Ink World exclusive interview with Gary Seward of Pulse Roll Label Products

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Pulse Roll Label Products celebrated its 20th anniversary in 2021, and looks ahead to a successful, sustainable future

British narrow web ink specialist Pulse Roll Label Products Ltd celebrated its 20 years in business in 2021. The company prides itself on innovating to meet the needs of flexo printers by offering unique solutions that simplify the printing process, saving time and reducing waste. Gary Seward, managing director of Pulse Roll Label Products, recently spoke with Ink World about the company’s past, present and future.

Ink World: What is the history behind Pulse Roll Label Products as well as its ink operations?

Gary Seward: Our story began on 30 May 2001, when Dave Whelan and I founded Pulse Roll Label Products. We wanted to make a difference. The only way we were going to break into a very mature market was by being unique! Our focus was to go above and beyond to identify and satisfy our customers’ needs and expectations through superior product development and exceptional service. We both had strong printing ink backgrounds, so were confident there was room in the market for a new narrow web ink supplier that really cared for its customers. Hence Pulse Roll Label Products was born.

We started out in a small office based in the south-west of England, where we would visit customers in the morning, return to our office and manufacture orders taken from the visits made that day. Business steadily grew and, after two years, our team had increased, and we moved to a bigger premises in Bristol in 2006. Dave emigrated to Canada, leaving me at the helm.

As our UK business grew and our reputation developed, so did our international business. We created new partnerships in export markets and by 2012, due to continued growth in both the UK and overseas markets, we moved to a much larger production facility in in north Bristol, where we are based today. Year-on-year growth has seen us become a major player in the UK narrow web ink market and further develop our footprint in key international markets serving the global label and package printing industry.

Ink World: What are the major markets that Pulse Roll Label Products is focusing on?

Gary Seward: We started out focused on serving the narrow web market, and this strategy remains. It’s enabled us to really understand our customers’ needs.

The global narrow web sector has evolved dramatically in the past two decades and so have we. We’re constantly looking to develop new products and offer solutions that respond to changing needs, whether it’s for conventional UV print or for digital applications. We aim to find solutions that our customers do not yet realise they need!

Today, we supply inks, varnishes and coatings used on labels and packaging for food, beverages, pharma, cosmetics, healthcare, industrial, household products and more. We supply narrow web converters directly in the UK and, via our strong international partnership network, printers in Europe, Middle East & Africa, Asia and Australasia.

Ink World: What have been the keys to Pulse Roll Label Products’ success over the years?

Gary Seward: I think the biggest strength we have is really understanding the narrow web market. I entered the industry in the early 90s when most labels were printed either water-based, solvent-based flexo or UV letterpress. I made my first UV flexo ink in 1992 when UV flexo was unheard of, so coming from the early inception of UV flexo puts us in a unique position to fully understand the process and its limitations that we are constantly pushing.

We believe that everything can be improved. The clever thing is understanding what can be done with a formulation… Our drive to innovate and our determination to push boundaries has been key to our success and firmly remains part of our belief. Customer service, technical support and continuous improvement is at the heart of our business. And we focus our efforts on areas that make the biggest difference to our customers.

Partnership is key and we would not be here today without a great team, and the strong relationships we have developed during the past 20 years with our customers, distributors, suppliers and other industry colleagues and partners.

Ink World: What have been some of the most important highlights for the company, such as receiving The Queen’s Award?

Gary Seward: Winning The Queen’s Award for International Trade and meeting Her Majesty The Queen, and HRH Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh in 2015 was obviously a proud and prestigious moment that recognised our success in developing business overseas!

However, arguably the most important highlights have been where we have developed successful products unique to the global narrow web market.

Changing a customer’s ink supplier is a very big and complicated job, due to the number of different colours the customer has built up over the years. This is due to inconsistent strength and many spot colours. So, we ripped up the rule book and started from scratch by developing a truly unique system.

We are the first and only ink company that has worked out that, to deliver real consistency and true standardisation, you need to remove variables. There are so many in the way everyone else manages colour, so we were brave and developed a range of inks, PureTone, that to use provides total simplicity.

We can now change a printer’s full spot colour library in one to two days rather than six to 12 months! And more importantly, hit these colours with one single anilox so shallow that you can also print halftone and increase speed due to a lower film weight. The biggest benefit to the customer is increased uptime which we calculate to be a saving of approximately £130k per press per year – quite often more than the total ink spend for a printer. Our message is not to focus on the price of ink but the cost to use it!

Another key solution is process printing. With more and more companies needing to match flexo to digital and digital to flexo, the challenge is how can a process set that matches two different targets achieve this? The use of ISO process set makes this possible, although most flexo printers do not currently use shade as a measurement for process printing. The standard measurement is density (strength), but all other print processes use shade and density as a standard through the ISO system. If a printer has digital and flexo, using the same standard for process printing creates repeatable jobs when you switch between UV flexo and digital. Removing the colour variable in process printing is a huge improvement that many companies can benefit from instantly. We developed our PureTone UV flexo ISO process set back in 2017.

Our PurePeel peel and read release varnish was another highlight and product success. Over a decade ago, cationic systems created all kinds of problems for printers including contamination and waste but there were no other alternatives available. We saw the opportunity for improvement and invested in R&D to develop the first-ever free radical UV flexo release varnish. We embraced the challenge to do something that had not been done, setting the industry standard for release varnishes going forward.

We saw similar opportunities to provide a solution for UV matt varnishes, notorious for thickening in the duct during medium to long print runs and that then required a heavy anilox to transfer the product. We developed a range of UV matt varnishes, today part of our PureFinish portfolio, that not only improved print quality but reduced wash-up and press downtimes. The lower anilox volume meant a significant reduction in varnish usage and a smoother finish with faster cure and improved overprintability on foils, high build, and thermal ribbons.

We were also unhappy with the monopoly held over the ink companies by a few metallic manufacturers. The service was not to our level of expectation, so we decided to develop and manufacture our own UV metallics. I think we are still the only company doing this. The benefit is that we have full control of the formula, so therefore we can tailor to our customers’ needs and have better control over the supply chain which is proving invaluable at this current time.

Ink World: What have been the most significant changes in printing that you have witnessed over the last two decades?

Gary Seward: Flexographic printing has evolved significantly in the past 20 years and the greatest changes must be the variety of substrates now used and the complexity of the jobs that are printed, along with digitalisation – not just the growth of digital printing itself but also the adoption of digitised colour management.

With a focus on greater variation and shorter run lengths, significant advances in printing press technology have improved efficiencies and quality to meet increasingly stringent market demands. High-definition printing and developments in repro, inks, anilox and plate technology have all contributed to the advancement of the flexo printing industry.

And the level of sophistication and complex print that can today be achieved with flexo certainly rivals the quality historically only achieved with printing processes such as gravure or litho. Our biggest competitor is digital, so we aim to make flexo efficiency as close as possible.

Ink World: What are Pulse Roll Label Products’ thoughts on its future?

Gary Seward: 2021 was certainly an interesting year, with COVID, Brexit and the unprecedented and ongoing challenges in the global supply chain. However, despite the extraordinary circumstances, Pulse Roll Label Products remains in a fantastic position. Keeping the supply chain moving will be a key focus in 2022 and we remain committed to ensuring continuity of supply for our customers. We also expect demand to increase for more clever products and solutions that save time and reduce waste. We will certainly be playing an active part to work towards a more sustainable future.

Published by Ink World Magazine Online: 6th January 2022

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