Historical initiation!


In 2006 I chronicled the history of self adhesive label in India, to collect inputs from veterans who were the initiators of these products, I went to visit Jeetubhai in Mumbai, the first Indian to start self adhesive label production in roll form in India. Now as I prepared to put together the whole process of evolution from early seventies to now, yet again, I decided to call the grand old man Jeetubhai who is now 78 years old and get his inputs. Yes, he did oblige! When I asked him what technology the industry employed then and where it has reached today. He started laughing and said, “I don’t understand the technology being employed now, it is all different but how we printed then is still fresh in my mind!” He printed on flat bed machines that worked more or less like a rubber stamp but today the flexo rotary printing technology is very advanced and continuously improving. His son and grandson take care of their label printing business which employ flexographic printing techniques and talk about it but Jeetubhai loves to be with what he did in his days. My own experiences from those early times make it easy for me to recall the process used at that time.

The first self adhesive label printed in India was not in roll form but in sheet form,



using screen printing process by Manohar Lal Bhatia. Even the screen process at that time was primitive those days and has transformed dramatically over the years. I can describe it because as a young man I did try it out in my laboratory in the factory with my own hands and printed labels for our consumer products. I also trained my workers on how to do it. Stickers that later transformed into labels, were the forte of screen printers. The pre-press those days was very basic, there were no computers to do the designing. I fondly remember the designer who made the artworks, were referred to as artists, they were the artists in the true sense of the word. They would create a concept in mind and draw it on paper, make a couple of variations and present to the brand owners. Not like today when you just walk to a computer, use designing software and in a few moments we have a design that we can use. Having made the design, there was need to get the type setting done, don’t ask me how all they did that, the youngsters will feel we are from jungles. We had to be the proof readers ourselves and any change, called in for a lot of effort, not like today, just hitting a few keys on the computer. Once the basic design stage was over the vertical cameras were used to produce the bromides which had to be pasted on the card boards alongwith the cuttings of typesetting to arrive at the final artwork.  The cameras were then used to make the negatives. To prepare the screen for printing we needed a wooden frame, a nylon bolting cloth, a thin rope and nails to fix the bolting cloth or the silk screen on the frame. Once the frame was made a solution of Potassium Dichromate in a solution of PVA was coated on this screen and dried in darkness. Once dried, the negative was pasted on it with tape and the frame was kept in sun for an hour to expose the screen. After this it was washed to open the screen. The screen was now ready for printing. If some portion had to have another colour it was blocked by remoistenable paper tapes and later the process reversed to print the blocked matter. The screen would be fastened to a wooden table with a door hinge and a rubber squeeze was used to spread the ink on the screen and print the exposed matter.  Once screen printing was done the paper was turned around and this time again screen printed with an emulsion based pressure sensitive adhesive DM45 supplied by Hoechst Dyes and Chemicals, later by Mafatlal Industries Ltd. These gummed sheets were put in racks to air dry and then release paper was pasted on them. The sheets were then again turned upside and on a glass sheet with help of a shaving blade and a steel rule the stickers were half-cut to produce finished stickers, ready for use. As time went on, all that changed; the wooden frame became that of aluminum, manual screen printing became semi automatic, then automatic and then on to rotary screen. The Potassium Dichromate solution was replaced by state of art photo sensitive films like Five Star from Autotype or Chromaline, the rubber squeezes were replaced by specially formulated polymer ones for different types for desired results. The negative generation came directly from computer to print in matter of minutes! Automatic screen printing of products, paper web and products became all possible.


In 1972, Jeetubhai had already joined hands with his income tax consultant and friend P P Bhagat to form a Company called International Trading Company at Kalyandas Industrial Estate in Worli, to install his Japanese flat bed label press to print labels in roll form. It took him quite an effort that time to get the pre-press done. While the design making and producing the negative/positive process was same as that for screen printing process, yet the complication arose because these machines used copper or zinc blocks to print.
General printers who used the treadle machines were also using such blocks mounted on wooden base but these Japanese machines needed unmounted blocks with much deeper etchings. Jeetubhai had learnt about these requirements during his trip to Japan before the delivery of the machine so he could impress upon the block makers to perfect the technique to produce blocks suitable for his application. Flat bed cutting dies also posed a big problem as the general printers were using dies made with 1” wide blade rule on wooden bases while these machines required a Bakelite base with 8mm blades that were not available in India. “Necessity is the mother of invention” Jeetubhai located a die maker with workshop in Mumbai’s redlight district and who was ready to take the challenge to develop these dies. Jeetubhai spent many late nights in the area sitting in the die-makers workshop trying to get the dies right. They finally used a slotter to cut the 1 inch blade to 8mm and fix on to the Bakelite plate and produce the workable die. Those days Jeetubhai grew a beard so that he would not be recognized for frequenting the redlight area by any acquaintances. His indulgence and persistence paid, Jeetubhai could print and die-cut the labels in roll form.


As more people installed such label presses the infrastructure to support this process
also developed. The block makers at this time could do the colour separation and provide blocks for multicolour line and even halftone jobs. By 1980-81 Surinder Kapur at R K Papers Mumbai, had switched over to Nylo (Polymer) Plates for printing on these flatbed machines. They were also the first company to have installed a plate making machine in-house for captive consumption. Around this time the semi rotary letterpress label press with multiple rolls to spread ink and achieve fine printing had arrived in India. This was followed by the intermittent letterpress and later by full rotary letterpress with servo motors. In 1983 Vinayak Sood of Liddles New Delhi had installed a preowned Mark Andy flexo rotary label press. This was beginning of an era of faster label production up from the slow letterpress technology. Here just one anilox roll would deliver the measured quantity of ink to the polymer plate which in turn would print the image on the paper in a fully rotary continuous process. The printed web was also die-cut in-line at the same speed with the help of solid cutting dies and later by flexible dies mounted on magnetic cylinder. Polymer plates for narrow web label presses were initially not available and had to be imported. The wide web industry was using crude rubber sheet moulded to form the printing plate. As flexo printing evolved polymer plates for flexo printing also became available locally. As for cutting dies; solid dies, magnetic dies and flexible dies are even till this day, largely imported. However there are at least two small scale manufacturers who offer magnetic cylinders and another company in south India, has invested in a project to produce flexible dies. The established label printers still prefer to use imported dies that are reliable and available in three working days of ordering. It was only in 1993 that the first brand new Mark Andy label press was installed by Patel Printing Press in Ahmedabad. I could get some of these vital inputs from an industry veteran, Sudhir Sawant who has been servicing the equipment needs of the industry for long years. Sudhir used to work for EAC Graphics when they were agents for Mark Andy in India. When Heidelberg acquired EAC around 1999, Sudhir started to sell Gallus label presses, later he joined Reifenhauser to sell Gidue label presses. The narrow web flexo technology further evolved into UV flexo when Amar Chhajed at Webtech Mumbai, bought the first all UV Mark Andy in 1999. This facilitated printing with specially formulated UV inks which dried on exposure to UV light from UV lamps. Filmic label production got a shot in arm with the arrival of this technology. Amar has many firsts to his credit, he installed the first MIS in the narrow web label industry, specialized software from Shuttleworth dedicated to the print industry. He was also the first one in this industry to install an AVT defect detection systems.  He followed it up by being the first label printer to install a computer to polymer plate making system from Kodak for captive use. Originally the flexo printing was very elementary and did not match up to the standards of offset. It was only after 1990 that advances have been made to the quality of flexographic printing presses, printing plates and printing inks. Most of the development in flexographic printing is attributed to photopolymer printing plates, including improvements to the plate material and the method of plate creation. Digital computer to plate systems has done well for the industry. Companies like Asahi Photoproducts, AV Flexologic, Dupont, MacDermid, Kodak and Esko have pioneered the latest technologies, with advances in fast washout and the latest screening technology. In India the credit for upgrading and bringing flexo printing to a quality almost similar to that of offset, goes largely to Dupont and Esko  I received a important inputs from Prasenjit Das, Sales manager at Dupont Packaging Graphics and Shrihari Rao, Sales Director at Esko, I reproduce their inputs as written by them below;
Prasenjit Das:
DuPont has always been in the forefront when it comes to leading the flexo industry, by introducing and upgrading the technology in the area of plate making. It all started in 1975 when DuPont 1st introduced Cyrel* Photo-polymer Plates to the world. From that day till today the journey never stopped. The same has influenced Indian flexo printing industry as well. :
  • In mid 90's DuPont Cyrel* Plates were introduced in India. At that time it was in the form of analog plate.
  • In 2002 Numex Blocks, Mumbai bought the 1st CDI (Cyrel* Digital Imager) in India and thus DuPont introduces digital plates in India, which brought revolution in high quality flexo printing in India as well.
  • In 2006 DuPont introduced its revolutionary technology Cyrel* Fast in India when the 1st unit was installed in Color Dot, Chennai. Today we have more than 10 installations in the Indian sub-Continent.
  • Meanwhile DuPont introduced plates like HIQS, DPR, NOWS in solvent and DFQ, DFM in Fast (thermal) portfolio, targeting label and flexible packaging of India.
  • And the Journey continues :
Shrihari Rao;
India moved from conventional Flexo to Digital Flexo (Standard resolution) way back
in 2002 with NUMEX being the first to invest in ESKO CDI 2530 – Digital imager with the workflow (Software). It took a while for the momentum to catch up as the demand for high quality, also the cost of digital plates did not justify/boost the growth of Digital Flexo. However still, NUMEX’s consistent push and education in the market with industry leaders like ESKO and DuPont started yielding results in 2004 when NUMEX upgraded to a bigger size CDI 4835. COLORDOT – Chennai and VEEPEE – Bangalore, were the next to invest in ESKO’s CDI 4835.  From 2005 many new SERVO based presses started its foothold in India raising the need for Quality plates.
Pinmark, Shilp Gravure, Creative Graphics and other FLEXO trade shops,  followed the suite with ESKO and alternate solutions. Today, all the major Quality driven trade shops in India are on ESKO CDI technology and HD Flexo. VEEPEE (serving PragatiPack) has just installed the latest and greatest from ESKO moving to HD Flexo Ver 2 with in-line UV2.  NUMEX installed the first of its kind in South Asia – a Digital imager with SLEEVE and PLATE possibilities.
New entrants like System Flexo, SAI Enterprises have invested in ESKO CDI technology because of the vast FLEXO experience that ESKO and DuPont brings to the Label/Flexo markets. Captive investments were made by forward looking Label printers like WINTEK, WEBTECH, SELJEGAT, EIH PRESS, REYNDERS, ZIRCON, ANY GRAPHICS, REGAL CREATIVE, ESSEL PROPACK, 3D TECHNO PACK, etc. ZIRCON & WINTEK were the first two companies to be HD CERTIFIED. ESKO developed CDI in the year 1996 and since then the product has gone through several phases of development. Today SHILP GRAVURE, who was the first ESKO customers in India (1997), have upgraded to the latest and greatest from ESKO (CDI 4260 with HD FLEXO) without change in technology – Completely investment protected.
To conclude, we must say that Esko’s CDIs with HD Flexo has brought the quality levels of label printing in India to the next level matching Gravure and Offset quality.
The label industry in India found a new direction when New Delhi based Goodwork company installed the first combination press Gallus with in-line rotary screen printing alongwith flexo printing. As we entered the new millennium in 2000, young Chandan Khanna at Ajanta Packaging, coming from a family of seasoned offset printers announced installation of India’s first waterless offset intermittent label press at their Daman factory. It was natural that coming from a family so involved in offset printing, he preferred to indulge into label printing with the same technology. As more and more offset printers started to romance with the self adhesive label industry, the concept of inline converting attained a new meaning. Offset printers are used to moving their material around their factories for different processes. Shifting stacks of sheets from printing to foiling, to varnishing to embossing to lamination, to die-cutting, etc. is or was an accepted process. When the offset printers indulged in label conversion they realized the convenience of in line converting. On the other hand the label printers wanting to expand into packaging wanted their manufacturing to deliver like in labels, all in a single pass! These wishes and aspirations brought about the demand and installations of combination presses having decorative capabilities to finish the product in line in a single pass. Established offset printers opted for combination presses. Veekay graphics in Mumbai opted for a flexo with offset capabilities.
The culmination of all this was announced with Pragatipack Hyderabad installing an
Omet Varyflex with capabilities to print flexo, Rotogravure, cold foil, hot foil, emboss, automatic register control, die-cut and sheet. Printers like Zircon have followed it up with even advanced features. Taking the industry a step ahead, ETI converting in Canada has signed up with a printer in India to produce linerless labels.
The last two editions of Labelexpo Europe at Brussels and then Drupa this year indicate the move of print from conventional to digital. Benny Landa’s show at Drupa got printers across the various segment wondering when his “Nanography” will impact the print industry to become the preferred print technology.
I witnessed EFI Jetrion at Drupa and wonder how soon this technology for making
labels will overtake the present trends. The Jetrion is a plate less and tool less converting technology. It converts the labelstock with command from computer to print, die cut, remove waste matrix, laminate and rewind. It provides the option of higher speed shorter runs, separating the different labels with a turret rewinding system. Gone is the need for making artworks on paper, converting them into, negatives or positives, making screen or block or plates. It is just designing on a computer screen and giving the command to deliver labels. You can deliver while the customer is waiting at your office! Indian label printers like Janus and Webtech have installed digital label presses. There are others who have followed their footsteps but this technology has yet to take off in India. The technologies continue to evolve while the printers and the machine builders need to keep on developing new processes. The contribution of the likes of Manohar Lal Bhatia and Jeetubhai has to be acknowledged as the pioneering work they initiated, brought the label industry in India to this level of evolution. The integration of new and diverse innovative printing and converting technologies to print, decorate and finish in-line in a single pass has been steadily accepted and patronized by the Indian label industry.
Written by Harveer Sahni, Managing Director, Weldon Celloplast Limited, New Delhi-110008 September, 2012 For purpose of adaptation and space constraints, the above article was edited and published in FlexoTech Magazine of Whitmar Publications Ltd. published from Kent UK. To read the published version, please click on the link below;
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