Data Points: Hybrid Digital Label Presses
Over the past year, several label press vendors have brought out “hybrid” presses featuring both flexographic and full-color inkjet capabilities on a single press. These machines are typically compared to, and compete with, installed digital label presses that use either toner or inkjet technologies. These hybrid inkjet presses present opportunities and challenges for label printers and converters, both for printing and producing finished labels. These devices are specified as digital label presses with multiple and modularly-variable analog printing with some level of physical conversion capabilities in-line with the digital print engine. However, these new hybrid systems do not include third-party “bolt-on” inkjet print heads and associated software that are integrated into existing flexographic label presses for monochrome or color printing.
The converting challenge
Conventional flexographic presses typically combine process color analog printing with synchronized in-line physical conversion capabilities. Some standalone digital presses also have in-line conversion features, usually focused on diecutting, although most digital presses do not offer this as an integrated feature. Hybrid digital label presses, on the other hand, often offer at least some in-line conversion by default, because those capabilities are used with the flexographic portion of the press. As a result, the hybrid systems tend to be bigger and more expensive ($1M+) than most standalone digital label presses, and come from conventional flexographic equipment vendors that typically offer label converting on existing presses.
Looking at the fit of these machines in the market provokes four questions: First, are hybrid presses truly a new sub-sector? Next, are these systems capable of supporting printers and converters who have tried digital label printing, liked it, and want to turn it into something more like what they are used to in conventional printing? Third, are these systems attractive to users who do not want to buy standalone digital presses? And finally, are the presses over-specified for most early digital adopters?