FLEXO: Was there any part of the material taught during the Prepress Operator Certification training that conflicted with how you were used to doing things?
Bekki Harmon: I think to some degree, yes. Prior to certification, color management was almost non-existent or very barebones. There were no targets to aim to, there was no process control in plating, and printed results could be unpredictable. After training, curves were actually utilized and implemented more efficiently, and profiles were created to make better use of the contract proof printer. My own process had to change in order for everything to come together in the end.
FLEXO: Did the training’s material cover things you hadn’t seen before, or was it refreshing what you already knew?
Harmon: For the most part, it was refreshing what I already knew but had not been practicing effectively or completely. It definitely helped to clarify some things, such as why we would apply different dot gain curves for different print scenarios, and how that all ties in with the contract proof. It makes the whole process easier to grasp and follow through.
FLEXO: What task or responsibility have you changed the way you do the most since completing the certification?
Harmon: I would say the biggest change would be in how contract proofs are handled. Now that everything is color managed from start to finish, it is more critical to ensure the correct color profiles and curves are used at each step. We now utilize many proofing profiles, instead of just one generic profile that we try and hope matches on press. Even though there are more color profiles to manage, the process is much more streamlined and it is easier to achieve the desired results on press. The predictability in printing to the numbers makes things easier for everyone.
FLEXO: What’s different about how you build graphic files since achieving FIRST Prepress Operator Certification?
Harmon: I don’t think there’s any major differences in how files are built now, but there is more awareness of what will and will not work in the end. This allows us to communicate to the customer more effectively so they can make educated decisions about their designs and layouts.
FLEXO: How has working with customers during the proofing phase changed?
Harmon: This area is what has changed the most! Since we now are able to rely on the color accuracy of a printed contract proof, we are able to show the customer a predictable representation of what their finished product will look like. We are able to have the conversation of color up front and help them understand that what they see on the contract proof is what they are going to get, and they know they can trust that. It’s much more cost effective and saves so much time to be able to show a customer what they are going to get. It allows a customer to say “Yes, I like it,” or “No, I don’t like it, let’s change it,” before the job even hits the press.
FLEXO: What would you say about FIRST Prepress Operator Certification to someone in your position at another company?
Harmon: I would say you need to do it! It improves communication not only between departments internally, but with the customer as well. You will not regret spending the time and materials on fingerprinting and characterization. It is definitely something to be embraced. You will find that when you follow the process, you spend less time re-working and re-plating jobs.
FLEXO: What was your reaction when you heard about FIRST Implementation Specialist Certification?
Gilkey: I said, “Are you sure you want a sales manager to go through this training?” Kidding aside, the FIRST Implementation Specialist Certification program allowed me to learn a great deal about the production and artwork side of the label business. I have a much better understanding of press optimization, fingerprinting and press characterization due to the online training and hands-on work during the audit process.
FLEXO: One of the central tenets of Implementation Specialist Certification is improving communication externally—with customers, printers and suppliers—and internally—with coworkers. Have you noticed a change in your interactions with others in the supply chain and in your office?
Gilkey: Internally, yes we are definitely communicating more about job planning, art preparation and workflow tags. On an ongoing basis, we are always trying to ask our customers to include us in the artwork and label design process at an earlier stage. Our vendors have noticed the change for sure; we have better tools to hold them accountable for their products, whether it is inks, coatings or substrates.
FLEXO: How does the certification impact your ability to do your job effectively?
Dan Crammer: Setting targets and building workflows that can be measured has eliminated the subjectivity that caused challenges in the past. Through these workflows we are able to achieve higher levels of accountability, which produces a much more effective and efficient plant.
FLEXO: What’s something you couldn’t do well before FIRST Implementation Specialist Certification, that you can ably handle now?
Dan Crammer: FIRST Implementation Specialist Certification has allowed us to confidently address customers questions or concerns. With that, it has also helped us to do a better job of educating the customers who are willing to learn.
Internally, it has helped us by quantifying our processes. Issues that may have taken hours to figure out in the past are now caught before they even occur, or if they do occur it only takes minutes to find the root cause.