India is the second most populous country in the world after China yet it is home to world’s largest youth population. As literacy levels grow, more and more young English speaking people are coming out of schools, colleges and universities seeking gainful employment. These youth on employment, have disposable incomes in their pockets and have made the burgeoning middle class, a powerful buyer segment driving huge demand of consumer products. As demand escalates for food, clothing, medicine and other consumer durables, it spells out a huge need for labels & packaging. There is further impetus to this industry segment as organized retail becomes more widespread across the country. Shop shelves need to look smart so as to tempt the consumers to reach out and lift the product that appeals due to the packaging it adorns.
According to the Ministry of Commerce and Industry and the Indian Institute of packaging, the total market size of packaging industry in India is 24.6 Billion USD growing at the rate of 15% per annum. According to WPO and PIRA(Pira is the worldwide authority on the packaging, paper and print industry supply chains) Printed Cartons is 17 % of the total packaging market amounting to approximately 4.7 Billion US Dollars and labels is a small part of packaging, less than 3 % approximately 850 Million US Dollars which includes all of wet glue labels, self adhesive labels, plain labels, in-mould labels, shrink sleeves, wrap around labels, etc. Personally I estimate the market size of labels in India to be somewhat larger than this.
With growing usage of internet amongst industry and general public, commercial printing has received a setback. In the late seventies or early eighties when Indians visited exhibitions abroad, they carried back large number of catalogues and grudgingly paid huge amounts for excess baggage to airlines. On return they would hardly find time to go through those loads of paper brochures that would lie around on their desks till it was time to go for another exhibition. The new millennium has changed all that. Since all information is available on internet, there is no need to carry the extra baggage any more. To remind one of what all to check later when back home, the mobiles and IPads are handy and one just has speak and record in these devices to retrieve the reminders at a later date. The convenience as it came, saw a very important growing segment of the printing industry i.e. catalogue printing, starting to diminish or vanish. At this time packaging and not commercial printing is seen as the dependable area of growth and in synergy with the work offset printers are used to doing. As long as there is growth in a literate population needing food, clothing and consumer products, obviously the need for packaging and folding cartons will continue to grow steadily.
Jeetubhai of Finearts, who installed
india's the first flatbed Iwasaki label press
In the 1970s and onwards, the self adhesive label printing industry in India was evolving. From its initiation as a product of screen printed process, with time self adhesive label transformed to a product of the offset printing industry and finally registering a change from the sheetfed printing process, it went on to be produced on in-line narrow web presses. Initially in India, labels started to be printed and converted in an in-line operation in roll form on Japanese flatbed letterpress machines with flat-bed die-cutting in reels of widths 100mm or 150mm. Sometime during the 1980s there started a shift from flat bed letterpress printing to Rotary flexo printing and rotary die-cutting in-line in similar widths. Evolving further, towards the end of the last millennium in the 1990s the flexo presses started to get wider in width, from the 150mm size to 250 mm. The wider width and higher speeds due to rotary converting appealed immensely to label printers and thus started the decline in preference for cheaper flat bed presses that were extremely slow and would produce by impressions per minute rather than meters per minute. In an effort to increase productivity, the width of rotary label presses somewhere at the end of 1990s or the beginning of the decade of 2000, got wider to be at 340-370 mm. Even the speed of these presses increased from 300 feet per minute to over 200 meters per minute. Flexographic printing was preferred for line jobs but when high-quality images in halftone were needed, sheet fed offset printing was opted for. In the last few years the quality of flexographic printing, due to development in prepress process improved making it comparable to offset printing. Flexo rotary label printing flourished not only in India but generally across the world. With increased investments in these presses, intense competition was felt by the label printers. This situation called for innovation and creating more decorated and complex labels incorporating different technologies. As a new millennium dawned, a new concept came to the fore when flexo label printers started investing in equipments with multi-process printing and converting. This is also referred to as combination printing or hybrid printing whereby more than one printing, decorating or converting technologies are employed on the same machine to use the finer results from different print processes. Also the new millennium brought with it the change in narrow web label presses to go still wider to 430mm-530 mm.
A combination press at Renault, Palghar. Prints offset, Flexo,
Gravure, Screen, Hot foil, etc. with embossing and
die-cutting  in a single pass.
Once this happened, the range of products that could be converted on these machines also widened, as diverse materials of varying thickness could be handled with automatic registration controls producing a wide range of end products. Innovation and technically designed capabilities of these equipment, presented an alternative for conventional printing and converting of folding cartons to converting in-line in a single pass. This provided further impetus to the narrow web printing industry to go wider hereon. Today we have in-line presses that incorporate diverse printing processes like Offset, Flexo, Screen, Gravure and digital with finishing processes like varnishing, laminating, cold foil, hot foil, embossing, die-cutting, creasing and waste removal all in a single pass on the same machine.
The self adhesive label that is a minuscule part of the packaging industry primarily consists of three main components;
1.       Release Paper
2.       Adhesive
3.       Face Paper
Each of these components, have a whole lot of chemistry and variations as per need and requirement of the label and its application. The converting process consists of printing, decorating, die-cutting or sheeting, waste removal and rewinding for end product in roll form  or stacking in case of sheeted end products.  The evolution of narrow web label presses, to be able to produce a wider range of end products, have prompted the machine builders to innovate and make the machine not only to go wider but also to integrate diverse processes, paving way for conventional sheet fed printing to in-line printing and converting of folding cartons using multiple technologies as also handling different materials of varying thickness. While flexographic printing one can achieve exact pantone shades, offset printing delivers fine skin tones and vignettes, with gravure the impact of metallic inks is decorative, screen printing helps putting a higher deposition of ink so as to achieve the vibrancy of colours and digital can provide variable data as also help make short runs besides proofing . These web presses are now available in widths upto 850mm catering to printers producing folding cartons, flexible packaging and shrink sleeves. Not very long time ago 850 mm was considered as wide web but now it is an extension of the narrow web printing equipment merging with the mid web segment and offering dedicated equipment for the folding carton industry.
A typical Offset press shop floor
If one has to just print a large volume print job, then the conventional offset remains the best option. However given the modern day imperatives of catering to a demanding retail oriented consumer base and pressures coming from a result oriented marketing team, the need for highly decorating capabilities and producing short runs of folding cartons has become a necessity. This requires a lot of multi-process printing, finishing and decorating. It also calls for increased investments in an array of equipments so as to innovate and complement the capabilities of the offset printing press. It makes the life on the offset shop floor time consuming and cumbersome. The requirement of space and difficult to manage manpower goes on increasing as huge stacks of paper need to be moved from machine to machine to achieve the desired results.

For a highly decorated package or carton, incorporating additional security features the following processes and capabilities are preferred to be incorporated in converting operation to create the desired end product:
Flexographic Printing
Offset Printing  
Gravure Printing
Screen Printing
Digital Printing
Front and back printing using a turnbar
Fully automatic register control
Delam-Relam: Delaminating a self adhesive laminate, printing on adhesive and relaminating.
Primer coating for digital printing
Cold foiling
Hot foiling
Adhesive coating in line
Achieving all the above the capabilities in a single sheet fed offset press is not possible. One would require a whole lot of different printing equipment, finishing equipment, large amount of space and a big manpower to achieve this. However all the above processes can be used in creating a package in a “single in-line converting press” in a single pass. To run such a press one needs just 2-3 persons. It becomes extremely convenient to load paper or board reels at the unwind station and getting the finished product at the end of line. For board usage as in case of folding cartons and large volume jobs one can integrate the press with an automatic butt splicer for continuous non-stop production.
The investment may initially appear to be high but when one sees the larger convenience and the project in complete perspective, it becomes interesting. With rising cost of real estate, the space requirement greatly escalates the project cost. Skilled Manpower is not only difficult to source but becoming extremely difficult to retain and manage due to increasing demand for press operators. An in-line printing and converting press reduces the need for a big manpower. Moreover the state of art fully automatic registration systems allows printers to achieve results without much operator intervention. Quick changeovers allow you to have many job changes effectively during a single day. This investment as stated earlier reduces the amount of space needed drastically thereby reducing the investment in real estate and making the project viable.
It is pertinent to note that consistent growth in India has prompted a number of larger printing and packaging companies to invest in these combination or hybrid in-line converting presses. There are others in the process of following suit. In time to come these printers will see the convenience to print and convert in a smaller space with lesser manpower and better capabilities. The make-ready cost that appears to be more at this time for larger runs will either be compensated by the convenience or will reduce with economies of scale in times to come.
Written by Harveer Sahni, Managing Director, Weldon Celloplast Limited New Delhi India exclusively for Narrow Web Tech Germany December 2015. 
The article maybe published with the permission of Narrow WebTech Germany giving credit to them and to the author