Online label printing: label print providers under the microscope

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Packaging and labeling are without doubt the current boom markets in the online print industry. I have taken a look at the available ranges of labels that can be configured and ordered online. Conclusion – It’s difficult to see your way clear through the jungle of offerings. Time to get a handle on what’s available and what makes sense.

Who provides what?

During the course of my research I came across several print providers, who do not operate online stores, although they specialize in labels. Actually that’s a pity, because these specialists are passing up an important direct distribution channel to potential buyers. The latter would initially have to make do with enquiring by phone or e-mail to these specialist providers. It is arguable whether other non-niche providers can provide applications at this level of sophistication. I have focused on adhesive labels, which are produced on foil or paper by the reel.

The major online print providers treat label printing as just one of their many B2B and B2C lines. Label print is classified as a new product category at wir-machen-druck.de, but labels can still be ordered in various different formats and shapes, both on paper and foil. flyeralarm.de charges around 100€, which is roughly twice the wir-machen-druck.de price, for a similar label configuration (quantity – 2500, paper, size – 8.5 x 5.5cm, standard 4C), although the delivery lead time is almost twice as long, despite the higher price. print24.de has the same pricing as flyeralarm.de for the same configuration. It too offers foil and paper labels. Not all of the major players offer the choice of ordering both weather-proof foil labels and paper-based labels (more suitable for “indoor” use); print24.de and diedruckerei.de, for example, “only” offer paper labels. There is still a choice of basic options like data checking and express shipping, like for other products. Labels are usually printed on foil using the UV inkjet printing method, if 4C scale-matched is all that’s required; flexographic or offset printing are often used for non-standard colors.

All of the major online print providers appear to offer labels on reels with the trim or matrix already removed. This enables adhesive labels to be delivered and then finished straightaway, if required. Can you choose your own to-specification shapes? No chance – these (comparatively) inexpensive prices mean that buyers ultimately (with a few exceptions) only get a meager choice of shapes. In terms of costs the major online print providers are the pioneers here, although labels aren’t really appealingly showcased in these stores, if at all. However the print24.de example demonstrates that the major providers also offer more options in terms of choice of materials, colors and other features.

Quelle: print24.de
Source: print24.de

This site offers a choice of various paper-based substrates and specific sizes (special formats). However buyers, who order regularly and have more sophisticated requirements in terms of (custom) label shape configuration, tend to go with solutions provided by specialists.

Label print “only”

However I was indeed able to find a number of label print specialists: e.g. etikett.de (which is even mobile-friendly), e-tikett.de and labelprint24.com. They have committed to the B2B business and operate using closed stores. If you consider the stores and the choice of label versions available, you soon realize that these providers are professionals. While the usual suspects tend to compete on the strength of their broad product ranges, these label specialists score points by offering material variety and a range of finishing options in their core segment. Here potential customers find example images as well as plenty of content that explains the ordering process, production and delivery. The layout at etikett.de is clear and comprehensible and provides great access to the store. At etikett.de labels are produced on sheets or reels, using either offset print or on HP Indigo presses; other types of label, such as wet glue labels, are also available depending on the required application, which enables the Rhineland-Palatinate-based label print provider to target customers from various industries.

Quelle: etikett.de
Source: etikett.de

You can calculate what your multi-substrate order is going to cost online, without needing to log in here either. The image above shows the wide range of substrates available, just for on-reel adhesive labels alone. In addition to the standard range of color options (4C, 4C + special color, black “only”), you can also select just non-standard colors, which can be particularly important for business customers’ corporate design. Mind you, this choice and expertise are reflected in the prices charged. If you were to configure the order as above (comparable with the other offerings), then we are talking a whole different pricing ballgame. But if we take a look at the quantity-based pricing scales, we can clearly see that the focus is on B2B and larger purchase quantities. Proprietary print data can then be added after logging in and only then can grading of various types of substrate be undertaken. If customers also require express production and shipping, that usually incurs a 25% price supplement.

How are these significantly higher prices compared with other providers then justified? The high degree of flexibility with regard to shapes, colors and substrates is what clinches it. According to the 260 reviews submitted to date via Trusted Shops, what was delivered met customers’ exact quality expectations in more than 96% of cases.

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“There are plenty of label providers in the online print segment. Inexpensive offerings are however only attractive from a price point of view – after all there are label print specialists to cater for really sophisticated needs.” – Bernd Zipper

I also liked the offering for the ‘green’ conscience from mail-druck.de. The green label is produced using renewable resources, and is said by the manufacturer to be biodegradable.

Quelle: das-gruene-etikett.de
Source: das-gruene-etikett.de

But you have to find out for yourself what the visual quality of these labels is like. Whether color brilliance and visual density are adequate for every application and customer requirement needs to be assessed on a case-by-case basis. In contrast to the other providers, the green label is produced without using solvents and additives.

My personal favorite (if you disregard the “somewhat chunky” screen design) is labelprint24.com. Stefan Harder, the founder and CEO of the company, has an incredibly large number of products in his portfolio and he is my personal label guru in German-speaking markets. Even complex sandwich labels can be priced online and ordered immediately. But unfortunately I have to say that the store looks to me like it’s an ERP or MIS system that has been placed online. But this is also due to the fact that Harder developed his entire system himself. Store, ERP, production control system – these have all been developed by the company itself. But even if the IT team really is very effective, enhancing the visual appeal and the customer story would be a good idea. Hopefully something will happen on this front.

Source: screenshot labelprint24.com
Source: screenshot labelprint24.com

My take: Finally I should just like to state that there are of course more online label print offerings out there, all of which I can’t possibly list here. That also includes providers operating open stores featuring online editors, but their websites and tools didn’t make a good impression on me. Since I am a fan of specialization and, when considering finishing options and material variety, would expect the specialists to hold a quality advantage, I currently see the specialists out in front in the online label print segment. While business customers have to dig deep into their pockets to some extent, they derive benefits in terms of choice, quality and reliability. And it is certainly cheaper than ordering offline.

Founder and CEO of zipcon consulting GmbH, one of the leading consulting companies for the print and media industry in Central Europe. The technology and strategy consultant and his team actively support practical implementation in a wide variety of customer projects. His work involves developing visions, concepts and strategies for the players active in the print production process across a wide range of industries. His areas of expertise include online print, mass customization, strategy and technological assessment for print, and the development of new strategies in the print and media environment. Bernd Zipper is the creator and chairman of Initiative Online Print e.V. and, in addition to his consulting activities, is an author, lecturer and sought-after speaker, orator and moderator. His visionary lectures are regarded worldwide as trend-setting management recommendations for the print and media industry. (Profiles also in Xing, LinkedIn).

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