It don’t get no bigger in flexography than preprinted linerboard. When measuring the width of a finished roll, there is its precise and numerical width, expressed in inches or centimeters; and there is its more vague and general width, expressed as “narrow” or “wide.”
That works for submissions in the wide web, mid web, narrow web, combined corrugated and envelope categories of the 2019 FTA Excellence in Flexography Awards, but for preprinted linerboard, a more apt unit of measurement might be “Shelley Rubin.” Standing at an inch over five feet tall, the FTA Excellence in Flexography Awards organizer is regularly dwarfed by the sheer size of entries in the category, which can measure 1.2 or 1.5 Shelley Rubins.
Comparing & Contrasting with Combined Corrugated
Destined to be adhered to a medium with some type of fluting, preprinted linerboard is by its very nature linked to corrugated printing. Removing the medium from the actual print process means removing some of the concerns that come with direct print corrugated.
The biggest of those concerns is fluting. Their integrity is the No. 1 priority of corrugated board; a printer that does not have to worry about crushing fluting is one that can worry a little less about impression, ink laydown and registration. The printer also does not have to worry about fluting that is already crushed or in some way defective.
Preprinted linerboard shares with direct print corrugated its enormous size, not only with large web widths but also with large repeats. Everyone in attendance for the Excellence in Flexography Awards judging process knows the preprinted linerboard category has begun when venue staff start bringing extra tables to be placed together, so the entries can be completely rolled out. Whereas narrow web judges can sit three to a table and bring labels up to their faces, preprinted linerboard judges have to stand and bring their faces to the prints. In some cases, the samples cannot fit on a table and are instead rolled out on the carpeted floor.
Dwell time is still an issue facing preprinted linerboard printers, as the format also makes use of large-diameter cylinders and anilox rolls. While the absence of fluting during printing removes one set of concerns, the addition of it in postprint—the corrugating process itself—introduces unique obstacles. Ink properties have to be carefully considered in order to withstand linerboard being attached to the medium.
Unfortunately for printers, judges in the preprinted linerboard category know all of this. They expect higher-quality print and accept fewer defects. And they also judge the combined corrugated category, so they are well versed on what both segments are capable of in 2019.
Comments like “Great laydown of ink with a large coverage area” and “Large format but very consistent print across” carry even more weight when they are speaking to preprinted linerboard entries. To earn an award in the category, entries needed to meet and exceed that level of quality. As Excellence in Flexography Awards Committee Members Tim Esselman of WestRock CP LLC and Geoff Roznak of Great Northern Corp explain, what in years past could pass for excellent now is more or less average.
“It is getting tougher and tougher every year to stand out,” they say. “With quality improvements and prepress contributions, submissions were more even across the board than ever before.”
They also called attention to the diversity of entries, noting “The category of preprinted linerboard had a wide range of imagery, from glass bottles to cherries. It’s great to see such a variety of graphics.”
And the Winners Are…
The KitchenAid Artisan Series Stand Mixer Box, printed by International Paper Hillsboro, took Best of Show honors in the preprinted linerboard category.
Including the Best of Show, judges recognized a total of nine prints:
How the Judges Judge
Judges in the preprinted linerboard 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 preprinted linerboard 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.