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Tagless Printing #1

Advantages and limitations, comparison to thermal transfer, plate making options.

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Tagless Label Printing - Podcast #1

Stevie Black: Good morning. We're talking today with Ben Adner, CEO and chief innovator for Inkcups Now of Danvers, Mass, a pad printing manufacturing company and supplier to the pad printing industry. We also have Mike Bissel, Inkcups Now Vice President, and Bill Christensen, Textile Imaging Specialist with us today from his office in Pembroke Pines, Florida. Information on all the Inkcups Now equipment, supplies and applications can be found on their website at www.Inkcups.com . The topic of our podcast today is Tagless Label Printing for the garment industry.

Why don't we get started, gentlemen, with what the impetus is that led to the development of tagless label printing? Bill, why don't you start us off?

Bill Christensen: Really the things that were driving the trend towards tagless labels in garments was the replacement of an older uncomfortable sewn in label, the idea of being able to brand a garment and put in your corporate identity even for smaller companies, the ability to follow rapidly changing market styles and looks of garments, and finally it was the cost cutting.

Stevie: So Bill, what are the existing label technologies that tagless label printing seeks to surpass, and what are the limitations we associate with each of them?

Bill: Really, it starts off with the two processes. The one process was obviously the older style, which were hand sewn in labels. They had very high minimums, were expensive to make, and had very long lead times. So it would take quite a while to do things, and you had to plan very far in advance. The second technology was a thermal transfer. That thermal transfer is more along the lines of a tagless label but again had very high production minimums, very long lead times, and needed specialized equipment to actually make it produce.

Stevie: That's great information, Bill. Now, Ben, I'm going to turn to you. Are there cost benefits to tagless printing, and what are they?

Ben Adner: When you pad print tagless labels, it's a big cost advantage over existing thermal transfer or sewn in labels. As Bill has alluded to, there are high minimums for both. Even at high volumes, a thermal transfer label could range to three or four cents per label. And a sewn in label is higher than that. With tag printing, the cost is significantly lower. As an example, you typically get about 10,000 prints from a can of ink, which sells at $70. That means the ink cost is about seven tenths of a cent. When you throw in the cost of maybe the printing pads and the thinner, at most the cost of a tag printed label is about a penny.

Stevie: OK. Now I want to turn to the limitations, so Mike you're up. What are the limitations of the tagless label printing technology?

Mike Bissel: Well, of course like all other technologies, there are some limitations. It doesn't work on all fabrics. Flock fabrics pose a challenge. Loose knits, single or double rip fabrics are difficult. Denims, which are super absorbent, pose quite a challenge for pad printing. There are also size considerations for doing neck finish type labels with the average equipment. Pad printing is wonderful, it provides fine detail. But for the larger logo, specialty equipment is required, and some of those can become a bit of a challenge. All in all, it's a great technology to replace sewn in labels.

Stevie: So for our listeners who maybe don't know the entire process, gentlemen, give us a snapshot of the process from start-to-finish.

Ben: I thought I'd start with the initial part of it, which would be the printing plates. That's the first step. What we've seen is that people just getting into the business have actually come to us as a source for laser engraved printing plates. It seems a nice way to start. They're consistent in depth. For any particular logo, you typically only need five plates: a small, medium, large, extra large, and double X. Each plate lasts about 15, 000 impressions, costs around $50, and are guaranteed depth. So it really helps people just getting into business to have us make plates for them. As their volume grows, we then turn to different technologies.

Mike: Some of the other technology that offers the ability for a printer to make their own printing plates would be either an alcohol wash or a water wash polymer material. One of the things that seems foreign to screen printers is the whole pad printing technology, but in fact manufacturing and the whole process of making a photopolymer plate is extremely similar to that of making silk screens. We utilize a film positive and basically a printing plate, which has photosensitive emulsion. Rather than going through and washing out the whole material as we would in a silk screen, we simply wash out the plate to the required depth for pad printing. It's actually quite similar to screen printing and easily adaptable by anybody who has some familiarity with screen making.

Ben: And then the better technology, which we've developed here at Inkcups, is laser plate making. This generally applies to people who have several pad printing machines and need to have flexibility with logo and the ability to make a plate quickly. A polymer plate typically takes from 15 minutes to a half hour to make. A laser plate could take as little as 1 to 2 minutes. So for high volume production shops, we've installed plenty of laser engraving systems, which directly engrave the logo into the plate. It simplifies the whole process. The only limitation there is that an exposure unit for polymer plates may be $1,000 to $2,000. The laser plate makers start at $15, 000. Therefore, most of the higher volume shops would be the ones focused on that.

Stevie: So Bill, for someone who is exploring this new avenue for labeling garments, what are the first steps they need to take?

Bill: Really the first two things that they need to consider when they're going to get into this technology is the size of the image that they'd like to print and the number of colors. Once you've made that assumption, we have two size machines. Our standard machines will do a three inch diameter image and a five inch diameter image. Once you've decided that, really it's as simple as give us a call and let us know what you want to do. We'll walk you through it from there and begin the process.

Stevie: So Ben, why don't you tell us a little bit more about the pad printing process itself?

Ben: All right. We talked about the plates. The typical process would be: you make a plate; we've got specialized inks for tagless garments; you mix your ink as if you'd mix a screen printing ink. You load it into an ink cup. You take that sandwich and put it in the printing machine. You essentially load your garment onto a fixture. You do not have to turn it inside out. With the pad printer, you step on the foot pedal. What essentially happens is: a cup goes over the plate, it leaves ink in the etched area of the printing plate; the printing pad picks it up and simply lays it down on the garment. It's quick. It dries immediately, and it's a much faster process than what they're currently doing. There's no drying machines necessary.

Stevie: Now Bill, is there any aspect of a prospect's in house systems that they would need to change to bring in this new technology?

Bill: Actually, no. There's really nothing that a standard screen print operation would have to change in their process at all. As Ben alluded to, the machine is very flexible. It's fairly easy to run, and it can be set into the screen print process at any step. It could be before printing. It could be after printing. It could be after drying. It could be in a packaging area because of the fact that it doesn't need an additional drying unit (it actually can air dry). It can be put anywhere in the process, so it will fit nicely in the whole step.

Stevie: OK. So that's tagless podcast number one. You've been listening to Ben Adner, Mike Bissel, and Bill Christensen from Inkcups of Danvers, Mass. This company has been an innovator in the field of pad printing for many years, and recently they have adapted their technology to the printing of tagless labels in clothes. I want to thank you all for speaking with us today. For those of you who are new to pad printing and/or to tagless label printing, I invite you to go to their website at www.inkcups.com . I also want to direct you to their help desk that has many brochures and technical documents that will help you learn more.

In addition, Inkcups also offers help in Spanish by calling (520) 682-8246. If you want to know more about tagless label printing, please listen to our next podcast regarding equipment, inks, pads, and other supplies, and a more in depth overview of the technical process.
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