Short run to the future: Global print label trends

| 12 February 2020

Label expo 2019 billed itself as “the world’s largest label and package printing trade show” – and it lived up to the hype. The event, held in Brussels during September this year, drew 600 exhibitors from around the world, showcasing the very latest in label and package printing technologies.

As such, it was a perfect opportunity to spot the latest trends reshaping the label print industry in one place – even if that place stretched across nine halls over four days!

Extended colour gamuts: Most of us are familiar with the conventional four-colour CMYK printing separations – cyan, magenta, yellow and black. With so many product decisions affected by colour, brand owners are embracing the opportunity to print more colours, more easily, using extended colour gamuts (ECG). The new colour process set-up generally adds three more colours.

The wider options allow printers to render brand colours more precisely by specifying the combinations using the new colour gamut.

Sustainability: Consumers across the world now want to know that the products they buy, and the processes used to make them, are as sustainable as possible. Labels are no exception. This means that label printers are manufacturing sustainable labels, featuring top layers that are fully recyclable, and also marine-immersion resistant. Marine-immersion testing is already an established industry, certifying that particular labels will survive long term immersion – for instance, if cargo is lost at sea – so that it will be clear how the contents should be handled for minimal environmental impact.

Smart labels: Far from just providing visual design and information elements, modern labels are now a gateway to a limitless world of digital content. These are accessed through QR codes and next-generation 3D Codes which consumers access by scanning the code through their phones.

Augmented reality: This is another functionality enabled by smartphone technology. Augmented Reality (AR) “Brings Print to Life”, as elements on the label trigger video, animation or other elements, which are viewed through the smartphone screen. With AR, the label is no longer the only showcase for the product, but a platform for a world of compelling content to spark the shopper’s imagination.

Embellishment: The days of the flat, mono-colour label are well and truly over. Today, every client demands some kind of special finishing for their labels – be it lamination, raised varnish, cold or hot foiling, metallic inks or fluorescent inks. Premium is the new normal, and label printers are now expected to add striking print elements to every design to catch consumer’s eye – even for budget products.

Smart bins: As the recycling culture gathers pace, manufacturers and recycling companies are making use of smart  bins that can scan label bar codes and sort  accordingly. Refuse is also compressed using solar power, and  collectors are summoned when bins need emptying.

Some smart bins are even able to make micropayments into the accounts of people disposing of items, according to the value of the packaging disposed of.  

Transparent labels: Some products have unique colours and textures that sell themselves, which calls for clear-film labels that are almost invisible, but nonetheless provide the requisite brand and product information for consumers to make informed choices.   


Colour management software: This technology allows for functions such as “closed loop colour management”, where a press is able to scan and measure the colour on moving paper while the press is in operation. This information is then used to make automatic adjustments to ink density and other measurements. This helps to ensure consistency across the run – one of the great goals of label printing.