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6 things to know about self-adhesive label printing processes

Applied to a store window, on a car or on a wall, self-adhesive labels play a major role in identifying a company’s products. If the quality of an item must be impeccable, its visual appearance must also be attractive so that consumers want to buy it. This is why professionals demand excellence in the printing of their adhesive labels, even if it means paying a significant amount for their production. According to a global supplier, the label market will reach up to $45.22 billion by 2022 (Bobst figure – May 2019). So what are the printing processes for self-adhesive labels?

What are the main printing techniques used?

Before being affixed to a product, labels go through several manufacturing stages. You should know that before printing the adhesive labels, the printer carefully checks your order. He ensures that the file to be printed complies with the client’s request. A proof will then be given to him for validation.. When the model is validated, printing begins. There are different printing technologies for producing self-adhesive labels. For example, the most common are:

  • the offset,
  • digital printing,
  • flexography,
  • the typography,
  • screen printing.

These printing modes each have their own characteristics and are only carried out by professionals.

self-adhesive label printing techniques

Offset printing for large series of self-adhesive labels

If you want to print adhesive labels in large quantities, opt for offset printing. This image reproduction method remains to this day the most modern and most used. There are two types of offset printing processes, including wet and dry or waterless.

This method consists of first printing your file on aluminum plates using a printer called CTP. This step is indeed all its complexity. The images printed on these plates are then transferred to an offset cylinder then on the adhesive paper. Thanks to the offset principle, the primary colors cyan, magenta, yellow and black (CMYK) are separated on a 4-color press. After superimposing these colors, we obtain four-color process or color printing.

The print quality of this process is exceptional and very precise. Offset printing requires a minimum of 250 sheets in format. Plan for a quantity equivalent to 1000 copies if you are looking to do self-adhesive label printing from offset printing.

Digital printing: cheap and fast

To print self-adhesive labels in small quantities and quickly, you have the option of choosing digital printing. The result remains very satisfactory, because we print directly on the paper intended for the stickers from a computer. Unlike offset, if necessary, it is possible to interrupt the printing in progress to make modifications and then only producea small quantity of adhesive labels. This seems very useful if you want to personalize your stickers according to your products and your targets. You should know that there are two types of digital printing:

  • laser printing which creates the patterns of self-adhesive labels from powdered ink called toner,
  • inkjet printing which consists of reproducing your model on paper using ink jets guided by an electromagnetic charge.

On the production side, laser printing is faster than the relatively slow inkjet one. However, the print quality will not disappoint you.

Flexography for quality equal to offset

This printing process is very suitable for the design of self-adhesive labels. Flexography can be compared to an ink pad. The equipment consists of an inking unit for control the quantity of ink on the plate which is here the visual to reproduce. The plate is applied to a screened ink roller called anilox which is immersed in an ink reservoir to obtain the colors of the model. Finally, like a stamp, the cylinder affixes the cliché to the sticker support using pressure applied by a counter-pressure cylinder. Three kinds of inks are used depending on the prints requested:

  • water-based inks, very common in flexography,
  • solvent inks whose advantage is rapid drying even if they are not necessarily ecological,
  • UV inks, the must if you want to have superior quality labels.
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Flexography is a “dry on dry” process, which means that each layer of ink is dried at the exit to prevent the colors from mixing with each other.

Choosing paper for printing self-adhesive labels

Self-adhesive labels prove to be a foolproof way to mark and strengthen the identity of your company’s products. In order to best satisfy the demands of printers and their customers, a wide choice of papers is available:

  • the highly versatile bright white coated adhesive paper is ideal for bright color prints,
  • uncoated white adhesive paper, simple and versatile, we recommend this paper for self-adhesive labels for products kept indoors,
  • laminated adhesive paper with shiny gold foil with a metallic effect, ideal for cosmetic and luxury products,
  • pure cellulose laid adhesive paper with anti-mold and anti-humidity treatment, ideal for applying your paper labels to high-end products,
  • black adhesive paper, very popular for its resistance to wet surfaces and very low temperatures,
  • pearly white adhesive paper, embossed, with a satin effect suitable for self-adhesive labels for luxury items,
  • straw paper with yellow-brown plant fibers which gives it an ecological aspect. This material resists fading,
  • greaseproof paper, with a protective surface against grease and stains.

It is now up to you to make the right choice regarding the paper characteristics that match your adhesive labels.

The lamination and varnishing stage

Laminating and varnishing are an integral part of the adhesive label printing processes. These techniques give a better appearance to the stickers. A machine called a group applies the varnish according to orders on the entire stickers or only on a part such as the logo for example. Clearly, the varnish offers more aesthetics to the labels. As for lamination, this protective film is applied to the printed matter by a laminator. With the heat evacuated by the machine, the film sticks directly to the papers. Lamination protects the self-adhesive labels from friction and extends their durability. The result can be shiny or matte.

laminating iron-on labels

Cutting, weeding and reeling

The labels will certainly not be given to customers without having been cut according to the dimensions prescribed in the order. For this, printers have lasers or cutting plates for cutting stickers. The cutting method varies depending on the sticker models, but in general there are three varieties of cuts of which :

  • simple cutting,
  • cutting to shape,
  • lettering cutting + installation film.

Your adhesive labels can have a circular, square or rectangular format. However, if you want to attract attention, opt for labels with personalized cutting. Once the labels have been cut, there is the weeding to be done. This work consists of removing the parts which still protrude after cutting. Finally, the self-adhesive labels are wound onto a spool and stored in packaging.

Production times for self-adhesive labels generally last 12 days for large series and between 4 to 5 days for small quantities. Between the different types of printing, the adhesive papers and the steps to follow for the production of self-adhesive labels, each company must perfect their visual to attract the maximum number of consumers. This is why it is important to know these few generalities regarding printing self-adhesive labels.