Spot colors are typically matched in one of two ways: visually, using a subjective comparison of the colors and a keen eye, or by calculating Delta E through the use of a spectrophotometer. Regardless of the method used, there are a number of variables that make obtaining accurate, consistent results from job to job and press to press a difficult process. To make matters more complicated, neither of these methods provides any corrective actions to improve the determined color match.
All Printing Resources (APR) and SpotOn! Press decided to tackle this problem and developed SpotOn! Flexo. The invention was named a winner of FTA’s 2014 Technical Innovation Award in the Prepress Pressroom category. “On behalf of APR, we are honored to be recognized with the prestigious FTA Technical Innovation Award for our SpotOn! Flexo software,” said David Nieman, president and CEO of APR.
“Our vision of creating an effective, accurate and dependable tool for flexo press operators to consistently control ink densities would not have been possible without the support and involvement of APR,” added Bruce Bayne, founder and SpotOn! Flexo architect. “SpotOn! Flexo is color made easy.”
“I met Bruce more than 20 years ago while I was with Fujifilm,” recalls Richard Black, APR’s director of digital solutions. “Bruce was one of the first consultants to become a G7 expert. In working with his clients and the G7 process, Bruce developed a complex Excel spreadsheet he used to help obtain and manage the G7 process—other consultants who had seen the spreadsheet actually offered to buy a copy.”
This Excel spreadsheet is what led to Bayne’s software, also called SpotOn!, says Black, which was released in 2008 and sold well.
After spending several years in the flexo market with APR and understanding the ink delivery system, Black reached out to Bayne in October 2009 to discuss creating a pressroom software product aimed at assisting flexo press operators. “After a few meetings, Bruce and I literally created the idea of SpotOn! Flexo on a cocktail napkin,” Black says.
The first version of the software was released in November 2011. Black says that while it attracted a large amount of interest from potential customers, one complaint became a common refrain. “SpotOn! Flexo was a stand alone application with a single database, where the reference colors and press measurements were stored,” Black says. “This meant if you wanted to have multiple copies of the software at each press, there was no way to share the database.”
The solution, both companies discovered, was a client server based software that allowed multiple users to share the same database. It required extensive work—essentially rebuilding the product, Black says—but was a necessary step. Nearly a year later, in September 2012, this new version of SpotOn! was launched. Subsequent specific customer requests have been addressed in incremental revisions since then.
Inside the Software
SpotOn! Flexo is a color analysis software tool that uses a “Predictive Analysis” algorithm to determine the best ink density to achieve optimum color reproduction. Predictive Analysis is an adaptation of the Beer-Lambert Law, which is a relationship of ink film thickness and substrate white point, as related to L*C*h°. Unlike CMYK colors that have both ISO standards and specifications, like Flexographic Image Reproduction Specifications & Tolerances (FIRST), that suggest ink density starting points, the companies wrote in their awards submission, “Color reference guides and ink drawdowns come to press with no ink density information.” Furthermore, flexo’s color control options are limited:
- Increase ink density
- Decrease ink density
- Increase pressure or impression
- Decrease pressure or impression
SpotOn! creates what APR refers to as Optimal Ink Density. The measurement informs an operator if an acceptable spot color match can be achieved or improved with an ink density correction. The software also can be used in the ink lab before going to press, to see if an ink can successfully be matched ahead of time.
Black says that the software “compares the spectral data of a color measured on a press pull to the spectral data of the reference color,” with the aid of a spectrophotometer. Spectral data then provides optimal ink density information, which allows an operator to make an accurate match.
The software’s user interface utilizes a color coded icon system to indicate density corrections. Once each color is measured, one of three icons is displayed:
- Green indicates an optimal ink density and color match
- Orange indicates an “acceptable” color match that can be improved by adjusting ink density in either direction
- Red indicates a failed color match cannot be achieved
A trending chart of density and Delta E measurements against reference colors is also generated. The reference colors can be loaded into the software with ink formulation files (MIF or CxF), a spectrophotometer, or with CIELab coordinates. Delta E equations including dE1976, dE1994, dE2000 and dECMC are supported.
By tracking each measurement, SpotOn! provides a report from an entire pressrun that offers information on anilox roll, mounting tape, plate type, ink type, etc., on a color basis.
APR and SpotOn! Press hope that implementation of the software will:
- Reduce press makeready time
- Reduce downtime
- Reduce waste
- Improve color matching
- Improve color consistency
- Provide historical records of each pressrun
And by its nature, SpotOn! will see continuous updates, as the award winning software evolves further. “Our goal is to continue to develop features for the software including the ability to add on other modules from SpotOn! Press such as their Verify and Analyze products,” Black says.