A Match Made in (Package Print) Heaven
While both presses ran on and off for the first few days of the week-long project, it wasn’t until Wednesday that actual finished samples were being sheeted. But to have had 15,000 cover forms on Monday would have been cause for concern; to go two full days with no tangible results meant everything was running according to plan.
“There’s a lot that goes into really doing this right, because the end goal is, we want to have digital and flexo that match each other from a color perspective, and we wanted to also follow what Flexographic Image Reproduction Specifications & Tolerances (FIRST) tells us to do, which is to start with an optimization,” Rory explains. That optimization began well before everyone gathered at Mark Andy, Inc. HQ, by printing a 1-color test target which was used to create the first set of plates for fingerprinting.
So, both the hybrid and flexo press used in the project followed FIRST Methodology—that familiar credo of optimizing, fingerprinting, process control and characterizing.
The first piece of the puzzle was, on the hybrid press, to run the calibration and ink limiting process to bring it into a calibrated/optimized state. The Mark Andy, Inc. team accomplished that and then went on to run the custom characterization test, employing a special, five-page color profile chart—similar to an IT8.7-4, but with more sample points. Once this was done, a profile was generated based on the color capabilities of the press.
Charting a Course
With the fingerprint completed and press curve in place, the cover project team was able to output the adjusted characterization plates and utilized the target values in the control targets to get the press back to the state it was in when fingerprinted.
The TC1617x charts—which contain all of the IT8.7-4 data, as well as columns four and five of the P2P51 chart—produced during the characterization run were then read in on an X-Rite i1iO to create the profile of the flexo press. But the resulting profile was not that of the flexo press, but specifically the flexo press matched to CRPC-6.
Mark explains that, while one might think of this profile simply as “the Mark Andy, Inc. Flexo Press,” for a more useful understanding of this profile, one should instead think of it as “the Mark Andy, Inc. Flexo Press matched to CRPC-6.” “To that point, this is not a profile of the Mark Andy press however it happened to be printing that day,” he says. “It’s a profile of the Mark Andy press with inks selected and curves applied to match CRPC-6 as closely as possible. As such, the profile is very similar to CRPC-6 (an average 2.5 Delta E difference, to be specific).”
It was at this point the cover project team had to make the decision if it was going to match the hybrid press to the flexo press, or to CRPC-6. Because the flexo press was matched to CRPC-6 using the G7 process, these two goals yielded very similar visual results. That decision fell to one man—standing at 5 feet 4 inches, often seen begging for comment cards at Forum and the on-site representative from the project’s “brand owner” (FTA).
“Yah knoe,” Joe said in his thick Minnesota accent, “Here’s what we’re gonna do.”
Customer Speaks, Printer Listens
Mark says the value of aiming at a reference printing condition like CRPC-6 is “tremendous,” whether that aim is at the “standard” CRPC profile or to a flexo press that has been matched to that profile using careful ink selection. “If a brand is doing work at multiple printers and wants all of its printing to match as closely as possible, it is best served by aiming at the ‘standard’ CRPC profile. However, if the goal is to match a specific device (proofer or digital press) as closely as possible to a specific flexo press, you are best served aiming at the profile of that specific press, which has been matched to that profile. In both cases, a CRPC assists in the goal of a common appearance.”
In this specific case, the directive from the “brand owner”—for the cover project, that was FTA—was to match the hybrid press to the flexo press as closely as possible. Once a profile of the hybrid press was made, it took only a second to set the match to whichever a brand owner chooses. “As such, we output a digital print set to CRPC-6, changed the match and output another digital print matched to ‘the Mark Andy Flexo Press matched to CRPC-6,’” Mark explains. “In the light booth, they both looked very close, but the general consensus was that the match to the flexo press was slightly closer than the match to CRPC-6.”
Steve elaborates on the rationale behind finally choosing the flexo color space: “That’s a decision a printer has to make,” he says of the final choice. “If you sent me a file and said, ‘I want to match CRPC-6,’ and I had a profile for my press, I could look at that file with my press profile applied to it. ISO-12647 part 6 requires communication between the sender and the receiver, so if you give me something with your expectations, I have to communicate back to you whether I can print them within your tolerances or whether I can’t. We decided because of this one blue color, we couldn’t quite hit the expectations of CRPC-6 so our buyer, Joe, said, ‘Let’s aim for the flexo press profile,’ because it was most important that these two matched, more so than that we aligned exactly on CRPC-6.”
These types of decisions are neither unusual nor indicative of a problem; they are positive signs that, rather than using a one-size-fits-all solution, a printer is arriving at what makes the most sense for the given situation. And sure, when there’s data and opinion mixed, these discussions can get heated. But Rory throws water on any signs of a fire: “It’s not that there are arguments happening, it’s that everybody can see both sides of it—what are the pros and cons of each choice—and they both have their pros and cons. It’s just figuring out, in this situation, what’s best.”
In the case of that Reflex Blue, the team had multiple discussions over three days, where they debated details like what anilox to run and if there was any concern about printing a higher linescreen, in the name of “trying to really push the boundaries of quality,” according to Rory. In order to get the desired color, they had to run a lower lpi because of the higher volume anilox. “We were willing to make that compromise,” he points out. “It’s a typical compromise that people need to make every day.”
The only decision that remained, the easiest and final one, was all pros and no cons: Whether or not to push “Print” on both presses. The outside spread was printed first, on the hybrid press, before each completed roll was carted over to the flexo press, where the inside spread was printed.
Friends with Benefits
The 2017 FLEXO Magazine Cover Project came to be thanks to the generous support from and donations by a number of FTA members. They include:
- Esko, for its XPS Crystal 5080 (a 2017 Technical Innovation Award winner)
- Flint Group, for its EkoCure ANCORA inks (a 2017 Technical Innovation Award winner)
- Mark Andy, Inc., for its Digital Series Hybrid Press (a 2017 Technical Innovation Award winner) and Performance Series P7 press
- FLXON, for doctor blades
- Harper Corporation of America, for anilox rolls
- MacDermid Graphics Solutions, for Digital Rave plates
- Schawk!, for plate imaging and processing
- Techkon, for a spectrodensitometer
- tesa tape, for mounting tape
- Wilson Manufacturing, for rotary tooling
The 2017 FLEXO Magazine Cover Project serves as a meaningful bridge between things that are quite new—those three Technical Innovation Award winners—and something that is tried and true—the FIRST Methodology. “This project clearly outlines an example of how FIRST Methodology can be used on the latest and greatest technologies,” Joe points out.
Even though the “F” in FIRST stands for that printing process that is the favorite of us all, the steps it espouses translated to the hybrid press used in the project, too. “Even on the digital side, the press had to be optimized, we had to do a fingerprint, we had to do our characterization, we had to make sure we were controlling the process,” Rory adds. “You know some of those things are handled a little differently, but at the core it’s still all the same fundamental process.”
When you look at the front cover (and form) of the October 2017 issue—where the rubber meets the road, or the ink meets the substrate—it is easy to see the final product is nothing like the toilet-faced abomination that rolled off Ford’s assembly lines nearly 60 years ago. That’s because the project makes use of what are actually innovative technologies, and also because it mirrors a situation printers are combating right now; it is in tune with its intended audience in a way the Edsel always wanted to be, but never was.
“I have lots of conversations with people who now have flexo and digital under one roof. Regardless of whether they’re in labels or flexible packaging—you name it—they really do struggle with this idea of matching those two,” the Fall Conference 2017 chair closes with. “So my goal was to give them a set of tools, a set of processes they can follow to actually do that in their facility. I think we’ve been very successful in doing that.”