When we talk about a print’s subjective appeal, we often bring up “The Moment of Truth,” those fleeting few seconds where a consumer sees a package and decides whether or not to grab it off the shelf.
But unlike entries in the wide web, mid web, narrow web, combined corrugated and preprinted linerboard categories of the 2019 FTA Excellence in Flexography Awards, for envelopes, “The Moment of Truth” is significantly different, and the concern is not so much with shelf appeal as it is with mailbox appeal.
A Different Kind of Battle
There is no “moment” when a consumer comes face to face with an envelope and has to decide whether or not to grab it. In reality, envelopes—along with magazines, circulars, flyers and other types of mail—get pulled out of a mailbox not because any of those pieces are necessarily visually stimulating, but because every day, people walk to a breadbasket-shaped tin box with their house number on it and take out whatever is inside.
And there is no “moment” when a consumer comes face to face with several envelopes and can only choose one. In reality, each envelope—along with each magazine, circular, flyer and other piece of mail—gets examined individually, to see what it is, who sent it and, yes, how it looks.
An envelope’s battle is not with other envelopes. Is that an easier battle, because a consumer is not lining up six envelopes and choosing only the one which is the most eye catching? Or is that a harder battle, because there is no comparison being made and an envelope is therefore judged solely on its own appearance?
The envelope judges in the 2019 FTA Excellence in Flexography Awards looked at prints both individually—when scoring their degree of difficulty and level of execution—and in a lineup—when deliberating which deserved an award. They were led by Excellence in Flexography Awards Committee Member Bill Rund of Mac Papers Envelope Converters Inc.
What they found was indicative of the obstacles envelope printers/converters face on every run.
Uncoated paper is a common choice for envelope printing and was the dominant substrate used on both the entrants and winners of the category. With that choice comes attractive cost savings, but it also introduces a number of other hurdles. Color can vary in the substrate itself, not only roll to roll but also from one end of a roll to the other. Fibers can be coarser, making the actual printing process more difficult. And it brings increased wicking during ink laydown, making sharp edges even harder to hit.
About as common a substrate choice as uncoated paper is, water-based ink is equally as common an ink choice. Its relatively slower drying time (when compared to alcohol-based inks) can present a challenge on the converting side. Much like the combined corrugated and preprinted linerboard segments, there are ink companies who produce options specifically for envelope printing.
Keeping an envelope registered is no small feat, making a judges’ comment that calls attention to “tight registration” all the more impressive.
All these obstacles are pieces to the puzzle of how to print an envelope. But the fact is, that printing is a small piece of the “envelope printing and converting” puzzle. Said another way: Envelope printing/converting is a lot of converting and not a lot of printing, and that converting is done at a high speed.
In the midst of cutting a window, laminating a film, laying down glue, cutting and folding, somewhere in there, flexography is taking place.
And the Winners Are…
The Midvalley Museum of Science the Universe Has Never Been Closer Envelope, printed by Mac Papers Envelope Converters Inc, took Best of Show honors in the envelope category.
Including the Best of Show, judges recognized a total of nine prints:
How the Judges Judge
Judges in the envelope 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 envelope 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.