Hundreds Enter, One-Hundred Leave

Three-hundred-eighty-four days passed between the conclusion of the 2016 Excellence in Flexography Awards judging and the start of this year’s deliberation. From Jan. 28-30, 30 judges and 481 entries occupied the ballroom in the Hyatt Regency Long Island, just a few miles from FTA’s headquarters in Bohemia, NY.

Following a morning briefing on day one, where judging committee members outlined the process used to evaluate and score each print, the judges split into their respective groups, and within those groups, focused on one of two aspects: Deciding how complex a print is (its degree of difficulty) or deciding how accurate it is (its level of execution). For the next two days, they followed a logical rhythm familiar to anyone who has volunteered their time as a judge in the past.

First, the degree of difficulty judges examine a submission, considering its substrate printability/ink compatibility, registration tolerances, plate/printing complexity, fineness of print or screen, tonal range and defect detectability. Then, they pass the submission to the level of execution judges, who grade its image sharpness, ink coverage, registration, dot/screen/vignette and consistency. Either group can award additional points for something that goes above and beyond.

In categories with fewer entries, like preprinted linerboard or combined corrugated, judges complete this scoring phase by the end of day two—sometimes before lunch. On the other end of the spectrum, the narrow web category—which saw 170 entries this year—does not finish until the morning of the final day. Regardless, when they are done, the judges for that category are presented with a list of every print they graded, with their final tally, sorted highest to lowest.

2017 Excellence in Flexography Awards Competition - Envelope Judges
Envelope judges at the 2017 Excellence in Flexography Awards deliberate on whether or not an entry should receive an award.

It is at this point the vinyl pressroom gloves come off, ink the color of blood is spilt, friendly flexographers become sworn enemies (or maybe it’s when hotel staff take too long to refill the coffee urns). Because while it is a collection of grades that sums to form an entry’s numerical score—and so weak ink coverage can be compensated for with, say, tight registration—faults have nowhere to hide when the only options on the table are “award” or “no award.”

Judges will pull for reevaluation the highest scoring entries and begin to critique them against each other. What carries more weight: A print that’s incredibly complex, or one which is remarkably accurate? Is a print that is consistently not as sharp as it could be, actually “consistent”? Is it better to play it safe and knock it out of the park, or aim for the moon, “because even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars”?