve photographic quality reproduction and solid colours with maximum efficiency.

So how do these four colours work together to generate a full colour picture?

The process starts with your digital artwork file. Graphic design software reworks your picture into four colours: cyan, magenta, yellow and black. These are known as separations.

From here four printing plates are output with half tone dots and solid areas – which when later combined on press re-create the full colour image onto the substrate.

Plates are mounted, then loaded into the flexographic press, and each of the four colours is positioned into separate print decks in sequence. The substrate travels through the press just once and a full colour image is produced.

Spot Colour Printing – Perfectionist Colour Quality

While CMYK printing is suitable for reproducing literally millions of images, it cannot match our own eyes. There are colours that cannot be achieved – fluoro, metallic and particularly intense colours are examples. These colours are described as "out of gamut".

Spot colours are used to print type, images or blocks from your artwork, e.g. a logo, in a specialty colour. It is not suitable for reproducing photographic style images.

Your particular spot colour is made by mixing specialty ink pigments to achieve an exact colour match. The Pantone Matching System (PMS) is the universal reference point for the recipes to make spot colours – you may already be familiar with the Pantone colour selection books.

Spot colour can be used in addition to CMYK printing, or on its own. Printing plates are prepared in a similar fashion, and mounted, then loaded into the press in the same way. Each colour is loaded into a separate print deck.

Surface Coatings

Surface coatings and laminates can be applied to your label in situations where special presentation or protection is required – this is especially popular for prime labels (custom product labels).

From a presentation perspective, a surface coating can enhance colours, add a glossier or more matt appearance and enhance the prestige of your label… and ultimately, your product. In other cases where moisture, chemicals or scuffing can threaten the life or performance of the label, a coating will protect the substrate and printed images.

Common finishes used include:

  • Laminate – creates an excellent barrier to protect against scuffing or corrosion – available in both Matt & Gloss
  • UV Varnish – creates a gloss effect and protects to a lesser degree,
  • Water Based Varnish – used in specialty overprint applications

Obviously, surface coatings add an extra production cost and are not suitable for every application. Your label supplier can assist in evaluating the cost/effect benefits of a surface coating.

Die Cutting

A die or dies are used to cut the shape of the label. Rectangles, squares, circles, special shapes, perforations, undercuts (die cuts in label liner) are all options available to suit the application. This is a vital part of the process as exact pressure is required for clean cutting, while not cutting too deep, causing die strike, and compromising the integrity of the liner.

Die cutting is performed after the printing process, and matrix waste is removed, all still in the one press pass.

Finished Format

Depending on the application method, labels can be supplied on rolls, fan-folded or supplied in sheet format.

  • "Rolls" of labels supplied wound around cores. Both the inner diameter of the core and the outer diameter of the finished roll of labels may need to be defined based on the type of application equipment, as well as whether the labels will be wound onto the roll facing out (normal-wound) or facing in (reverse-wound).
  • "Fanfold" refers to those labels supplied in stacks with alternating folds, as opposed to being supplied on cores. Fanfold labels can be used where application equipment may not accommodate the roll size needed and/or where larger quantities are preferred to minimize the frequency and number of roll changes.
  • "Sheet format" labels are cut so that each label or 'label-set' is on an individual sheet, and are often used when the labels are over-printed by a laser printer.

Design & Planning

If you have a number of similar labels in your range, clever design and strategic print planning can allow different labels to be printed at the same time, or even just share common print plates, creating efficiency of scale, reducing costs in printing plates, and job times.