Print label machines have come a long way now, more than four hundred years later than when the first recorded labels came into existence. The very first variety was perhaps on hand-made paper or images cut on metal or wood. Perhaps a simple screw mechanism or hand press must have applied pressure for the impressions.

A major change happened two hundred years later, when iron lever systems replaced the hand presses for pressure application. However, the one thing that still remained unchanged was the handmade paper.

It wasn’t until the industrial revolution in the 19th century when the first structure of the print label industry took shape. Let’s take a closer look at how our printing world evolved to what it is now from its birth.

The 1800s

By the late 1800s, we had seen coated paper, color printing and the halftone process already in shape. About the same time, a whole new world of label market applications was also materializing, which were due to launch in the early 19th century.

By the time the 19th century set in, the world was experiencing and benefiting from exciting new inventions. These included:

  • Automatic volume productions of bottle filling lines,
  • Standard-sized glass bottles
  • Labels on luggage
  • Labels on boxes
  • A rapid boost in pharmacy products
  • Labels on bands and cigar boxes
  • Matchbox labels etc

By the start of this century, all of these labels were printing on letterpress presses and sheet-fed offset. All these significant changes were happening because of the industrial revolution. This same revolution gave birth to inventions like the steam powered cylinder printing presses, papermaking machines and lots more.

Self-Adhesive Labels

It wasn’t until the 1930s when the first adhesive labels came into shape. R. Stanton Avery invented these and these early labels were very similar to the labels that we can now relate to. The labels were on a paper with an adhesive coating and covered with a silicone-coating liner.

The very first machine that Avery invented comprised of spare parts and rubber plates that were flexible. This machine produced pre-printed labels but for these, people required a pencil, pen or typewriter.

This trend continued for a while and along the years came the combination process presses, hot foil, narrow web screen and UV-curable inks. There was also some technological advancement during this time that gave birth to the plate-making technology.

Around fifty or so years later computers began to make a difference and the real growth of printer label industry began from there. In 1981, printers came into existence with the help of computers and soon the inkjet printer and later the laser printer followed.

By 1984, the technological progress of the printing industry had launched in full swing and has maintained a steady pace since more than thirty years. By this time, labels were no longer a pre-printed expensive option or a hand-written homegrown solution.

Avery’s company had modernized to such an extent by this time that it combined Microsoft’s Word application with it to provide an easy solution for all. By now, everyone and anyone had access to printing a label, at any place and any time as they needed.

90s Set the Wheels in Motion

Once the industry and the world became more familiar with computers and their uses, they saw the many ways they could use it. Soon industry experts realized how many possibilities in printing and labeling computers presented them with and got to work.

By 80s and 90s, Peak Technologies and other companies set the printing wheels in action and helped other businesses benefit too. They introduced a range of options that could implement printing solutions that all businesses could massively benefit from.

From this point onwards, the evolution and rapid growth of the label printing world never stopped. We saw some of the most popular tools come into existence one after the other in the market.

These included:

  • In 1867, Lord Kelvin invented the Inkjet printers in UK. It was in the shape of a siphon recorder that recorded telegraph signals on paper and a magnetic coil deflected it. This was the very first Inkjet printer.
  • In 1925, Rudolf Hell invented the first teletypewriter and the technology was soon titled Dot Matrix Printers.
  • In 1976, IBM launched the first commercial laser printer. Its first personal-sized version came in 1984 as 300 dpi.
  • In 1981, The SATO Corporation of Japan gave us thermal transfer printers. The first model was the SATO M-2311
  • In 1991, we saw the first form of digital printing. This was the first model that eliminated the need for printing plates in the industry. It meant that people could now easily adapt label designs and generate them on demand.

The Present Label Printing Status

It wouldn’t be wrong to say that presently, all printing is happening in the form of digital printing. There is either software or the printer technology that is driving your form design and label on demand. At most, the updates we can expect in technologies will be more new digital applications.

For instance, Inkjet printers are currently employing long-lasting print heads that drive cost-effectiveness, speed and quality of a laser printer. The latest options in labels include newer designs and more creativity in applying labels to more places. You will now see more labels directly engraved in metal or on product packages etc.

While the decision to invest in a press was relatively simple and straightforward in the past, today there are more factors to consider. From added-value finishing options, new control technology requirements, output speed demand etc. there are endless things to consider.

Today, every press manufacturer has their own variation in technology and solutions on offer for all. Such has been the unstopping and magnificent evolution of label printers.

Final Thoughts

The past fifty years have proved highly fruitful and successful for the label printing industry. There have been more technological advancements and processes that have made label printing more modernized, accessible, accurate and efficient.

Even today, new models and makes for label presses are in process, and even more advanced printing machinery will soon be taking over the world. For those on the verge of updating their printer fleet, it is a great idea to first look at the newer processes and technologies that have come into being.