Prime Label

Insights on issues important to prime label converters

Pumped Up Press

The Epson SurePress has a lot of features, but one of our customers in Texas thought up a few we missed.

At Epson, we strive to make the best products on the market, but we also know that there is always room for improvement. So when Fari Bakhshian of SixB Labels in Dallas, Texas sent me photos of his printer upgrades, I was impressed with his ingenuity. This guy sure knows how to trick out a Surepress printer.  (Meet Fari in person at WestPack in Anaheim, CA at booth no. 5707 February 10-12, 2015.)

When I spoke to him about it, many of his modifications and additions were for practical purposes that allowed his busy print shop to work efficiently. One of my favorite Fari innovations was the gurney for easy access into the machine. “Gurney” isn’t really the right word for it, as it looks more comfortable than any hospital bed I’ve ever seen. I asked Fari about his reasons for creating this wheeled bench.


“Everything is within reach,” explained Fari. “It’s a delicate piece of equipment, so giving the operators a comfortable position means they’re able to do a more thorough job cleaning the heads.” Plus, the bench’s ability to slide in and out of the printer’s insides prevents the operators from bumping their heads or hurting their backs.

Nothing can be engineered to fit every press operator comfortably, and that includes designing for a person’s height for access to the interior of the press. But Fari created a simple step that enables any of his staff under six feet tall (including himself) to look inside the press without using a stepladder.


Another of Fari’s additions to the SurePress is due to the low humidity of Texas weather. Although it doesn’t look like much—something left over from the holiday party, to be honest. But Fari says that when a web of paper blows through his press, it can be like “constantly dragging your feet on the carpet.” This simple bit of specially made copper dissipates the static and neutralizes any potential charge.


Fari is also a big believer in creating tools and procedures that make it easier for employees to avoid mistakes. As long as humans are involved, says Fari, mistakes will be made. The SurePress can run a roll of material in eight different ways, so Fari created labels and markings on the machine to make remembering those configurations easier. “If the job calls for position three, the labels are there to ensure that the press is in position three when it starts printing.”



All of the ideas for this tricked-out SurePress came from collaborative effort, even the tape dispensers and the organized cleaning supplies. The team came up with suggestions, the art department designed it, the print team produced it, and it went on the press. When I asked him if any more modification were in mind, he said yes. “There are a couple more things in the works,” he says of his SurePress. “It’s a work in progress.” Should I warn the Epson engineers?

The Epson SurePress L-4033 is a short run digital label press sold worldwide.

Creative Labels Enters the TLMI Annual Label Competition



As you read in my previous post, two of my customers entered into The Tag and Label Manufacturers Institute’s annual label competition with labels they’d printed on the Epson Surepress L-4033.

Courtney Crooks works in Creative Labels, Inc.’s art department, and she walked us through how they chose their label entries this year, and why.

“Oranges come out a lot more vivid on the Surepress,” explained Courtney. “So we looked at labels that had the colors that four-color presses just can’t achieve.” The label they’d made for Dr. Kefir’s probiotic coffee drink had an orange background and blue type. Blues can also turn out muddy on a four-color press, and with a label featuring two of the three most difficult colors to reproduce via printing press, they felt they were onto a winner.

And Dr. Kefir’s company is representative of the clients who choose to work with Creative Labels because of the flexibility the Surepress gives them. “Start ups or companies producing small runs to test the market like to use us,” said Courtney. “They don’t have to pay for plates, which allows them to make changes here and there. Plus they can use as many Pantone colors as they like because with the Surepress we’re not making a plate for each one.” Small runs are great for some uses, but many customers need quantity. Creative Labels can run upwards of 100,000 labels in a run consisting of different copies.

The Surepress also allows them to produce labels that otherwise would be too costly to print, like a label they made for Aimee June Winery. “You can purchase cork material to print on, but it’s very expensive,” Courtney explained. “So we designed the label with an image of cork in the background and ran it on Estate #4 textured wine label stock. It gave the illusion that it was printed on actual cork without the high cost.” Courtney was worried that it might not look authentic enough, but she was pleasantly surprised with the results, and hope that the TLMI judges feel the same.

Courtney also let us in on part of the judging criteria—single labels are not accepted. “They ask for 25 samples in a row,” said Courtney. “They want the entries to be on a continuous strip to make sure the quality is consistent.” Luckily, Creative Labels winds their labels onto rolls, so it was easy for them to fulfill this requirement, established to prevent competitors from choosing the best single labels from several print runs.

Creative Labels entered a total of five labels into the TLMI competition this year, ranging from beer and wine labels to a protein powder label. TLMI will be judging entries based on innovation and technical achievement, and prime labels are given a score based on four criteria for a maximum of 80 points. Winning entries will be displayed and the awards announced next month at the 2014 TLMI Annual Meeting held in Southern California. Best of luck to Creative Labels and Luminer!


X3558F-Aimee June Wine Label Set

Labels courtesy of: Dr. Kefir and Aimee June.

Questions to Ask Before Attending LabelExpo Americas 2014

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Labelexpo 2104 is an exciting event in our industry. But waiting until the show to ask the important questions may spell disaster

As most everyone who reads this blog must know, Labelexpo Americas is the most important tradeshow for the label industry. It’s only held once every two years, and this year it will be taking place in Chicago, Illinois from September 9th to the 11th.

One thing I’m looking forward to this year is that this will be the first time that sales of digital label presses will be greater than analog label presses. And although we’re all aware that this is an expected evolution of the industry, it’s great to see how digital now rivals HD flexo and offset printers in quality, albeit at lesser speeds.

As usual, the convention will attract a large number of printer manufacturers, and digital printer manufacturers especially. Seeing as how the HP Indigo has led the market share, it’s natural that converters would be looking for alternatives. And it will be no surprise to Labelexpo veterans that many companies will be making claims about their products. It’s what these shows are all about.

As with any successful purchase, the preparation needs to happen before the negotiations start. Once Labelexpo begins, the chaotic atmosphere doesn’t let up, and making it hard to keep a level head and compare the important aspects of the printers. We all know that the four pillars of a good press are price, print quality, up-time (actual throughput vs. published speed) and owner satisfaction, but you’ll be hard pressed to get straight answers during the big event. I recommend doing your homework before the show, and here are my top suggestions:

  • Call manufacturers and get a list of press owners. That way you can visit them without the manufacturer’s rep present and the press owner can talk freely.
  • Understand the difference between a technology integrator and an innovator.
  • Ask pointed questions about print heads, especially in regards to reliability, cleaning and warranty.
  • Ink is an important part of the decision. Does the press manufacturer make its own ink? Is it food safe? Which substrates are compatible with the ink?
  • How comprehensive is the software? How much control will the press operator have using the software? Can it be accessed remotely?
  • And don’t forget web handling—web set up and misfeed potential need to be discussed.

If you have the answers to these questions before you get to the show, you can just go around Labelexpo kicking the tires and feeling good about your decision.

Don’t hesitate to get in touch with me if you have any questions about the Epson SurePress models—either send me an email or leave a comment below this post. I’ll be sure to get in touch with you before Labelexpo and, of course, I’m looking forward to seeing you at the show.

Luminer Competes in the TLMI Annual Awards Competition

volume foam3


The Tag and Label Manufacturers Institute’s annual label competition is known as the most prestigious in the industry. Knowing the high standards and great designs that my customers produce, I encouraged several of them to enter the competition this year.

I was very happy to hear that two of my customers entered this year, and Luminer Converting Group was one of them. Now that the deadline for entries has passed, the companies can reveal the unique qualities of the labels they entered in competition.

Dan Goldstein handles Luminer’s marketing, and he shared some background on one of their label entries this year.

“The customer wanted a specific polypropylene label stock, and gave us a sample label from an entirely different product,” Dan explained about the label they created for volumizing hair foam. “They wanted us to recreate this urban, gritty graphic imagery geared towards a younger demographic.” Luminer’s art department doesn’t usually create graphics from scratch, but this time it was necessary—and it took a lot of time and effort to get the look right.

“We designed the label to run on the Epson Surepress L-4033AW because the digital press was able to reproduce the vignettes on the labels with the graphic clarity we needed,” Dan said. “Even though the label artwork was meant to look ‘grungy’, for lack of a better term, we didn’t want it to look dirty as a result of the printing.”

Luminer prides itself on creating the best possible product for their customers, and for this label, graphics clarity was crucial, not just for the image but for the special effects designed into the label. “Fortunately, the Epson was able to reproduce it really well, and the customer was happy.”

Luminer entered a total of four labels into the TLMI competition this year. TLMI will be judging entries based on innovation and technical achievement, and prime labels are given a score based on four criteria for a maximum of 80 points. Winning entries will be displayed and the awards announced in October at the 2014 TLMI Annual Meeting held in Southern California. We wish Luminer the best of luck in the competition.

100th SurePress Customer

Epson today announced it has sold the 100th SurePress digital label press worldwide since its launch in 2010.

Installed in various locations around the world, from Japan to Italy to the United States, with varying business demands, this is an impressive sales number in the industrial printer business. But beyond metrics, I am most proud of knowing our SurePress customers are satisfied with their purchase. The 100th unit was sold in Japan to Hokkai Sealing Kanae Co., Ltd. SurePress now prints a majority of the Sake labels in Japan. Like wine labels, Sake uses textured uncoated media

When I first started working on the SurePress line in 2012, we were just starting to build momentum. SurePress L-4033 was Epson’s first entry into the digital label market – building on our reputation for color accuracy and image quality, we designed a product to print labels efficiently and profitably for label converters. We have come a long way in short time, and are looking forward to showcasing our next-generation SurePress L-6034VW with UV ink built on our new PrecisionCore technology at Labelexpo Americas in September.

An essential component to our success has been our U.S. sales team. Their dedication to providing our customers with stellar service and support goes above and beyond what is expected. Their underlying goal – help our customers to succeed in their business.

My team and I enjoy working with customers with a “can-do” attitude that look for new printing applications, such as on metalics, textiles, veneer, and plastics. One such customer, Chris Martin, co-owner of Creative Labels based in Gilroy, CA has been using the SurePress L-4044A for nearly two years, and relies on Epson. “SurePress helps us deliver a high quality product to our customer, and when our customers are happy, we are happy.”

I couldn’t have said it better myself, Chris – that’s exactly how I feel about being a part of the team that gets to deliver the SurePress to OUR customers. It’s rewarding to see that the people we work with are genuinely happy.

The 100th SurePress was installed by Kanae Co., Ltd., based in Nagano, Japan. The first SurePress installed in the U.S. was with Tape and Label. Mas Crawford, VP of sales, shares why his company made the decision to purchase a SurePress in the video above.

Lightfastness…AKA: “How Long will My Label Last Outdoors?”

Durability test

I routinely receive inquires about how long a label will last outdoors–with the hope the answer will be 2 or 3 years. However, the answer depends on who you ask:

  • Engineering: it meets Blue Wool Scale 6 and BS5609 based on Xe lamp testing for x amount of hours.
  • Sales: it lasts a very long time, which is longer than the competition.
  • Marketing: it depends on time of year, latitude and yes requires a special consultant to write a report.

As you can see, none of these responses answer specific questions that converters want to know, such as  “Can I stick a label onto a piece of construction equipment for 10+ years?”

Here’s a very helpful white paper by Zeller+Gmelin called Lightfastness of Printing Inks. In addition, checkout the Pira Consultancy Report: Tests on Ink Jet Prints that has data for the Epson L-4033.

And although these documents are excellent starting points, I’ve yet to find an answer that I’m satisfied with. Have you? Till then I will put some print samples on our building’s roof here at 33.8018° N latitude and let you know how they fare later this year.





















Installing a Prime Label Press leads to BLiS

Steve_1How long does it take to install a digital industrial prime label press and start printing labels? According to this video, it only takes a minute. Okay, maybe not a minute in real time, but through the magic of time-lapse photography, the 8-hour installation of an Epson SurePress L-4033AW has been compressed into a minute.

Not long after Steve Middleton of at Middleton Printing got his press running, he worked on a label for his friend Steve Stallard. Stallard, owner of BLiS, needed a new label for his Blast Hot Pepper Sauce, which is aged in a whiskey, maple syrup, and stout-soaked barrel. The sauce’s packaging  required a beautiful estate 9 label with true matte black. Middleton’s new press was up to the task, producing a high quality label for BLiS’s finely crafted product. If you want to know more about this story, please download the case study (PDF).

Lastly, if you’re a label convertor and like hot sauce, contact me. I have a limited supply.

BLiS Blast

Tutorial: Get Maximum Black Density with Your Digital Press


Here’s a little trick to get the maximum black density out of your press with your software RIP, in this case the Epson SurePress L-4033 and Wasatch SoftRIP.  The darker you can get your black, the better your contrast and in turn the rest of your colors will have more “pop.”  Using color profiles such as Illustrator’s default SWOP profile will cut down your black ink and will often result in a dusty black print.  This trick will work to improve both text and images.

First, open a file that contains some black printing in the job tab.  Usually this will be an area where cyan, magenta, and yellow are 0% and black is 100%, but this trick also applies to a Pantone Black, any custom spot color or any other area where you’d like the densest black possible.  Place the mouse pointer over the black area on an image and right click.  A pop-up menu will appear, and the next step is to click “Replace Spot Color” (Figure 1).


Figure 1. Mouse over an area containing black and right click, then select “Replace Spot Color”

Once you’ve selected the black color from your file, another window will appear.  Here, you’ll insert values into the dialog boxes that will tell SoftRIP what to use as the color replacement for the milky black (Figure 2).  A good starting point is Cyan 80, Magenta 80, Yellow 30, and Black 235 if you have SoftRIP set to view colors as 0 to 255 values.  If you have SoftRIP set up to view colors as a percentage, then the corresponding numbers would be Cyan 31%, Magenta 31%, Yellow 12%, and Black 92%.  Depending on the substrate used, you may want to play around with these values until you get a satisfactory result.  Make sure the Replacement Color Space is set to Device.

Figure 2. Spot Color Replacement Window


Now that you’ve set up your black color replacement, click OK through all the windows, making sure to save and re-name your imaging configuration.  You now have an imaging configuration where your blacks are as dense as possible, and none of your other color management has been altered.  After you’ve saved your imaging configuration, your job preview should show red and white lines where the black will be replaced (Figure 3).  You’ll notice that the info tab now shows the Output as a Device substitution with the values you entered in the previous step.  As long as you use this Imaging Configuration, you will be outputting a denser black on all your labels.

Figure 3. Areas with replaced black are shown as red and white lines




Thin Label Materials

IMG_4720Notes from the TLMI Conference (Part 2):

Panelists from UPM Raflatac, Sigan Plastics, FLEXcon, Avery Dennison and Mark Andy generally agreed that the label industry is moving into thinner films similar in gauge to the high end of what the flexible packaging industry is already using successfully. Consumer package goods manufacturers (CPG) like the new no-label look and the label industry benefits from less material to transport and recycle. Thinner labels require thinner liners to be applied successfully to the container by the decorator. Presses which control tension and use minimum heat in drying the ink will help keep the film stable, ink such as low shrink UV with a low setting UV lamp or LED cure work well. Die-cutting is another source of heat which must be controlled through properly controlling pressure, heat from curing and alignment.

How thin is thin? Pressure sensitive labels with thickness for rigid applications of PP at 1.6mil, and PET at 0.92mil are now available with PET liners of 0.92 mil or less. PET labels and liners of even 0.75 and 0.5 mil are becoming available. Checkout UPM’s Thin Films Brochure (7.3MB).

Joel Schmidt of the Outlook Group shared his company’s work in using resources at TLMI and suppliers to seek green solutions. Joel has focused on minimizing face stock, adhesive and the liner thickness, as well as choosing liner material which can be recycled. Joel is also using bio-based films. He provided an example of reducing the total thickness by 50% of face stock, adhesive and liner resulting in lower material, shipping and recycling costs yielding a happier and greener customer.

Photo Credit: Mike Pruitt

Recycling PET and HDPE

Recycle bottle I was fortunate enough to participate in the recent TLMI Technical Conference held in Chicago September 4-5, 2013. Attendance was high and converters were eager to learn what was new and more importantly what could help them in their business. Two particular lecture series were interesting: Sustainable Labeling Solutions and Thin is In.

For those always looking for a problem to solve, it turns out that 15% of recyclable PET and HDPE bottles are not being recycled due to an inability to separate the label from the recyclable material. This is happening at a time when recycled PET/HDPE is selling for more than new material as food manufactures drive the market by requiring 20-30% recycled material in their containers. The process is simple enough: tumbling to remove dirt, grinding and settling in wash tanks to separate the plastic from the label. Though simple, adhesives with hot melt glue are hard to remove, labels with the same density as bottle plastic do not separate and inks which bleed discolor the plastic can ruin the chances recycling. Tamsin Ettefagh of Envision Plastics gave an industry overview from the recycler’s point of view and emphasized what label manufacturers can do to make recycling both easier and produce higher yields for recyclable PET and HDPE, rPET/rHDPE.

Weilong Chiang of PepsiCo offered an overview of the technical aspects of separating labels from containers. He emphasized the use of PET label materials which have a different density than the container, which in turn allows for separation during the wash and settling.

Mitch Rackovan addressed the adhesive by talking about Avery Dennison’s new SR3031, which remains on the container during usage but is removed cleanly during recycling the PET material.

Finally, Jeff Sherwood tackled the ink component through describing the Flint Group’s extensive testing of inks for bleeding. UV and water-based inks were found to bleed about the same with yellow and black causing the most discoloring of the plastic. A UV varnish or lamination was found to significantly reduce the bleeding.

Selling labels to consumer package goods companies, CPG’s, is competitive. Selling a label which is easily removed during the recycling of the PET and HDPE can be a competitive advantage.

For more information visit The Association of Postconsumer Plastic Recyclers.

Photo by Mike Pruitt