Can you imagine running a substrate that can’t be neatly wound into a roll? Substrate that can’t handle twisting, bending, curving around a roller or folding? Substrate that is parallel to the ground when it is fed into a press and does not rotate a single degree while it is being printed? Can you imagine?
For the printers who produce entries in the wide web, mid web, narrow web, preprinted linerboard and envelope categories of the 2019 FTA Excellence in Flexography Awards, those concerns are non-existent. But for corrugated printers, they not only imagine this scenario—they live it day in and day out.
Combined corrugated stands alone as the only sheetfed flexo process out there, and that is the biggest challenge facing its printers. Large sheets of board are run through a press and, whether that press is a top or bottom printer, those boards can be neither bent nor folded.
Massive sheets of board require large-diameter cylinders and anilox rolls to be printed. Because of their sheer size and resulting long dwell time, they introduce another entirely new element and additional challenges to ink laydown.
Registration tolerances are of vital importance when printing sheetfed corrugated, for a few reasons. First, the means of moving boards through the press, whether suction cups or another transfer mechanism, introduce an opportunity for misregistration. Second, the board’s large size. Third, the fact that the printing is being done on corrugated sheets and having to worry about the flutes between its two linerboards. Whether the inside of that sandwich is on the thicker side—an A-flute or C-flute—or thinner side—an E-flute or F-flute—printers have to constantly be concerned with crushing.
“The quality of some of this stuff, it was awesome!”
That comment was overheard coming from the six-person group of combined corrugated judges—who pull double duty as the judges of the preprinted linerboard category, too—as they finished debating which prints had earned a gold, silver or bronze award. Comprised of industry members who both know the segment well and who have almost all served previously as judges of the Excellence in Flexography Awards, they were well aware of how to spot subpar printing.
Excellence in Flexography Awards Committee Members Geoff Roznak of Great Northern Corp and Tim Esselman of WestRock CP LLC—also no strangers to their roles guiding the judging and award-deliberation processes—echoed the half-dozen judges. “It is getting tougher and tougher every year to stand out,” they comment. “With quality improvements and prepress contributions, submissions were more even across the board than ever before.”
In entries to both the combined corrugated and the preprinted linerboard categories, Roznak and Esselman say they saw an increase in the use of soft-touch coatings. Another similarity between both categories? Entries failing to earn an award because of inconsistent sample repeats.
To slightly distort a phrase, it is a bad pressman who blames his press. And notably, the pair also point out that award-winning submissions were not the result of cutting-edge presses and modern-day technology doing all the heavy lifting. Rather, it was skilled pressmen, often in spite of a not-so-new press, still managing to produce eye-catching graphics.
“We were impressed with how well the print samples were done on older equipment,” they note. “It was not the state-of-the-art machines outputting great work.”
And the Winners Are…
The Nestlé Pumpkin Candy Variety Carton, printed by Westrock Adams, took Best of Show honors in the combined corrugated category.
Including the Best of Show, judges recognized a total of nine prints:
How the Judges Judge
Judges in the combined corrugated category, like each of the categories of the FTA Excellence in Flexography Awards, were divided into two groups, each focused on a specific set of criteria when evaluating a print: degree of difficulty and level of execution.
First, the degree of difficulty group judges the overall complexity of each print, grading attributes on a scale from one to 10. Those attributes are substrate printability/ink compatibility, registration tolerances, plate-printing complexity/fineness of print, screen (lpi or stochastic spot size), tonal range (on screen and process jobs) and defect detectability.
Second, the level of execution group judges how well each print’s various elements were printed, also on a scale from one to 10. Those elements are image sharpness, ink coverage, registration, dot/screen/vignette (again, on screen and process jobs) and consistency.
After each print has been evaluated by the degree of difficulty judges and then the level of execution judges, the points are totaled and all the combined corrugated entries are sorted from highest to lowest cumulative score. All the category judges then convene together to debate each print’s worthiness of a gold, silver or bronze award—if any. Finally, when the debate is over, the gold award winners are collected and, from them, a Best of Show is chosen.
See the Rest of the 2019 FTA Excellence in Flexography Awards
There is a very broad range of obstacles facing any printer entering a print sample into the wide web category.
Too wide for narrow web, too narrow for wide web—the mid web category is a mix of substrates, sizes and segments.
For the printers who run work in the combined corrugated category, their biggest challenge is with their substrate of choice.
When it comes to web widths and repeat lengths, it doesn’t get any bigger than the preprinted linerboard category.
Judges of the envelope category looked for excellent printing in the face of adversarial substrates and registration-hostile speeds.