40 Years of Labelexpo: A Showcase for Innovation & Change

In May 1980, a fledgling new exhibition dedicated to the labels, labeling, marking and identification industries was held in the Old Horticultural Halls in London. Its name was Labelex ’80.

It had just 44 exhibitors made up of label converters, label and marking machinery, and label materials suppliers, including Fasson self-adhesive label substrates.

Labelexpo Europe 2019 logo
The following year, a second Labelex show was again held in London. This time, with some 60 exhibitors, but now with visitors coming from more than 30 different countries: such was the interest in the opportunities and markets to be found in the fast-growing world of self-adhesive labels. Driven by rapid expansion in the use of retail scanning checkouts in both North America and Europe, the demand for higher-quality UPC and EAN barcoded labels created annual volume label growth well into the double digits.

The business forms industry was also experiencing rapid volume growth for fan-folded labels that could be processed through dot-matrix printers and copiers for mass mailing of documents. All of these developments in the worlds of retail and commerce meant that conventional wet-glue and gummed label printers, as well as business forms printers, were all looking to move into self-adhesive label production and were desperate for as much information and knowledge as could be obtained.

Labelexpo Historical Milestones

In 1982, the original small dedicated London-based label show had been re-named Labelex International and now took place in Birmingham. By 1985, the very first Labelexpo Europe was being held at the downtown Rogier Center in Brussels. Major exhibitors by now included Mark Andy, Nilpeter, Webtron, Ko-Pack, Edale and FSK. Working label machinery, both flexo and rotary letterpress, were now standard features of the label shows. The visitor base increased rapidly.

A second Labelexpo Europe was held in the same venue in 1987, with around 80 exhibitors and nearly 5,000 visitors from 38 countries. Almost all the major label press manufacturers and ancillary suppliers were by now regular participants. It was then decided that Labelexpo Europe 1989, now well established as a biennial show, would be moved to the Parc des Expositions center in Brussels, still the home of the European show to this day. This proved to be a major success, attracting visitors from 49 countries—some 5,000+ people. More than 40 different makes and models of working label printing machinery could be seen.

An aerial shot from Labelexpo Europe 2011.
All photos courtesy of Labelexpo Global Series

The move to the Parc des Expositions really cemented Labelexpo Europe as the leading global event for the label and related industries. Today, what started as a small niche show in London in 1980 now attracts more than 600 exhibitors and in excess of 35,000 visitors. Everything they see is related to label and narrow-to-mid-web production. No other show can provide such an experience—and this is all backed up with specialist master classes, workshops and feature areas.

Labelexpo is, of course, not just a European show. The first Labelexpo Americas was held in 1989 and since 2000 has too been a biennial show at the Donald E. Stephens Convention Center in Rosemont, IL and co-sponsored by TLMI.

Biennial Labelexpo shows are now also held in China, India and Thailand, while others over the years have been held in Singapore, Australia and Russia. Labelexpo today is a truly global brand in its own right that has been at the forefront of almost every major development in the world of labels over the past 40 years, and more recently flexible packaging.

So what impact have these dedicated label shows had on the label industry over the past 40 years?

Decoding the Decades: An Overview of Trends & Developments


  • Rapid growth of retail barcode scanning checkouts and the demand for high-quality readable barcode labels stimulated demand for new self-adhesive label materials and technology
  • Volume requirements for labels during this period were in the double digits and faster, quicker setup and changeover presses were being designed and built
  • Advances in flexo technology saw the introduction of chambered doctor blades and the use of laser-engraved ceramic rolls
  • Rotary screen integration into flexo and letterpress presses now became feasible
  • UV flexo inks were introduced


  • Volume growth for self-adhesive labels continued, bringing key advances in flexo plates, anilox rollers and inks. Electronic/computerized label design and prepress technology changed the way labels were created on screen
  • The first laser diecutting machines for labels were being demonstrated
  • Awareness of electrophotographic liquid and dry toner presses created growing interest in digital printing by brand owners and label converters
  • The combination of flexo and hot-foil printing in one press line opened new possibilities for added-value label solutions
  • The first hybrid presses were introduced, but proved slow to gain acceptance


  • The next generations of more sophisticated hybrid presses were starting to be shown
  • HP Indigo and Xeikon launched digital toner machines that were re-engineered and built like label presses, creating rapid growth and stimulating investment and demand for digital electrophotographic label printing
  • UV flexo and digital become the key growth technologies of the decade
  • A proliferation of inkjet press manufacturers launched ever-more sophisticated digital label presses and the market for inkjet started to grow
  • Servo-drive technology, the first steps in press automation and closed loop inspection, became widely available on machines from the leading press manufacturers


  • Inkjet label printing continues to gain ground with more presses coming into the market. Hybrid flexo/digital presses now being seen as having an important role in creativity and adding value
  • Management information systems (MIS) and workflow automation become critical for reducing press downtime and time to market
  • Pressures on converters to reduce waste, be more environmentally aware, cut emissions, use recycled or recyclable materials, etc., continue to grow
  • Label converters become increasingly interested in and diversify into flexo shrink sleeve and flexible packaging applications
  • Automation is a key feature of plate-imaging systems