Color Shift

The journey from monochrome to on demand color labels

The Growing Role and Impact of Color Labeling

Huge wasteful pre-print inventory

Huge wasteful pre-print inventory

More often than not, we are approached by companies ranging from pharmaceuticals to retailers facing the same challenges:  diverse product portfolios that require smaller production runs, shorter turnaround times and real-time inventory management.  In these situations, manufacturers typically have large inventories of pre-printed labels for a high number of product SKUs. In the face of last minute product updates or rebrands, the use of pre-printed labels can be inflexible and inefficient. What can serve as a potential boost to supply chain operations and marketing–color labels–leads to expensive inventory management, wasted time, shipping errors and product loss.

Our on demand color labeling technologies offer one solution for manufacturers. By having the ability to print labels as they are needed, manufacturers only require blank label stock. Because of this, the switch from one production run to another is seamless. For manufacturers, color labeling can also highlight critical information which may improve workplace and consumer safety. For example, the high-quality graphics on color labels can help retailers categorize inventory, identify product information, improve picking accuracy and enhance brand image.

Improve picking accuracy with picture identification

Improve picking accuracy with picture identification

Whereas pharmaceutical manufacturers can use color selectively to make medications more easily identifiable, prevent incorrect patient administration and dosage errors, and consolidate the application of auxiliary labels. In those instances, color labels provide end-to-end visibility, flexibility and the ability to group increasingly complex product inventories by product type or delivery source.

Color labeling technologies should not be viewed as a solution, but rather as a standard for supply chains across the board. From a production standpoint, manufacturers need to remember that new regulatory changes will continue to be implemented, first impacting the pharmaceutical industry and then slowly reaching all other industries, meaning that the need for real time, operational flexibility will be essential.

Eliminate pre-print & produce label in one step

Eliminate pre-print & produce label in one step

For instance, on demand color printers enable chemical manufacturers currently challenged with implementing regulations under OSHA’s revised Hazard Communications Standard to quickly and efficiently produce GHS-compliant labels. While regulatory changes are not currently impacting many retailers, the pressure for exceptional customer service is top priority for businesses. Retailers are expected to keep up with consumer demands in order to survive. Demands include online purchases, in-store pick-ups, next day deliveries, as well as product variability and personalization. Because of this, warehouses serve as dual fulfillment centers for both online and store retail interactions. This is done to ensure that the right products and quantities are delivered to businesses or individual consumers on time, but as a result warehouse and distribution networks are more complex than ever. Epson’s real time color label printing allows for production facilities to improve logistics, cut costs and potentially generate additional revenue stemming from faster turnaround times and deliveries. On demand color label printing is an excellent tool that manufacturers in a range of industries can use to eliminate lead time, high inventory and large scrap volume associated with pre-printing labels, while improving inventory management and distribution. Supply chain and packaging operations will only continue to grow in complexity and manufacturers must look to integrate fast, accurate and flexible solutions like Epson’s Just In Time Color™ technologies.

GHS Regulations: Perfumes are Chemicals Too

iStock_000015746587MediumThe Epson team recently attended a conference focused on GHS regulations organized by the International Fragrance Association of North America (IFRA). The day-long event included presentations, Q&A’s and regulatory overviews and updates. There were also quite a few impassioned and valuable discussions surrounding the state of OSHA’s GHS implementation in North America. Across the regulatory spectrum, experts were on hand to discuss everything from mixture classifications to variations under OSHA’s 1994 federal mandate and deviations from Europe’s GHS regulation: the classification, labeling and packaging of substances and mixtures (CLP).

From a labeling standpoint, the workshop touched on several topics that are likely going to have more than chemical manufacturers re-assessing their labeling and packaging operations. GHS is synonymous with the chemical industry and rightfully so, but the lesser known and potentially problematic reality is that many consumer-facing sectors – for example cleaning supplies, paints, pesticides and fragrance products – will be responsible for updates under OSHA’s revised hazard communication standard, the primary mandate outlining and enforcing GHS requirements in the United States.

In addition, Epson and a team of industry experts led a panel discussion on comprehensive GHS solutions for companies looking to successfully shift their operations toward compliance. Some of the timely issues raised here included the challenge of compliance labeling with varying label, package and container sizes. In the U.S., pictogram and label size requirements have yet to be defined, making the use of pre-printed materials a more pronounced inefficiency! Other factors like international shipping, where additional languages or GHS hazard symbols are required only further complicate the process.

OSHA’s June 2015 deadline for implementation will ultimately increase worker safety and expand international commerce for a variety of industries. But for companies on the clock, integrating these processes will come with a lot of growing pains. Label variability, complexity and durability will play a major role here and can send supply chain operations down a dark path if businesses don’t consider the right technological solution.

What can start off as a translation or regulatory update can become a headache that ends with a stockroom full of obsolete or inaccurate pre-printed label inventory. Our solutions reduce this inventory down to the minimum – blank stock – and deliver the ink quality and label durability to meet international shipping requirements like British Standard BS 5609. From specialty chemicals companies to major chemical distributors, Epson’s Just-In-Time Color™ labeling solutions simplify GHS labeling production into a single-step, on demand flexible process.

For a comprehensive look at GHS requirements take a look at Epson’s Q&A with Chem.Info or contact me at the email address located in the sidebar of this blog.

Image: iStockPhoto

Color UPS Labels?

UPS_NextDayAir1_WineryMany of the best products and services on the market today were created by one of life’s greatest motivators—a problem. When we started working on building a color on-demand business five years ago, we never realized that one man’s moment of clarity could lead us to a partnership with one of the world’s largest shipping companies.

My relationship with Warner Copeland of TSI goes back over 15 years as a partner for Epson’s transaction printer business. As an internet retailer, Warner’s company ships their own products as well as blind-shipping the products of several other companies, also called third-party logistics, or 3PL, shipping.

One day Warner noticed that the 3PL side was slowing down their shipping process, as his warehouse staff had to load the custom-branded labels of each company into the printers for each label. At that moment, Warner saw our new color on-demand initiative as a solution to his problem.UPS_2ndDayAir_Vitamins

Warner took no time in finding the UPS president of his region, and broached his idea: The ability to brand in color at the time of shipment. Soon, Warner and I were meeting with the region’s director of marketing, Mark Tabor, who saw the value and the opportunity in Warner’s idea.

Through their current, extremely sophisticated software called WorldShip, UPS had the ability to control every aspect of a package’s lifespan, from creating individual labels with logos and promotional marketing to knowing what shelf it would sit on in the delivery van.

To get the process started, one of our software partners created a proof of concept that allowed us to get color on-demand out to UPS’ entire Florida district and doing live shipments. The upper management of UPS noticed the results, and developed native software support for WorldShip to communicate with our printers.

What color on-demand brought to the table was a distinct advantage over UPS’ competition, providing a rare cost benefit and marketing solution to that they can offer their customer base. Not only can this save their customers time and money in their logistics, but it also opens up an entirely new advertising opportunity that guarantees 100% readership.

For many UPS customers, this enables them to build their brand recognition and compete with the corporate giants, like Zappos and Amazon, who are able to brand every shipped box with their logos. In addition to branding, social media triggers, QR codes and targeted promotional messaging can be printed on these labels, on demand.

Explore more details about Color UPS labels via Epson’s UPS CTP site.



Assured Bar Code Quality with Auto Nozzle Detection

The bar code is one of the most critical elements of a label. More and more, fully automated systems are relying on bar codes to streamlinbadbarcodee all kinds of operations.  However, if a bar code is illegible, major hassles are created within the automated environment leading to enormous costs.  Therefore, it’s no surprise that astute managers are seeking ways to eliminate bad bar codes from their labels.

This has led several thermal printer manufactures to create elaborate mechanisms to verify each bar code before it is released from the printer. In general, these systems do an excellent job at eliminating bad bar codes, so it makes sense that customers would look for similar solutions when considering a move to color. Therefore, I’m often asked, “Do you have an inline verifier  for your color inkjet printer?”

The question brings me back to my days in B-school when I learned that “customers don’t need drills; they need holes.” In our case, customers want valid bar codes.   An inline verifier system is one way to achieve this, but it is far from the only way. To find another solution, it’s important to consider what causes bad bar codes.

  • Ribbon wrinkle. It’s very difficult to run hundreds of miles of flimsy plastic film without a wrinkle or two.
  • Ribbon inconsistency.   Perfect thermal ribbon transfers are tough to make on a consistent basis. Ribbons will invariably have areas of thicker, thinner, or missing coating which in turn can cause transient bar code failures.
  • Head failure.  The heat and physical abrasion of the ribbon grinds thermal heads into submission.  Add the fact that the printer doesn’t know its head has failed, and the initial failure mode is almost always caused by a few dropped dots. Although a few missing dots are hard to see, they can kill bar code scan-ability.
  • Contamination.  Clean heads make good images.  Unfortunately, as miles and miles of ribbon rub past the head, it becomes a natural trap for accumulated contaminates.
  • Set up issues.  A thermal printer requires very careful set up.  If the the temperature is set too high, the resulting bars are too thick, which in turn makes every space too thin.  Vice versa if the temperature is set too low. Additionally, print speed, head pressure and pressure block location all need to be optimized to ensure bar code quality.
  • Ribbon variation.  The marketplace is filled with a wide variety of ribbons, each with grossly different characteristics. Therefore, if different ribbons are used, the settings mentioned above need to be re-calibrated. I’ve seen bar code problems caused by a well-meaning purchasing rep who substituted one ribbon for a lower cost one.

Therefore, given all these possible failures, the only practical way for a thermal printer to guarantee bar code quality is through the process of inline post-print inspection.

Now, let’s compare this method to the one used with Epson ink jet printers.  There are no ribbons to wrinkle or have have consistency issues. Nothing touches the heads, eliminating a source for wear or contamination.  There are no end-user equivalents to heat, pressure, speed settings and such that affect print image dimensional accuracy critical to bar codes. And the head does not wear in the course of normal printing.

This isn’t to say that inkjet technology is infallible.  Its most common failure points is a clogged nozzle and in very rare cases, an actual head failure.  But these issues can be caught, since both the 3400 and 3500 printers actually use automatic nozzle check systems to monitor head integrity by verifying that every individual nozzle is working properly. Which brings me full circle to my reference to drills and holes. Customers want accurate bar codes and guarding against nozzle failures is the way inkjet printers achieve this goal.

All Color Labels are NOT Created Equally

Label Room

Since digital color label printing technologies have been around for decades, it’s common for end users to ask, “Why should I change my process now?” They have good reason to ask.

The problem isn’t with print quality or durability; today’s labels meet very stringent requirements. However, with customization and private branding needs increasing, today’s manufacturers face challenges of flexibility within the color label printing process.

For example, some manufacturers use a two-step approach: 1) pre-printing all of the labels with their fixed imagery, followed by 2) adding variable data later through a thermal transfer black printer. While this process offers some level of flexibility, it has downsides: storage costs and waste.

First, in order to keep per-label costs down, companies pre-print labels in large quantities and store the resulting stock in “label rooms.” The more SKUs the company carries, the more “label room” space is required, adding to real estate costs.

Second, the strategy works well until some change is introduced into a label’s design. Consider what happens when the marketing department changes an image, description or logo. Or, what happens if the package size changes? In both cases, pre-printed labels are likely being thrown away, potentially costing manufacturers tens of thousands of dollars every year.

Some companies are addressing these problems through another method: using desktop printers to print fewer labels more frequently. If you’re contemplating this option, here are some success stories from companies who’ve already made the transition.

Photo Credit: Guy Mikel

Addressing the GHS Labeling Requirements


One of the most common questions our end users and partners ask is: “What is GHS and how can I comply without having my costs skyrocket?” At Epson, we’ve been working on answering this question for almost 2 years now. Much of our early media and solution development has been centered around generating highly durable labels on demand. Fortunately, when used in conjunction with Kimdura poly face stock, the pigment ink used in our ink jet printers yields terrific results.

Our former Business Development Manager, Guy Mikel, had the opportunity to be early on the front lines and was able to help integrate Epson ColorWorks solutions for GHS. He wrote two blog posts (What is GHS? and BS5609 is No BS) that explain GHS in simple terms as well as the BS5609 certification that Epson secured in order to prove that our labels could stand up to the rigors of the chemical market.

In addition, he wrote three success stories of smaller chemical companies (DymaxOctochem, and Oakwood Products) to help illustrate the benefits of implementing color ink jet solutions.

Guy has started his own company dedicated to color label solutions. If you are interested in learning more about color labels, we encourage you to follow both his blog, Color Labels on Demand, and this one, ColorShift.

Photo Source: Epson America