Narrow web, wide market

20 March 2017

Narrow web, wide market

Narrow web, wide market

Even with the seemingly unstoppable march of digital presses, narrow web and the label-converting sectors continue to innovate with a hybrid approach to their output. Dave Howell reports.

Anyone attending Labelexpo and drupa would have been struck by the continued diversity of print technology on offer. Digital presses, of course, continue to dominate, but converters are not turning their backs on their installed plant. Indeed, Sabine Geldermann, director of drupe, said: “It is now widely accepted that packaging and label printers can achieve the lead times of flexo with gravure quality.”

For many, the packaging sector is robust and recession-proof. Research has indicated that the industry will enjoy growth of 4% by the end of 2018. What is clear is that the hybrid approach to print output that has been gaining pace over the last two years will continue. However, digital is never far behind. Last year, for instance, Berkshire Labels invested in a P7 press from Mark Andy to increase its flexo capacity. And to address an increase in the flexibles market, Labelsunlimited expanded last year with the purchase of a second Nilpeter FA-4* press.

Converters with narrow-web presses will not remove these wholesale, but look to offer their brand clients the diversity and flexibility they need, with new digital installations that take advantage of the latest technologies. Suppliers have also made strategic moves over the last few years with BOBST acquiring Nuova Gidue and Heidelberg purchasing Gallus, which speaks volumes across the converting industry.

Research from All Printing Resources (APR) that looked closely at the US and Canadian converting markets found that the average job length of less than 5,000ft had doubled in the past five years to nearly a third (28%) of the output.

Dave Nieman, president and CEO of APR, commented: “The assistance converters need goes far beyond acquiring the ability to print digitally. Once the technology has been installed, companies need help with the way they are preparing job files and colour management. If they are going to be successful at bringing in digital-print technology, file preparation and the ability to manage colour are a huge part of that formula.”

A look at labels

Narrow web services are synonymous with label production. Xander van der Vlies, Director of sustainability at Avery Dennison Europe, said that the ClearIntent portfolio is about working with converters and brand-owners, and supporting them in meeting their sustainable packaging goals.

“Avery Dennison has been creating more and more materials designed to empower sustainable choices, and it makes perfect sense to assemble all of them under one umbrella. Label converters can now offer materials with confidence to their customers, knowing that anything within the ClearIntent range provides the sustainability credentials they seek. The available materials cover a wide range of applications, so ClearIntent gives converters more ways to say ‘yes’ to sustainability.”


Looking at ancillary components, Converting Today asked Steve Ringsdore, vice-president for Americas Adhesives at HB Fuller to outline the company’s current view:

“We do not forecast any significant changes to adhesives used today in end-of-line packaging or labelling applications.

“Current technologies will continue to evolve to meet new machinery and substrate changes, but any new technology that requires new application machinery will need to be significantly cheaper in total cost before key customers will consider a switch. We do believe that adhesives are becoming increasingly competitive versus tape, and new application methods – such as stitching – reduce the quantity of adhesive used without compromising bond strength.”

Advanced and complex printing techniques have also been used by converters to meet the expanding needs of their clients. AJS Labels, for instance, has been winning recognition for the label it produced for the L’Oréal produce Magic Retouch. The converter explained: “Printed on PP clear with ten flexo colours, two screen whites and hot gold foil, this label required our full skill and attention. Care was needed with the synthetic material to avoid stretching and ensure perfect registration. A white silkscreen panel was printed to give the image a sound base and keep the colours true when the label is applied to the turquoise can. The colour matching of the hair image was crucial to accurately reflect the five Retouch shades and satisfy the user.”

With such a diverse marketplace to service, converters have of course evolved their businesses. Labels, like their substrate partners, are increasingly under pressure to ensure they have not only functional integrity, but also high levels of environmental protection. The level of sustainability that a label possesses is now a consumer issue, and one that is being addressed by the industry as a whole.

Holding its own

Narrow web has proved it can withstand the encroachment of digital presses, but these are rapidly evolving and will eventually become the dominant form of output across the converting industry. Brands need even more flexibility than at any other time in the past. This is a reaction to the changes they are seeing in consumer behaviour.

A good example is the recent launch of the new premium bottled water from PepsiCo called LIFEWTR. To appeal to its target audience, the label was of paramount importance. Constantia Flexibles was chosen as the supplier. The converter used a 12-colour press and ran tests to bring the texture of the art to the forefront. 

The art is eye-catching from the front and can also be seen through the back of the bottle.  Constantia Flexibles has a portfolio of recyclable pressure sensitive label materials, and for the product launch they are using Avery Dennison’s CleanFlake technology, ensuring that the entire bottle can be recycled.

Labels and the presses they are printed on will also have to progress. The future is more interactivity with advanced packaging to appeal to tomorrow’s consumers. This can already be seen with the competition that Heineken has been running to find a new designer for its smart bottles. Entrants from CapTag and Rako Group can deliver interactivity with light, all delivered with label-based technology.


Before electronics on packaging and labels become commonplace, print techniques will continue. An example here comes from Bodegas Jaime, which created an innovative label for its Turmeon wine brand. The product of a partnership between two converters, Coreti and Graficas Z, the paper label is printed with several images. Wrapped around this is a semi-transparent polyvinyl chloride label with a number of vertical lines printed on to its surface. When the customer rotates the PVC overlay, the image beneath appears to move.

The adage that there’s life in the old dog certainly applies to the narrow-web industry. The marketplace has been in constant change for decades, but converters have been able to leverage their expertise and the techniques available to meet the demands of their customers. Digital is clearly a long-term fixture, but at the moment, narrow-web converters are more than holding their own, making strategic changes to their businesses as their markets develop.

Privacy Policy
We have updated our privacy policy. In the latest update it explains what cookies are and how we use them on our site. To learn more about cookies and their benefits, please view our privacy policy. Please be aware that parts of this site will not function correctly if you disable cookies. By continuing to use this site, you consent to our use of cookies in accordance with our privacy policy unless you have disabled them.