Conventional presses and computer software have not always been a comfortable mix for many converters. And it’s no surprise: While CTP technologies offered clear benefits in speed and efficiency, other digital workflow tools have not always worked as desired and the shift from skilled craftspeople to software and computers have made digital workflows a tough sell. But some of the software is now living up to expectations.
Driven by the demand for shorter print runs and faster turnaround times, automation is becoming a must-have capability for converters. “Workflow tools save time and reduce errors, offer automatic, accurate color matching, avoid re-entry of information, and centralize production management and real-time job tracking and reporting,” says Lior Krasnovsky, product manager for labels and packaging workflow solutions at HP Indigo.
This holds true whether your presses are digital or conventional. Digital presses all but demand complete automation because of their potential to run with limited human intervention. And while not all aspects of conventional printing lend themselves to automation, there are several points where it adds new levels of control, increases accuracy, and can accelerate workflows, especially on the latest generation of flexographic hybrid presses.
Lead among these is attaining consistent, accurate color. Extended gamut printing, for example, uses more colors, allowing for more vibrant packaging and more accurate reproduction of spot colors. But making sure those colors are accurate is best left to software. While not yet totally point-and-shoot accurate, when done right it’s very close, while being faster and easier.
“Printers want to print with a single set of inks and standardize colors around them,” explains Larry Moore, vice president for partner programs, at Esko North America. Facilitating that is the company’s Equinox software, which standardizes a converter’s printing presses on their choice of 5, 6 or 7 inks. This saves on the total number of plates required for a given job, and also saves time because press change-over between jobs is reduced to just changing printing plates, not rollers and inks. In fact, the latest generation of flexo presses are designed with fast plate changes and extended gamut printing in mind, so the right combination of equipment and software can be a win for productivity, efficiency and cost reduction.
Controlling the color is where Equinox, a module of Esko’s Color Engine, comes in to help ensure colors will print as expected. What’s most interesting about Color Engine is that in addition to color management, it communicates color information to brand owners, designers, prepress houses, converters, ink factories, and printers, enabling the entire packaging production workflow to work with the same color data. This helps colors print as intended, with less chance of surprises.
This up- and downstream flow of color information is not lost on HP, which integrates the Color Engine into its Indigo presses. “Profitable digital printing demands prepress with ultra-quick setup that can be automated to reduce costs and avoid errors,” says Krasnovsky. “And there must be tight integration between the press and related software to avoid errors and allow for last minute changes. According to Krasnovsky, the Color Engine enables predictable, accurate color matching of Pantone and special colors on HP Indigo presses, which can be configured with up to seven colors.
A unified workflow
HP’s packaging presses, the Indigo WS6800, 20000 and 30000 are equipped with HP’s SmartStream Labels and Packaging Print Server. This is a workflow and finishing solution that provides end-to-end automation from order to fulfillment, meaning properly configured jobs can be submitted electronically and (ideally) go untouched until the finished labels, flexible packaging or folding cartons come off the press. HP leverages Esko’s Automation Engine to integrate design and pre-press activities into a single workflow that enables a job to run on either a HP Indigo or conventional press. With more converters operating both digital and conventional presses, automating workflows can provide an operational advantage.
A different approach to color comes from GMG with OpenColor.
One of the time-honored processes of color matching involved “fingerprinting” of a press. “The purpose of fingerprinting is to determine printability of text and lines, as well as quantifying dot gain values,” explains Jessica Harkins of Anderson & Vreeland, in the company’s Flexo Daily newsletter. “Fingerprinting helps validate that the settings used on press and in prepress will give the desired end result. Without fingerprinting, there is a good chance that the actual result will not equal the desired result.”
But fingerprinting is a costly, time-consuming process, claims Marc Welch, director of strategic accounts at GMG Americas. According to GMG, OpenColor can eliminate most of the traditional fingerprinting process. “We can make a good CMYK profile in the traditional method in about two hours,” relates one U.S.-based OpenColor user who requested anonymity. “With OpenColor, we can make a better profile with 20 percent of the input data in about 10 minutes.”
OpenColor’s data import functionality averages data, even when it is collected at different press run times. This allows any deviations to be included in the final profile. Color intensity can be adjusted and users can define a target dot gain from a specific printing process or adjust dot gain measurements to compensate for faulty printing conditions. “Several large converters in the U.S. have already transitioned to using OpenColor profiles exclusively,” says Welch.
The process standardizes profile creation and management (including CMYK profiles) standardizing and simplifying the process. The application stores and distributes all profiles to any connected proofing systems, eliminating the need for manual synchronization. This reduces profile management tasks, cuts the time and labor for creating new profiles, eliminates proprietary and expensive fingerprinting, and improves proof -to-press matching
The packaging supply chain is large, with a growing number of stakeholders who have reasons to review packaging before it is printed. The greater the level of automation, from design through production, the better it is for brand owners who gain confidence that jobs will run as intended, and for converters who gain advantages in costs, productivity and profitability. pP
To view this issue and past editions of packagePRINTING in a digital format, please click here.