Label. Label, label. Label, tube, label, label. Box, tube, label, label, label. Label. Label, label. Label, label, label.
The narrow web category is by and large the label category. While its name may give the impression that entries vary in the same way the mid web and wide web categories do, the reality is the narrow web category’s makeup is a label hegemony, on par with the preprinted linerboard and combined corrugated categories, and just shy of the ubiquity seen in the envelope category. To be fair, this year’s competition did have boxes win awards in the double digits, along with a number of tubes. But as in years past, the narrow web category’s entries and winning prints were a majority of labels.
Not So Narrow Minded
With all respect to the envelope category, it is the narrow web segment that is the envelope pusher. Narrow web printers are almost always the first to pioneer new technologies, like new screening techniques or ink chemistries; following their repeatable success, they then trickle into different flexographic market segments.
Quality is, generally speaking, much higher on a narrow web press, but that isn’t because the jobs running on one are simple. Printers are implementing hot and cold foil, embellishments, and even entirely different processes like digital or rotary screen. They are also typically finishing and converting inline. A lot more than just printing happens between the infeed and outfeed on a narrow web press; it makes judging comments like “Impeccable execution with multiple special effects” stand out even more—especially when the print is on a notoriously tricky tube material.
With well over 100 entries in the narrow web category, prints needed to do multiple things and do them all well to stand out. The group of category judges looking to be impressed was a mix of veterans and first-timers.
The pair of Excellence in Flexography Awards Committee Members who oversaw the narrow web category were a mix of veteran and… veteran. Both Paul Teachout of Nilpeter and Bob Loescher of Compass Color & Coatings have led the narrow web category for the last four years, and they have watched it be the first mover for many of what have become industry-wide norms.
“You get to see most, if not all the latest packaging trends,” Teachout says. “Many of the print samples judged this year were using new and innovative techniques for embellishment. This catches the judges’ eyes, as they are both more difficult to produce and show the level of execution the converter can perform. This is where the scores differentiate themselves and the clear winner rises to the top.”
Speaking to this year’s competition, both committee members were unanimous in declaring the overall “excellence” of the category’s winners, and in noting the most persistent problem: “Registration is the most common print quality issue,” Loescher reveals. Teachout adds that “It often comes down to splitting hairs—literally. Often times, something as simple as a row of dots out of register can displace an entry.”
Common traits among award-winners in the category included superb tonal ranges and “vignettes like never before.” Teachout says front-end innovations have greatly improved the ability to reproduce graphics that, in years past, “converters would have cringed if they had to go to press with.” Loescher believes innovations in prepress, consumables and equipment, as well new screening technologies, have all helped improve quality.
Put together, it’s all good news for anyone on team flexography. “There is no print process left that we cannot compete with,” Teachout exclaims.
And the Winners Are…
The Vicious Styling Boost XTS Series Shampoo Tube, printed by Berry Global, took Best of Show honors in the narrow web category.
Including the Best of Show, judges recognized a total of 45 prints:
How the Judges Judge
Judges in the narrow web 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 narrow web 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.