The increasingly competitive digital press market for narrow web label production offers a variety of solutions regarding investment level, speed, width, white ink, curing method and labelstock compatibility.
Inkjet appears to be making the most inroads and even the electrostatic (toner) manufacturers have hedged their bets and are offering inkjet as well as dry and liquid toner models.
Epson, as the pioneer of micropiezo inkjet, entered the short-run label production sector with, unsurprisingly, all-inkjet printers (discounting Epson’s thermal receipt printers for POS transactions). From the desktop ColorWorks models to the industrial SurePress UV-curing L-6034VW; all models leverage Epson’s patented micropiezo technology, including the recent PrecisionCore linehead single-pass technology.
Sitting in the middle of Epson’s industrial label press range is a very interesting machine called the SurePress L-4533AW. Its stand-out feature is that it does not use UV or LED-UV curing to dry and fix the inks. The inks are Epson’s SurePress AQ pigmented resin-coated type and they are jetted through a standard array of Epson 1440dpi printheads. Curing and drying is achieved via a combination of heat and air-evaporation.
What this means is that, using Epson’s fundamental ink and printhead technology developed over many years for wide-format printers, the L-4533AW is a very economical label press, easy to use and maintain and delivers excellent image quality printing at 720 x 1440dpi, with Epson’s VSDT (variable sized droplet) technology ensuring smooth gradations and fine text resolution. Ink droplets As small as three picolitres are jetted.
The only trade-off is speed but, for short-run digital labels or as an entry-level machine to a conventional Flexo label print shop; this may not be an issue at all. Certainly, the quality of the results can be argued as more important than sheer speed, which is up to 8.2 linear metres per minute.
It’s all in the inks
The AW version of the L04533 includes white ink, which is essential if a printer is to offer a complete range of clear and opaque substrate choices. White can be applied as an undercoat, top coat or separate colour. The inkset can be optioned up to a six-colour plus white array, with astonishing colour gamut, bringing in Orange and Green to the CMYK set. Two blacks are available, an ‘uncoated black’ and a ‘coated black’ for respective coated and uncoated stocks. An overprint coating for a glossy look can also be applied. Inks are supplied in plug-in 700ml cartridges, similar to wide-format ink cartridges, and very easy to change. The AQ inks are very safe and in compliance with the EU RoHS directive but are not intended for direct food-contact packaging. The absence of UV-curing adds another level of safety and also energy-saving.
While the L-4533AW is happiest printing on paper-based labelstocks, it can also print on BOPP, PET and Yupo, including metallics. Thickness range is from 80 to 300 microns.
Web widths can be adjusted between 80mm and 333mm and maximum print width is 315.2mm. Repeat length is anywhere up to a respectable 914.4mm. The press is designed as a reel-to-reel machine for near-line or off-line finishing.
At the front end, Epson can deliver the L-4533AW with a choice of Rips including from industry leader Esko. Colour management and ICC profiling of substrates can be accommodated by the optional addition of an X-Rite i1Pro spectrophotometer and software.
While Epson’s SurePress L-4533AW is not a ‘speed machine’ when compared to 50, 60 and 75 linear metres per minute inkjet presses, it is most assuredly a quality machine, producing vibrant, sharp labels to reflect quality brands. Neither is it a particularly expensive machine for what you get – thanks to its use of fundamental Epson technologies from its wide-format success.
The build is solid, weighing in at 1,730kg including the rewinder, and power requirement is three-phases, 200V.
If speed is an issue, the investment level is such that additional machines can be installed, perhaps each running dedicated labelstocks – yet still managed by a single operator.