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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.