Editor's Note: This is the last article in a seven-part series. This content is also available in the white paper, An Introduction to Product Labeling. You may download this very informative guide to product labeling free of charge as a printable PDF file, courtesy of Lightning Labels.
This is where the label printer normally comes into the equation. Very often, it’s the first time they even know there’s a job on the table. With your artwork in hand, contact your chosen printer and discuss how to proceed with them. Most often, that will start with getting quotes for the various sizes you’ve designed — so you need to have some quantities in mind for the printer to quote upon. As with most printing, the unit price (price per label) comes down as the volume goes up — so feel free to have a range of quantities that the printer can quote for. That way, you get to see the impact of a slightly larger order — it’s not uncommon for twice the quantity to only cost a few dollars more.
Let’s make a big assumption for the purposes of demonstrating pricing options. If you’re reading this document and are still following along, then we’ll assume you’re somewhat new to the label-printing business. In that case, it’s reasonable to assume that you’re not looking to print tens of thousands of labels in the first run. Accordingly, you now have one of the BIG choices to make — and that is the selection of a printer ...
Should I Use a Flexo or Digital Printer for My Labels?
As explained briefly earlier, Flexo printers use the large mechanical presses (and plates) that many people are familiar with. Each color requires its own "plate" to be made to impart that particular color in all the right spots — and these plates cost money. Hence, if you have a single label design with (say) four colors, the printer will need to make 4 plates before they can start printing. Plate charges vary widely, but an average market cost would be between $50 and $75 per plate (or $200 - $300 for the 4-plate set).
To properly justify this expense, it makes sense that you’d need to print a lot of labels AND be satisfied that nothing in the design will change in the short term (as you’d need to get new plates made in that case).
Digital printing, on the other hand, does not use plates — the artwork is printed directly on the press. Setup time is usually much less than for Flexo presses — but digital presses are by nature much slower at doing the actual printing. So it becomes a trade-off — if the volume is large enough, Flexo is the way to go, but if the volume is relatively small then digital wins hands-down. While it’s extremely difficult to generalize, industry experience would seem to indicate that Flexo printing starts to become more cost-effective once the quantity exceeds 10,000 labels (of a single design). This will vary somewhat according to size and other factors, but it’s a reasonable rule of thumb that you can easily test by getting quotes from both kinds of printers — Flexo and digital.
The other factor to consider is whether you have a single label design or multiple designs. Because there are no plates involved, digital printers can "gang" (or combine) many pieces of artwork into a single "run" so long as the designs are all the same size and on the same material. So if you have a line of similar products — say body lotions for instance — where you have 10 different recipes, scents, flavors or whatever you might call them, you can combine those orders into a single job with a digital printer — thereby avoiding substantial plate costs (10 complete sets in this case) AND getting the price breaks associated with running a single job for the TOTAL quantity of all 10 designs.
In short, Flexo and digital printers each have their "sweet spots" — Flexo is an excellent solution for large-volume runs per design, whereas digital provides the best answer for customers with multiple variations of similar designs and/or smaller volumes. If in doubt, get quotes both ways and form your own conclusions