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  • Thomas Hardy

Printing Labels in House vs Outsourcing

If you're needing to source labels for the first time, it can be a dilemma deciding on how you should go about getting your labels printed. In this blog post we  breakdown the pros and cons associated with both options - printing your labels in house, or outsourcing to a professional label printer.

Perhaps you are a micro-brewery looking to sell your own branded beer, or a candle company wanting to label up your stock. For point of sale labelling you are likely to have spent a lot of time and money developing designs and a brand, so it's understandable to have anxiety about how your products will look in a retail environment. Your choice of label production is just as important as any other decision, so make sure to do your research.

Please note this article focuses on full colour print, and does not cover thermal transfer printers which have distinct considerations.

Printing Labels In House

What you need:

If you wish to print your labels in house you will typically need to invest in the following, either up-front or during the life-span of the printer:

  • Desktop label printer (£200 to £5,000+)

  • Ink, and other consumables (e.g. replacement print heads)

  • Plain die-cut labels (with a suitable top coat which will be receptive to the printing ink)

  • Label printing software such as Bartender

  • Artwork in a suitable format for print

  • Optional: support contract for maintenance and repairs.

  • Time! This is something which regularly gets overlooked and you should appreciate there will be chunks of time required to clean/calibrate/setup the printer plus time to process the artwork and print the labels themselves.

Inkjet Printer - Crown Labels
Memjet Printer

Desktop printers can typically cost anywhere from a few hundred pounds to a few thousand, with the quality and durability typically increasing the more you spend. One popular choice is the Afinia brand, a type of Memjet technology printer which uses water based inks. It is worth doing your research to check both the print quality, ink durability and ease of use are suitable for your needs.

You should hopefully receive some complementary ink when you purchase the printer, but it's vital to research the cost of the ink and what your potential consumption could be. There's little point trying to save money with a cheaper printer if the cost of ink is considerably more!

Next you will need to purchase some plain die cut labels. Many inkjet printers will require labels to have a special topcoat, designed to help the material accept the ink that's being used. Most standard materials such as plain paper or gloss polypropylene will not work with printers made by companies such as Epson and Afinia.

You will need to understand what label sizes you need; are they stocked by stationers or e-commerce companies or will you need to contact a label company to get a bespoke size made to suit your application? This is an exercise which must be carried out before you invest in the printer, to again help you establish the likely cost per label.

If you are unsure about the market and what to buy, then a Print Expo is a good starting point as it gives you the opportunity to speak to manufacturers and check the print quality of the machines available. It may even be worth contacting the suppliers beforehand and asking if they can print some of your artwork off at the show from a USB stick.

Pros of Inhouse Printing:

  • Fast and responsive turnaround which is particularly useful for unexpected demand patterns.

  • Potentially cheaper for very small orders to avoid high minimum order quantities from a label printer.

  • Mistakes or tweaks can be identified after running just a few labels off through a printer rather than receiving a bulk order after outsourcing.

Cons of Inhouse Printing:

  • High initial expenditure to invest in printers, consumables etc.

  • Quality generally inferior to professional printers and may not be suitable for durable applications (dependent on technology used).

  • For longer runs unit cost are generally higher due to the cost of the inks on desktop printers and pre-coated materials.

  • Printing can be a time consuming process both processing artwork, troubleshooting and printing the labels themselves. Time will be taken away from other job activities in order to print labels.

Outsourcing Label Printing to a Professional Printer

What you need:

If you wish to outsource your label printing you will need to invest in the following:

  • Artwork to provide the printer

  • Print plates and tooling (the label printer will handle these, but will normally charge you)

  • Order values which can have minimums from anywhere between £70 to £100+. If you require test prints as well there is likely to be costs associated with these (not always available if new print plates or tooling are required).

Your new supplier should try to understand from the outset what your application is, what material/adhesive you need, and the best print process they have to suit your needs and budget. They should also be able to check over your artwork and recommend any additional protective finishing options such as varnish or lamination.

For high end labels with metallic embellishment options, then it may also be worth seeing ample labels to help you decide which finish and colours are most likely to suit your brand or product. It also doesn't harm checking out reviews sites like Google or Trustpilot to see if there are any customer testimonials available, as complex product labels which use metallic elements or other embellishments are often very complex.

Different label companies will use different printing presses, software and machinery, so it is often a good idea to stick with one to ensure consistency across your labels. You also don't want to incur plate or tooling charges again by switching to a different supplier.

Embellishment Options - Crown Labels
Embellishment options such as hot foil

Pros of Outsourcing:

  • More embellishment or material options available such as gold foil, textured papers or clear substrates.

  • Generally lower cost per label for medium to large orders.

  • Better print quality.

  • Protective options such as laminates and varnishes.

  • Professional advice.

Cons of Outsourcing:

  • Potentially longer lead time - industry average is around 8-10 working days (Crown Labels is typically only 5-7 working days)

  • High minimum order quantities, which is not suitable for very low volumes.

  • Overprinting may still be required for best before dates etc.

  • Can be high initial one-off charges for cutters/print plates etc.

Conclusion - What is the best option for your labels?

As you can appreciate from the information above, there are a whole host of factors to consider when deciding whether or not to print labels in house or not. We would generally recommend that for all point of sale labelling where the label is the main marketing tool for your brand, you should go for a professional printer. This will allow you to get the best print quality and finish options available to attract new customers. However if the minimum order quantities you've received are too high for your needs, or you need the flexibility of printing on demand, then it could be worth considering a desktop label printer.

For both options though, you must put a realistic figure against the cost per label so you can understand the impact of these labelling costs on your margin. There may also be a swing point from which it is worth switching from printing in house to outsourcing in order to get your label unit cost down.

If you would like any further advice on outsourcing label printing or print in house then please don't hesitate to contact us for more information!

Let's talk about your labels - get in touch for a free quotation!


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