- March 01, 1996, Simonsis, Yolanda
Fast Track Labels, unlike some larger competitors, thrives on short runs with the help of versatile hot stamping equipment from Kensol/Franklin.
Move over, silk screen and flexo! Make room for a new generation of hot stamping equipment that does a lot more than just hot stamping on labels! For runs as low as 250 up to 50,000, Fast Track Labels in Huntington Beach, CA, is having tremendous success in manufacturing not only retail stickers, its primary product line, but also the tamper-resistant packaging that contains the stickers. The equipment isn't limited to just hot stamping, either. Fast Track can also laminate, fold, score, and die-cut - all on one machine: the Kensol/Franklin Series 164/268 hot stamp printer.
Early in 1995 Steve Stearns, owner of Fast Track Labels, CA, quickly caught on to the fad of "Euro-style" labels that were being popularized along the affluent West Coast beach communities among the 18-30-year-old crowd. These stickers imitate auto decals seen on European cars that indicate the country of origin and the language spoken by its driver. The beach communities adopted their own abbreviated "codes" to identify the location from which the car and its driver originated. Essentially, the West Coast stickers act as a competitive status symbol - so glitz and shine go a long way in making these labels even more attractive and fun to use.
Stearns also saw the potential for expanding the product line from city "status codes" (HB stands for Huntington Beach; M for Malibu, V for Venice, etc.) to include brief and punchy sayings that might be favored by bumper sticker aficionados. Among them were BD for beer drinker, MB for more beer, and the list goes on. Although Stearns admits that the fad first started in California, he now receives orders for similar stickers in Florida, Brooklyn, and many towns between.
After recognizing the potential demand in this very specialized market, the next step for Stearns was to design the product and determine a workable number of sticker designs. With the help of an outside graphic artist, Christie Roberts, and with Fast Track's own Power Macintosh creating the designs, the converter developed the sticker design as well as the packaging, which includes a header card (supplied by Westkote) with a poly bag (supplied by BII Packaging). All labels and header cards are produced on Fast Track's Kensol/Franklin 164/268.
The Production Process
Sticker production on the Franklin involves first outputting a Macintosh-generated image on Linotronics equipment at Huntington Valley Press. This is then taken to Santa Ana Engraving to produce a magnesium die for stamping purposes on the Franklin. Stamping foils, provided by West Foils, are available in various colors and releases, which are dictated by the stock required for the application. (A #4 release is generally used for acetates, vinyls, and krome-coated label stock; the header card stock used to package the labels requires an easier #6 release.)
As the 4-mil vinyl label material from Westkote enters the Franklin 164, a black pigmented foil for the lettering is laid down, followed by a prismatic silver border around the black. This printed construction is then laminated on the Franklin with a 1-mil, pressure-sensitive-coated polyester (also from Westkote). The matrix is then stripped away, followed by sheeting down to individual 7x5-in. sheets of labels. All processes are completed in one pass.
The next hurdle for Stearns involved the production of the header card, a 5x5-in., 10-pt cardstock (again from Westkote) folded to 5 x 2.5 in. At first Stearns thought an outside printer would be required to handle this part of the job. However, with the help of Westkote's Jack Estes, it was decided the Franklin could, indeed, handle this part of the operation as well. For this job, in one pass the Franklin stamps four colors, applies a universal product code, die-scores the fold line, die-cuts the J hook hole (with dies from Baker Die Works), and sheets the card to a 5-in. length. Production speeds exceed 6,000 parts/hour, and, says Stearns, "We can achieve a much richer product than could be done by a conventional offset printer."
Standard machine specs on the Series 164/268 include two fully adjustable 6x8-in. print stations as well as a fully adjustable 6x8-in. steel role die-cut station, electronic reregistration, and electronic web-feed control with laminating for web widths to 7 in. and lengths to 10,000 ft. A variable-speed controller permits 1,500 to 6,500 cycles/hour.
Stearns notes, "The machine can pull material through as fast as eight inches per second, running beer coaster stock; pogs; labels in all shapes, sizes, and stocks; header cards; and even refrigerator magnets. Maintaining register is accomplished through the tractor feed that's accurate to 1/1,000 of an inch and an electronic eye."
The most costly part of the production process, according to Stearns, is making the plate change. "We gang our dies - usually 24 sets of plates at a time - so that it's not that costly. The most time-consuming part is the ten minutes per job required to change plates. If you do numerous short runs, it can represent a lot of downtime. For Fast Track, usually the stock and colored foils stay the same for the Euro-style labels. This helps facilitate production.
"We do everything on the Franklin," explains Stearns. "We do a lot of custom label work that can require up to seven colors. This custom work is probably responsible for a lot of our financial success, but it's not really our focus.
"The Franklin is like our little baby," Stearns proudly asserts. "It would really be serious if it broke down one day. That's why we're thinking of purchasing a second Franklin 164."
Kensol/Franklin Hot Stamping Machines, a Foilmark Inc. affiliated co., Norwood, MA; ph: 617/769-5800; fax: 617/762-5179.
Santa Ana Engraving, Santa Ana, CA; ph: 714/547-7161; fax: 714/547-0165.
West Foils, Newberry Pk., CA; ph: 805/499-8896; fax: 805/498-4894.
Westkote, City of Commerce, CA; ph: 213/726-2430; fax: 213/722-1201.
BII Packaging, Huntington Beach, CA: ph: 714/379-1330; fax: 714/379-1335.
Huntington Valley Press, Huntington Beach, CA; ph: 714/848-0088; fax: 714/847-5923.
Baker Die Works, Corona, CA; ph/fax: 909/735-5701.