“FIRST in Motion”: Scope, Timelines & Schedule

Planning the Forum 2018 Print Project

Forum 2018 logoThis, along with “FIRST in Motion: Technology and Methods” by Mark Samworth, Esko, comprises the second installmentin a series of articles chronicling the wide web, flexible packaging pouch job at the center of the Forum 2018 FIRST in Motion session. Other articles in the series include:

FTA members can watch the video presentations from Forum 2018 by visiting MemberConnect.

FIRST works! When implemented and consistently audited for process improvement, it can bring greater productivity, improved quality and reduced costs associated with print production.

Plastic Packaging Technologies LLC (PPT) has embraced the FIRST (Flexographic Image Reproduction Specifications & Tolerances) methodology and has seen the benefit for both training and operational implementation within the production environment. However, it is one thing to say this and another to prove it before your peers in the flexographic industry. This was one of the many challenges laid before us in the “FIRST in Motion” session at Forum 2018.

Getting the Ball Rolling

When FTA Director of Education Joe Tuccitto and FTA Hall of Fame Member Dr. Mark R. Mazur approached me about enlisting PPT to serve as the printer in the “FIRST in Motion” session, their idea was simple: to prove the FIRST methodology works in a real, live, wide web production environment. Up to this point, most previous demonstrations of FIRST had been done under what you could describe as “laboratory conditions,” with one to two weeks blocked out for implementing the five steps of FIRST while using a narrow web press either at a supplier or collegiate facility. As the chair of this year’s Forum, my desire was to provide attendees with sessions that presented real-world applications, technologies and solutions. Their idea for the “FIRST in Motion” session sounded like it would fit perfectly with the program.

“The end result would present three designs printing simultaneously in two different separation methods, creating 21 colors (plus white) using 10 ink stations, all in one single pass. All hard-copy proofs would be evaluated against the printed sample after the aim targets had been matched at press, leaving the operators to truly ‘run to the numbers.’”

After the “green light” was given from my leadership at PPT, Mark began recruiting those who would be serving on the team. Its final roster was made up of the session’s chairs—Mark and Dr. Malcom G. Keif of California Polytechnic State University—and session speakers—Sean Teufler of Harper Corporation of America, FTA Hall of Fame Member Steve Smiley of SmileyColor & Associates, FTA Hall of Fame Member Mark Samworth of Esko, Richard Black of All Printing Resources Inc (APR) and myself. The team needed a prepress provider who follows the FIRST methodology and would be willing to provide support throughout the project. The ALC Group was chosen due to its strong color management capabilities, close proximity and established relationship with PPT.

Plans & Goals

The objective of the session would be to “demonstrate the FIRST methodology in a wide web environment while producing a 4-color process printed piece in flexography.” It was important the five steps of FIRST (optimization, fingerprint, process control, characterization and process improvement) were properly executed in accordance with CGATS TR 012-2003.

A look at the entire web—CMYK on the left, expanded gamut (EG) on the right—from the project at the center of “FIRST in Motion.”
Concept and design by Bob Coomes of Plastic Packaging Technologies LLC, and Patrick King & Charlie O’Shields of VENN49 Creative Lab. Prepress and color management by Mike Jeroutek & Kerry Thonen of The ALC Group

During the planning phase, we chose to demonstrate the use of CxF/X4 (ISO 17972 – Part 4: Color exchange format for spectral spot color characterization) as well as SCTV (ISO 20654:2017 – Spot Color Tone Value measurement and calculation) and CRPC 6 (ISO 15339-2:2015 – Part 2: Characterized Reference Printing Conditions 6, which is also known as GRACoL 2013). We felt it was important to utilize all of the standards that have been discussed at previous FTA events and in FLEXO Magazine articles, and that are being successfully implemented within the packaging industry.

Early in the planning, it was decided that the plate technology used for this project would be different than what is normally used at PPT. Although PPT is “dialed-in” regarding standardized anilox, stickyback and plate packages, it was important to use a different plate type for this project.

The team didn’t want to cut any corners for the demonstration and would begin with the optimization step. The printed piece would be incorporating 175 lpi process printed images along with spot color line/screen combination images. Each step that required time on press (for optimization, fingerprinting, characterization and final printing of the product) was to fit within PPT’s print schedule. Again, holding to the idea of keeping this project in the “real world,” the team would operate within the same time restraints available within the print production environment with everything to be concluded within a six-to-eight-week window. Each step would be run within normal production conditions. Throughout the project, print samples would be pulled to provide documentation of each step. It was also important to leave ourselves open to those “gremlins” that may pop up within the process and to work through them as one would in a normal production environment.

“An interesting aspect during the development of the final package design and production plan was that the project became more complex in its execution; however, there wasn’t a great concern to anyone on the team whether we could execute the project and meet all of the various expectations. I believe much of this goes back to trusting and following the process.”

For the finished printed piece, a promotional package would be designed and printed specifically for the project with converted pouches handed out to the attendees at the session. This pouch would be provided to those in attendance as evidence the project demonstrated all of the steps for accurate color management were followed, as required for a live production order. It would also provide opportunity to promote other aspects from FIRST 6.0. Section 1.4-1.5 of the Communication & Implementation chapter that speaks of the package development process and the importance of communication of the timeline, the pre-production meeting, the packaging development team, and their responsibilities and tasks within the workflow.

Many designers are unfamiliar with the flexographic process and to help avoid issues later, clear communication is required. Sections 2.0 through 9.0 of the Design chapter of FIRST 6.0 are intended to assist the designer in creating a graphic design that meets the marketing objective of the customer while being capable of successful reproduction on press. If the graphic images (high-resolution photographs or illustrations) and elements (typography, custom colors, bar codes, etc.) within the design are outside the operating parameters for flexographic print production (as determined in the fingerprint), repeatability, consistent color, print quality and production efficiency will suffer. Successfully applying these components of FIRST provides your team with the ability to work farther “upstream” with those creating, developing and preparing the artwork prior to going into prepress and print production.

This collaboration between the design, prepress and print production teams can reduce the need for alterations and revisions of the artwork, which cause delays in timelines and increase costs to the project. VENN49 Creative Lab, a sister company of The ALC Group, was given the task of developing the package design. The creative team, consisting of Charlie O’Shields, Patrick King and Mike Jeroutek, provided the project team with three different main panel designs. They incorporated photography that could be common to a retail package as well as line/screen combinations in spot colors, multiple process-built images and other elements. VENN49 Creative Lab, closely collaborating with The ALC Group and PPT, would work through any potential print concerns along the way, proving FIRST was being incorporated into the design phase as well throughout the entire production of the project.