How Digital Color Promotes Sustainability
You know the slogan – Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. It dates back in the 1970s when Earth Day was founded, and sustainability legislation was enacted to increase recycling and conservation. Fast forward a few decades and this phrase, now known as the 3Rs, has inspired and educated generations of people on the importance of protecting our planet. These three simple words have significantly influenced society, shifting our collective consciousness to embrace sustainability.
Brands and their printed packaging suppliers have embraced the 3Rs by designing packaging with sustainability in mind. This goes beyond developing new sustainable, recycled, or biobased materials. It also means examining the entire design to production workflow and understating how even small changes can make a big environmental impact.
It’s estimated that color accounts for 60% of consumer rejection at the shelf. If the packaging color is ‘off,’ it not only costs brands and packaging printers money, it also impacts the environment through wasted energy as well as materials and inks that fill landfills with scrap.
If sustainability is important to your company, a great place to start making changes is within your color workflow. Moving to a digital color workflow can help brands and label and package converters and printers reach their sustainability goals while also improving overall color consistency. Here’s how.
Reduce Waste with Digital Color Standards
If you are assessing color visually, it can take multiple print runs to get to approved color and still leave room for error. That’s because color is subjective and can be influenced by lighting, surrounding colors, and even what a person ate or drank. It’s an inefficient process. Errors can occur at any step in the prepress, formulation, and production processes, which drives up waste and rework.
Digitally communicating color with spectral data removes this subjectivity. It helps designers share color intent and specifications, while setting clear requirements across the print supply chain. Establishing a digital color standard should be the first step towards a sustainable workflow.
When color standards are created using spectral values and shared digitally, printers have more efficient make-readies resulting in less waste. For brands and their printed packaging suppliers, digital color standards can even eliminate the need for onsite press approvals. This can save on travel expenses and reduce a brand’s carbon footprint.
Eliminate Physical Color Drawdowns
Brands and their designers often request an ink drawdown of a color on the same material as the final package or printed product. This is done because base materials vary in color. Because printing inks are transparent, the substrate will show through and affect the final color. If you are using a visual workflow, drawdowns are a reasonable requirement to ensure the desired color can be produced. However, these physical samples create additional costs and waste and are carbon-intensive to produce and ship. More importantly, they don’t align with sustainability goals.
Digital color tools such as PantoneLIVE, a cloud-based tool for digital color communication, reduces the need for physical color drawdowns by showing what is achievable, on each substrate, digitally. Designers and printers can use PantoneLIVE to see how a color will reproduce on 34 common substrates, including eco-friendly substrates with higher recycled content. It also provides recommendations to achieve the intended color across substrates, labels, promotional signage, in-store displays, catalogs, general print/marketing materials, and digital communications.
Gain Control Through Color Measurement
There is a common saying, “Measure twice, cut once.” For printed packaging manufacturers, color measurement is the most efficient way to ensure a color is on target during a production run.
Recent advances in spectrophotometers make color measurement easier than ever. For instance, the new X-Rite eXact 2 is user-friendly, connected, and can measure a range of substrates, including flexible film and paper, using a single device. Spectrophotometers should be used throughout your workflow from premedia, ink formulation, production, and quality control. They can also be used to calibrate monitors and production devices, evaluate ink and paper prior to, during, and after print production, and validate the color of process inks (CMYK) and spot color inks.
By measuring against a digital target at each step in the process, printed packaging manufacturers have greater control over their workflow to make adjustments before and during a production run. This saves valuable resources including inks, substrates, and energy.
Brands often use unique colors and embellishments to help packaging and other printed materials stand out. However, when color tolerances are tight and print runs are short, ink formulation can be both costly and wasteful if the color isn’t right. If you are mixing inks manually, it can take up to 12 tries to get it right. This doesn’t make for a sustainable process.
Using digital color standards with ink formulation software, printers can match 85% of color requirements within a reasonable color distance on the first try. Formulation software also helps printers optimize ink usage and repurpose leftover inks. For example, many wide web presses require a lot of ink on the print stations. Printers drain out the pumps and store excess ink in barrels for future use. The software provides recommendations on how to integrate these “leftover” colors into new formulations.
This approach enables printers to stock fewer specialty inks, reduce incorrect mixes and reprints, shorten makeready time, and in turn, improve sustainability.
Minimize Onsite Press Approvals
Sending samples around the world and flying brand teams onsite for press approvals has a major impact on your carbon footprint. Digital color workflows improve communication and reporting between brands and print suppliers, eliminating the need for onsite press approvals.
For example, Coca-Cola Europe implemented a Digital Print Quality Program based on X-Rite quality assurance software, ColorCert Suite, to define color requirements, collect press-run color data, and report color performance across the supply chain. For a new product introduction, Coca-Cola Europe was able to set achievable targets with clear maximum tolerances for the printer and approve press trials without sending a brand owner, marketer, or pre-media agency on-site. As a result, Coca-Cola Europe successfully introduced the new design in half the time for a sustainable print cycle with fewer print-related costs.
L&E International, a global provider of packaging solutions, also uses ColorCert as part of its digital color workflow to provide real-time data to help optimize manufacturing efficiencies, reduce waste, and support ongoing sustainability efforts. The company now monitors packaging quality without onsite press checks to report compliance to brands.
Accurate Color Promotes Sustainability
As brands and the print industry pursues sustainable practices, it’s worth examining whether there is room for improvement in your color workflow. Shifting color communication and evaluation from a physical reference to digital workflow can make a big environmental impact.
Adopting digital workflows simplifies the process of achieving accurate color, saving your business time, resources, and money. It will also bring you one step closer to achieving your sustainability goals.
Cindy Cooperman is VP of Global Strategic Brand Sales, X-Rite. Cooperman has spent the last 20 years working with brand owners, designers, premedia partners, printers, and ink companies in the packaging value chain. She brings companies, people, and ideas together to help the packaging industry adopt new technologies in practical, sustainable, and profitable ways.