Labels were considered to be a part of the offset printing industry for ages. Wet glue was the only type of product labels that predominantly existed till not very long ago. As time passed the self adhesive label industry emerged as a specific product line which transformed and evolved to become a distinct industry with a character of its own. Initially referred to as “stickers”, they started to be produced as a product of the screen printing industry. Gradually a major part of this segment was adopted as product offerings, by the offset printers who would print the coated art paper sheets on their sheet fed offset presses and send them out to screen printers for manual gumming by screen process, drying and fixing the silicone release paper as backing before returning back to the printers for die-cutting and eventual conversion to become stickers. When Labelstock production rose in the country and with it, ready to print “pre-gummed sheets” became available, the printers could eliminate the manual gumming. The offset printers who are used to doing many off-line processes on their printed products continue to print and decorate these pre-gummed sheets in a similar fashion. Meanwhile manufacturing of labelstocks grew and local producers perfected the quality. The market for self adhesive labels started to evolve and reach new dimensions. Labels started being printed and converted in roll form on fully automatic label presses, enabling printers to produce labels, decorate them and finish them on-line in a single pass. This eliminated the need for multiple off-line processes as in the case of offset printers. The label industry was carving out its own market.
The printed and decorated self adhesive label started to acquire the unique status of being the selling tool for the consumer products being retailed in modern retail stores. Their capability to add to the shelf appeal and attract consumer attention is being recognized. Retailing in recent times has driven unprecedented growth and development of new production technologies. The earliest four colour flatbed and letterpress printing presses that were innovations of their time to produce labels in roll form, have been or are being fast replaced by fully rotary and faster flexographic printing presses. Further developments have made various combinations of printing processes possible on these presses on multiple substrates. They also empower the printers to print by many processes, hot foil, cold foil, emboss, laminate, varnish, print front/back, half die-cut, full die-cut, perforate, etc. all on-line in a single pass to have a state of art finished product at end of the line.
Drupa, the world’s largest print show is just around the corner to be held from May 3-16 2012. The offset printers never looked at this show for any on-line converting of labels or for that matter packaging items like folding cartons. Recent innovative developments by press manufacturers and indulgence by some enterprising offset printing companies seem to be bringing an integration process. The label and packaging production by online conversion in single pass has kindled the interest of offset printers and label printers bring further growth to the label industry. Such online converting presses will be on display at Drupa. They have been there before but the interest in these presses is evident now.
All these changes were taking place and on the side, in parallel, without making much noise another segment of the self adhesive labels was evolving and growing steadily. These were the variable information labels, plain labels and intelligent labels. This segment was initially the mainstay of smaller label printers with lower capital investments in high-end printing equipments but as demand grew, this segment started galloping by leaps and bounds to eventually surpass the prime label or product label segment in the no. of square meters of labelstock used. In the self adhesive label industry, it has become “the bigger segment”.
If I look back, I can definitely pinpoint the initiation of production of variable information labels in India to early 1980’s. I would attribute this to the visionary P C Jain of Great Eastern Impex which he still heads. He brought to India price marking labelers and labels from Pitney Bowes in the United States of America and later started producing labels himself. These were perhaps the first variable information labels in India. Gun labels as they subsequently came to be called because of the labelers which dispensed these labels look somewhat like guns, started to grow at a rapid pace. They were used to affix price labels at point of purchase in retail stores. Persons who worked as employees, associates and distributors of Great Eastern saw the market of these growing and the margins provided them enough temptation to breakaway and start their own label producing ventures more so because the initial investment in equipment was not too high. Another pioneer to indulge in this was Vinayak Sud of Liddles. With consumer protection laws becoming rigid price marking labels were banned and prices were required to be printed on the package labels. The label producers were a worried lot. The market transformed yet again with introduction of barcodes and demand for barcode labels also brought the windfall of opportunity to these label producers. Price marking labels also transformed to gun labels and found extensive usage on shop floors in manufacturing processes, predominantly in garment manufacturing units. When inkjet and laser desktop printers started becoming affordable, important and absolutely necessary part of every home, office and factory, demand arose for self adhesive labels for variable information printing in A4 format. These found usage in mailing, logistics and package identification. The variable label and plain segment became identifiable and growing at a pace quicker than the overall industry rate. The gun label manufacturers found this as a welcome development. Without much change in their existing equipment their product offerings increased and they could offer a range that included gun labels, barcode labels and plain labels. From just Great Eastern and Liddles at one time, others who initially involved themselves into this segment were Better labels in Chennai, Interlabels, Super Labels and Tayabi Tags in Mumbai. These were followed by Prakash labels Noida, Shipra Ghaziabad, Rachna Overseas Gurgaon, Dyanamic Marking Delhi, etc. After this the market grew phenomenally and hundreds of converters across the country jumped into this industry. The volumes these converters were converting became huge, with the likes of Prakash Labels alone converting close to a million square meters each month. Most of these label producers also trade in accessories like Barcode printers, scanners, ribbons, ink rolls etc. needed for variable information label printing and dispensing at point of purchase. With retailing growing the demand for these labels is escalating at close to 30% per annum.
The label industry segmentation has been changing in recent times and is becoming more defined closer to international estimates of market shares. The total market of self adhesive labels in India seems to be close to a billion square meter mark. The share of different segments in the overall Indian Label industry in my personal opinion and estimation is as below:
Variable Information Labels
Inkjet/Laser label 20%
Barcode TTR labels 17%
Direct Thermal Labels 10%
Dot Matrix or contact printed labels 5%
Prime Labels 40%
Most of the plain labels are now being converted on Indian made narrow web label presses, which are doing a fairly good job. Notable amongst these press manufacturers are Multitec, Jandu, Webtech, RK, etc. The variable label segment has undoubtedly brought growth even to these press suppliers who have improved their equipment to be able to produce printed product labels of good and acceptable quality. This label segment that at one time was the lower end, cannot be the neglected or over looked. In terms of volume of labelstock usage, it is now the “bigger segment”.
Written by Harveer Sahni, Managing Director, Weldon Celloplast Limited, New Delhi-110008 April, 2012