Increasingly, brand owners are using multiple print processes, substrates, packaging solutions and print production locations—and expect absolute fidelity to brand colors across all platforms. Yet the demand for color perfection is not limited to those which form a brand’s identity. Very slight color shifts or inconsistencies in product imagery have a significant impact on consumers’ perception of the product.
Color variations can lead consumers to believe a package’s contents are compromised, expired or even counterfeit. It is now essential print production grows beyond color management as an art form practiced by a few experts, to a more exact science managed by every single part of a print operation.
A great deal of research has been done on the importance of color in influencing buyer behavior:
- Jill Morton of Colorcom gathered some interesting study results in a piece titled “Why Color Matters.” According to a study conducted by Loyola University Maryland, “Color increases brand recognition by more than 80 percent”
- University of Winnipeg’s Satyendra Singh, in “Impact of Color on Marketing,” shows color has a significant impact on sales, since “people make a subconscious judgment about a product within 90 seconds of initial viewing, and between 62 percent and 90 percent of that assessment is based on color alone”
- Research by the Henley Centre suggests 73 percent of purchasing decisions are now made in-store. Consequently, catching the shopper’s eye and conveying information effectively are critical to successful sales
Brand owners are certainly aware of these facts, and this is driving their high interest in precise, consistent color management.
The Color Challenge
For printers and converters, it is becoming increasingly complicated to meet these quality and consistency challenges. In addition to rising brand owner demands, printers are faced with an increased pace and complexity of required technological innovation—at a time when profit margins are very tight. Add to that increasing requirements to meet new industry standards, an aging workforce and the scarcity of true color experts, and the challenges can be extremely daunting.
For that reason, QuadTech, Inc. and other companies in the control system space have introduced and continue to develop new color management tools that directly address these challenges. Among the innovations coming from that work are complete workflow solutions that are software-based (requiring no investment in hardware or press modifications), automation that greatly simplifies the science of color production (reducing reliance on a handful of color experts who can’t be on every press for every shift at every plant), and inline color measurement technology that is affordable and adaptable for even small printing and converting operations.
There is a clear and growing trend to move from periodic color measurement with handheld spectrophotometers to the more thorough and consistent inline spectral measurement. There is certainly a place for sampled, handheld measurement. But continuous inline measurement catches problems through the entire printrun, preventing you from throwing out product that is within color tolerances, and ensuring no out-of-tolerance product is passed on to your customers.
What are some of the products to consider? For one, cameras which make advanced inline spectral measurement affordable to individual packaging printers. They allow package printers to utilize accurate, automated L*a*b* measurement on film, paper or board—ensuring all printed product is within customers’ color specifications. The M1-, M0- and ISO-compliant technology enables printers to reduce time and waste while confidently maintaining color throughout the roll—without the need to wait for a roll change to measure with a handheld device.
There’s also color management software for flexo and gravure packaging applications, software that automates the process of delivering absolute consistency from press to press, shift to shift and plant to plant. With a variety of options for handheld and inline configurations, the software can facilitate fast, accurate press-side correction of ink formulations.
Importantly, this happens without any hardware modifications to the press—It seamlessly integrates with ink recipe software to not only simplify workflow, but also dramatically reduce the number of corrections needed to achieve accurate, optimal color. With human color experts, three to five color corrections on startup are typical for a new job—or even six to eight for difficult colors. But new color management software can achieve improved accuracy in just one or two corrections.
Traditionally, color measurement data had to be sent to the ink kitchen to correct the recipe, but this can now be done press-side, using software and “virtual scales” that can accurately determine the amount of ink remaining in each ink unit. Printers can therefore track their ink quantities so they know exactly the right amount needed to bring the color back within tolerances, and can make the correction on the fly.
Now, press operators can view and weigh ink recipes received from the formulation software to easily make press-side corrections. Significant savings in time and ink can be realized in this way, which can in turn be passed on to clients. In addition, printers are able to create in-tolerance colors by making adjustments to other inks—rather than starting from scratch—dramatically reducing inventory and storage needs.
Advancing Forward with Color Mangement
drupa 2016 saw a number of advancements to inline color measurement technology. Since then, new features have been developed to deliver what QuadTech refers to as the “seven color management breakthroughs,” named so because these capabilities are new to the packaging and converting industry:
- Pre-laminate/post-laminate color support: Users can define both pre- and post-laminate color targets within the job, measure color inline, and use both targets to manage the difference on press. This first and only automated workflow solution replaces cumbersome “trial and error” methods of achieving post-laminate color that is within customers’ specifications
- Press-side recipe correction: It is possible to track ink quality and manage corrections when needed at the printing press—with one product. New color management options streamline the correction process, allowing for fast, accurate color correction at the press to dramatically reduce waste caused by color problems
- Ink strength/anilox color correction: Press operators can manage color at the press without correcting ink. They can avoid the cost and time involved with recipe corrections by instead managing print conditions. New solutions make it possible to accurately predict the impact an ink concentration change or anilox change will have on color
- Spot Color Tone Value (SCTV) calculation to ISO 20654: Designed specifically with packaging print in mind, the SCTV calculation allows you to conform to the new ISO 20654 standard by showing how well your spot color mid-tones match your targets
- Enhanced color measurement through strip scanning: Gather a full set of color targets for solids, tones and substrate in one sweep with a handheld spectrophotometer. Users can measure and average multiple color strips
- Simplified ink quantity tracking via patented “virtual scales”: Actively track ink consumption without the use of costly scales on each ink unit. Because it is software-based, this precise tracking solution can be retrofit to any flexo or gravure press, allowing you to standardize on a single color management solution across any range of press types and models
- Complete, simplified workflow: Increase press productivity 25 percent or more. Reduce color makeready and setup time up to 75 percent. Print houses can keep records of which ink batches are used, and dramatically reduce ink inventory and storage needs
Strategies & Solutions
Over-used terms like “innovation” often conjure images of a new feature-laden smartphone or some other type of gadget that doesn’t exist today. Beside hardware and software innovations, the packaging and converting market is crying out for more effective processes that ensure color precision—and connect workflows between presses, work shifts and even different facilities. Those solutions will be technology-driven.
Here’s why this is so critical to future success: More than 25 percent of brand owners indicate they frequently encounter color inconsistency or inaccuracy, according to Sarah Tornetta in “Color Sells.” Patrice Aurenty, business leader for color management at Sun Chemical, said in a November 2013 FLEXO article that brand owners experience anywhere from 40 percent to 70 percent rework costs added to each new product launch due to color issues.
There is an enormous opportunity for printers and converters who can adopt complete, simplified workflow solutions that increase press productivity, significantly reduce color makeready and setup time, and reduce ink inventory and storage needs. Strong inter-instrument agreement and a complete, connected workflow also allow printers to prove their color quality to customers. This will have a huge impact on profitability by decreasing liability exposure and rebates.
Printers who fail to make this a priority will have difficulty surviving against competitors who do. Workflow innovations may not seem as splashy as the latest feature-laden smartphone, but there is some serious money to be made for printers who solve brand owners’ very costly color quality and consistency issues.
About the Author: Craig Du Mez, brand manager for QuadTech, has more than 35 years of experience in the print industry. Craig manages QuadTech’s media and public relations, branding and communications in more than 100 countries to ensure that consistent, honest and accurate messaging is delivered across all promotional and marketing channels. Craig also works closely with software development teams to improve user experience design and deliver simplified, powerful tools for automating pressroom workflows.
QuadTech is one of the world’s leading suppliers of vision systems and advanced color management tools for the print industry. QuadTech products referenced in this article include DeltaCam, for inline spectral measurement; ColorTrack, a color management software; and InkWeigh, enabling press operators to view and weigh ink recipes from formulation software.