Label Printing Options

Customized labels are an in-demand product for today's home-produced goods. Here's a primer on breaking into that market - and the inexpensive ways to do so

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The nation-wide explosion in the microbrew beer scene isn’t just a boon for beer lovers – it’s also a great example of some of the new potential markets opening up for sign making shops looking to expand their business opportunities.

Those colorful bottle labels, as well as labels for the many new producers of small-scale organic and homemade foods and health and beauty products, all represent an interesting niche for a sign shop to break into.

And better yet, shops hoping to offer new or existing customers a wide range of custom label-printing options don’t necessarily have to make a gigantic investment to do so, and can easily adapt their current graphics setup to create high-quality, relatively high-speed output for label jobs of any size.

The major consideration, once you’ve done your homework, is finding equipment that will match both your budget and the amount of work you end up doing – with technology ranging from individual printers and cutters to systems using pre-die-cut paper or vinyl for one-step output.

Dave Conrad, marketing manager with Mutoh America, Inc., says label-making is one of those often-overlooked areas of the printing world, but with promotional bumper stickers, larger window labels and jobs ranging from packaging to industrial usage, sign shops can find plenty of avenues once they’re properly equipped.

“Typically, people will start small – printing some bumper stickers for retail, but once you have the capacity, you’ll be amazed how many people will come to you saying they need labels for vehicle oil changes, pharmaceuticals, all kinds of stuff,” he says. “Once people get their heads around that, it can be a big business on its own, if you can fit into it. It’s really just found money laying around out there.”

For those just wanting to get their feet wet in the business, an easy start is a setup from a manufacturer like Minnesota’s Primera Technology Inc., which offers a small inkjet printer for just $1,225, explains product manager Amber Miller.

“That kind of system is good for serving the food and beverage market, doing one to 1,000 labels at a time,” she says. We also have a higher-production inkjet, or you can step up to our CX1200 digital press, which uses a continuous roll and offers a finishing system with a digital die cutter. You can print roll to roll, with no hard dies required.”

As Conrad says, getting involved in the label business is usually just a matter of reconsidering some recent requests by your existing customers and making a small investment in equipment that suits your planned output, though you might be surprised by the amount of business you can generate.

Mutoh offers a line of 24-inch printers, including the 628x, beginning at $6,500; for $400 more, an advanced model can also print white or metallic-relief labels, though that can slow the output process a bit, Conrad explains. A good quality cutter will run between $2,500 and $3,000, he adds.

“It’s not rocket science at all. Our printer packages come with the software, drivers and rip programs, as well as digital directions for the cutter – you can get everything you need for less than $10,000,” he says. “And with a wide-format printer like this, you can use a 150-foot roll of vinyl and be able to produce a lot of product, for a lot less money per sticker.”

Shops that see real potential in a higher-volume label business can also do some research and seek out a bigger setup, though prices also escalate.

Randy Rickert, director of label technology for ISys, a Canadian-based manufacturer which initially specialized in the gas and oil industry, says his customer base is sign-makers doing about 30,000 feet a month of output.

“We’ve been putting our stuff into bigger shops where they’ll run several of our machines,” he says. “But sign shops end up have a lot of customers for label products. Think of all the local people who are doing their own jam, or the microbreweries or wineries that are popping up everywhere. Really small shops may not have the volume to do 40,000 wine labels, but could to the personalized printing for a 20,000-label run.”

Rickert’s solutions provide a wide range of larger-volume output, with speeds of up to 30 feet per minute.

“One of the pluses for our stuff is that there are a lot of guys out there with LED printers who can only handle an 8.5-inch roll,” he says. “We have the flexibility to print three, five, six or different sizes, with pre-die-cut or non-die-cut paper. If you want to, you can buy pre-die-cut paper and run it and you’ve practically got a finished product, really easy.”

ISys’ Edge 850, an 8.5-inch printer capable of handling a 500-foot roll, starts at about $16,000, while the Apex 1290, set up for 12.9-inch widths, retails for about $35,000 – about half the cost of some competitor’s industrial-grade equipment, he adds.

“We also appeal to guys who’ve been sending out their print runs, and find that outsourcing short-run digital labels ends up taking about two weeks and becomes pretty expensive – they’re tired of spending 29 cents a label,” he says. “With our equipment, you can do a short run or print as many as you want, and the costs drop to about 11 cents a label.”

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Andy Stonehouse

Andy Stonehouse is a Denver-based freelance writer who has been covering the automotive industry for more than ten years.

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