Elusive "Perfect Proof"
The packaging industry, just as commercial printing before us, is steadily moving towards totally digital workflows. Despite the drawbacks, we are currently employing dozens of different types of digital proofing systems. In terms of price/performance ratios, we can categorize those systems into three major product groups from the most to least expensive: digital halftone systems; continuous inkjet systems; and drop-on-demand inkjet systems.
Digital halftone systems use high-resolution lasers to image pre-coated, transferable color sheets. For example, the Spectrum devices from CreoScitex are capable of imaging Imation Matchprint, Kodak Approval, and DuPont Digital Halftone Proofing media. While these systems offer the most exacting digital image fidelity and true halftone reproduction, the number of spot colors that can be shown is still limited.
More affordable, continuous inkjet systems like the IRIS, Imation 4700, and Digital WaterProof do not render actual halftone dots, and must simulate spot color from a palette of only yellow, magenta, cyan, and black inks. On the plus side, however, these systems can offer a complete set of digital prepress color management tools. The Digital Waterproof system, for instance, boasts support for inbound and outbound ICC profiling, SWOP certification, and Pantone Hexachrome certification.
Features like those allow the Digital WaterProof system to be characterized (within the limits of its color gamut) to simulate many printing and proofing processes. Additionally, the device can be calibrated (to varying degrees of accuracy) to ensure consis- tency from proof-to-proof and from device-to-devicea must for multi-plant color communication.
At the lowest end of the market are the drop-on-demand (DOD) inkjet systems, such as the Hewlett Packard, Canon, and Epson desktop engines. Product Manager John Malloy says DuPont has entered into an exclusive agreement with Epson to take this low-cost, very accessible technology out of the "pleasing color" market and into more serious applications.