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North Bay Business Journal

Monday, November 12, 2007, 3:00 am

Paragon Label goes digital

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    Speed remains issue, but printers, vintners like customization

    PETALUMA — Paragon Label has acquired a digital offset label printing press to meet increasing demand from vintners for easily customizable novel or exclusive packaging.

    Digital offset printing for roll-based sticker-type labels has been gaining attention in the past several years as a solution for small wineries needing less than 50,000 labels printed at a time, but the customization potential of the format is attracting attention from large wine producers, according to Paragon Label President Jason Grossman.

    “Many work with a label for a year or two and then cycle brands,” he said. “There is interest in printing labels based on the vineyard rows – something now possible as more vineyard managers use GPS – where the wine comes from or personalized labels with people’s names.”

    Paragon Label has leased one of HP’s latest Indigo roll-label presses, a Web Stream 4050, and plans to have it operational in early December at the 110,000-square-foot Petaluma facility shared with sister company Mrs. Grossman’s Paper Co.

    In conjunction with the digital press, Paragon Label also has added a third foil stamping unit and two more press operators. The plant also has seven flexographic presses.

    The company has been offering digital offset printing quietly to customers for the past four years by outsourcing the presswork to California printers with such presses. However, requests for embossing, decorative coatings, foil stamping and intricate laser die-cutting on digital jobs as well as advances in printing accuracy by the dominant manufacturer of such presses persuaded the company to take this work in-house, according to Mr. Grossman.

    The new press had the print-registration precision needed for moving printed labels to more economical equipment not attached to the press and to have embossing, foil-stamping and the company’s unique laser die-cutting line up accurately, according to Mr. Grossman. The upgrade also allows ink changes in the cabinet below the press without stopping the press.

    However, Paragon Label is leasing the press because, along with other wine-label printers, it is waiting for the production speed to be doubled in addition to increases in resolution to allow digital offset to start to replace traditional waterless offset presses.

    Label printers report that HP has been telling them a speedier press could be released as soon as a year from now.

    Jeff O’Reilly, vice president of HP North American Indigo label printer sales, said no timetable has been put forward but some speed increases are in the works for forthcoming upgrades.

    Paragon Label has found that roll-to-roll press speed for full-color or multicolor high-end labels on the ws4050 is 54 feet per minute, with two-color speed at 80 to 100 feet per minute.

    The Indigo roll-label print speed, one of the few remaining hurdles for the technology, hasn’t increased for five years, despite advances in computer processing speed, according to other local wine-label printers.

    “We need it to hit 100 feet per minute, but if it reaches 80 we’d run numbers on it,” said Matt Schwanebeck, sales and marketing manager for Metropolis Label, whose Canadian parent, Metro Label Group, has two ws4000 presses in Vancouver, British Columbia. The company is ready to upgrade when the speed increases.

    HP’s Mr. O’Reilly said the company calculates breakeven for the machines at 4,000 to 6,000 linear feet of labels per job, and three-quarters of wine-label jobs are shorter than 7,000 linear feet.

    Canada-based Tapp Technologies has had two Indigo ws4000 presses at its Napa plant for four years and in that time has enjoyed a 10-fold increase in the number of digital jobs, according to Vice President and General Manager Bill Knopka.

    “Our business on the digital presses is one of the fastest growing parts of our business,” he said.

    The company recently won first-place awards from HP for its Indigo jobs for Sonoma-based St. Francis Winery’s Artisan label and the Artiste-Sunny label for a Central Coast vintner.

    Tapp has six traditional offset presses and a flexo press at its headquarters facility and currently has two digital-print shifts in Napa working six days a week at peak times and five days a week in off periods to keep up with demand at the slow press speed, according to Mr. Knopka.

    John Henry Packaging, the nation’s fifth-largest flexo printer with 60 presses in a dozen locations, has two Indigo presses at its Michigan headquarters and plans to add a third next year, according to Dan Welty, head of the Petaluma-based digital-print sales team.

    Nearly half its digital jobs come from the wine industry, especially from four-dozen major U.S. microcrushers, such as Crushpad in San Francisco. Wine industry interest in digital printing may increase soon, in light of reports about counterfeit bottles of high-end European wine, Mr. Welty speculated.

    “North American wineries are not taking risks to brand security that seriously yet,” he said.

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