Brand Owners Share Thoughts, Experiences and Expectations with Flexography in Forum 2019’s Best Print Technology on the Planet

Forum 2019 logo

“I do believe, deep in my heart, that there is nothing flexo can’t do!” exclaimed Steve Smiley of SmileyColor & Associates LLC, the chair of Forum 2019‘s second session, titled Best Print Technology on the Planet.

A Look Back at Forum 2012

Steve opened with a look back at Forum 2012 and Project FOG, where different print processes were compared and the conclusion reached was that quality was no longer a differentiator between flexo and offset and gravure. He offered a lengthy list of other benefits:

  • Great solids – Best of all printing types
  • Higher chroma – Prints largest gamut
  • Better stability – Consistency
  • Fine detail – Very finest detail (we print electronics)
  • Inline workflows – Finish in line and deliver package
  • Most any substrates – Equal to gravure
  • Help other processes to meet requirements – Coatings
  • Cost efficiencies – Still most efficient way of printing

Smiley spoke about the mission of the Brand Owners Council and the creation of an ISO Standard designed to make printers more successful. ISO 19303-1 defines packaging workflows, instruments and responsibilities for the packaging supply chain. “Print the same—That’s all we want you to do!” Smiley said of the ultimate brand owner request aimed at printer partners.

The Panelists and the Speakers

The video panel included Brigitte Bisson, graphics development scientist, C.P.P. at Just Born; Michael John, design operations print quality manager at 3M Co; Barry Sanel, senior graphics services manager, supply at Diageo North America; Kevin Chop, principal packaging graphics director Innovation R&D at Diageo North America and Karen Daniels, graphic production manager at Basic American Foods.

Asking those brand owners questions covering direct print corrugated, modern print technologies, color management and more was a selection of Forum 2019 session chairs that included Geoff Roznak, Great Northern Corp; Doug Weiss, Kodak; Amy Jungerberg, Inland Packaging; Jason Cagle, MacDermid Graphics Solutions; Zachery Blackburn, Central Piedmont Community College and Keith Nagle, Phoseon Technology.

Questions and Answers

Roznak: When a consumer products company considers moving a primary package, or a display from lithography to direct print flexography, what is the “current state” expectation on what level of quality and color that can be achieved?

Brand owners’ said the print standard should be what was created originally, looking exactly the same, and that now, often consumers and even those working in marketing cannot see the differences between lithography and flexography. 

Roznak: After investigating the potential of flexography direct print on corrugated, have those expectations changed?

Brand owners’ answers varied, with some believing the quality levels still have room to grow and others saying they were meeting or exceeding expectations.

Roznak: If you have run projects with flexography direct print corrugated, how well have your expectations been met, and can you give us any feedback on customer response?

Brand owners’ answers again varied. Some pointed to color variation and inability to hit PMS colors, while others said as much as 90 percent of jobs enticing positive feedback.

Weiss: Would you utilize the new higher linescreens and enhanced screening techniques for improved print and better print contrast to improve your shelf impact?

Daniels: “We use about 150 lpi and it seems to work.”
Bisson: “Yes, the closer you get to offset, the better it stands out on shelf.”
Sanel: “If your aniloxes can support it and doesn’t create any moiré, then yes.”

Weiss: There are new techniques for improved micro lens array and lenticular effects that utilize thinner, more flexible and lower-cost lenses, or even no lenses at all. Could you utilize this to excite your consumers?

Daniels: “I think it could, potentially. I presented lenticular to my marketers, but cost was always the deterrent.”
Sanel: “Lenticular effects are not something typically called upon in the spirits market, but if it’s called for, then sure.”
Chop: “As long as [the issues] can be controlled, I think there’s a great place in the future for lenticular. I’m just waiting for the time to come around.”

Weiss: The new indiscernible product coding that is embedded in the packaging graphics provides better supply chain capabilities and end user links to information without taking up valuable geography on the package with unsightly bar codes or QR Codes. Will you incorporate these new tools into your packaging?

Daniels: “The bar code takes up real estate that we don’t have on smaller packages.”
Bisson: “We’re very sensitive to the bottom line.”
Sanel: “Coding that doesn’t affect the look and feel of a pack is something that’s close to my heart. If it creates an opportunity to further interact with our packaging, it’s a great thing to have.”

Weiss: Can you see incorporating printed onboard lighting effects that will cause consumers to touch packaging as a solution for your brand?

Bisson: “I’m not aware of this technology but I am looking forward to learning more about it.”
Chop: “Any technology that pulls our package forward on shelf, we’re interested in.”

Jungerberg: Are there any defects that CPCs see reoccurring or common in the industry?

Daniels: “Excessive pinholing and registration are the biggest offenders.”
Bisson: “We don’t have any common defects on the printed side. The only caveat is when we try to qualify a new printer, we find issues with repeats.”
Sanel: “The defects I see are all around color management.”

Cagle: How important is it for your brand to control color variation throughout your different stores and various light sources?

Daniels: “That is my biggest task—to have print color consistency across different print substrates and locations. And I have to say I have been unsuccessful at that.”
John: “It is very important.”

Cagle: Are you seeking out employees that understand packaging, specifically flexo, so that you are better able to effectively communicate with your printers, and to understand the roadblocks as well as possibilities?

John: “We haven’t had many hires, but if we were, that would definitely be a huge consideration.”
Bisson “Yes, it’s me! But flexo is changing so much that I have to keep up and educate our folks internally, because it makes my job easier when we all know what flexo is.”

Blackburn: Have you had Spot Color Tone Value (SCTV) implemented into any of your products? If so, what were the outcomes of that implementation?

John: “SCTV for us has not become a huge priority.”
Sanel: “The short answer is no. I would like to be doing more SCTV; I think it’s the way to go. If there’s a supplier that is doing SCTV, I would like to know who they are!”

Farrell: How important is color management to the consistency and recognition of your brand as it relates to utilizing the various flexographic processes?

Daniels: “Our brand color consistency is the top priority.”
Bisson: “It’s important to have consistency. It shows we care and it shows our quality.”
Chop: “Color management is the cornerstone of a brand’s consistency.”

Wright: Have advances in flexographic screening technology continued to improve print quality and consistency to the point of making flexographic print results comparable to those achieved by gravure print?

Daniels: “Definitely, flexo is a contender.”
Bisson: “Yes, I’ve seen a tremendous change in flexo.”
Chop: “I still get issues I run into and get frustrated with.”

Wright: How would you quantify the value of better flexo print quality to your business?

John: “As the quality gets better and better, more and more printers are delivering that quality. We’re seeing some really nice changes that are helping improve the brand experience at the shelf.”
Bisson: “If we have good quality on shelf, it tells the consumer we are focused on quality.”
Sanel: “If you get your product to market faster with fewer challenges, that equates to more sales.”

Wright: What aspects of print quality are you most focused on?

Daniels: “Brand color consistency across all mediums.”
John: “First and foremost, our brand.”
Bisson: “Color consistency because we print on different substrates and with different print processes.”

Wright: If you could magically improve flexographic print quality, what would you change?

Daniels: “The variation in proofing for flexo versus the final print results. It’s always a challenge to get a flexo proof to match what’s printed.”
John: “It would be to really let those printers know, those who haven’t adapted standards into their process, they really should.”
Bisson: “The biggest challenge is to have different printers using different ink sets, and even in the same ink manufacturer, we see differences in color and tones. [I wish] every ink created by every vendor was exactly the same color.”
Sanel: “Don’t treat color management as a cost of business, treat it as a value add.”

Nagle: Are you aware if any of your printers are FTA Excellence in Flexography Awards winners?

John: “Not my current printers, but I am working closely with a new printer who I believe has been presented with an award.
Bisson: “Yes, we have two in the TC family.”

Wrapping up the session, each brand owner representative gave their final thoughts.

Daniels: “Successful print starts with design. And if we could get more of our designers to design based around what we could do with flexography, I think we’d be in a better place.”
John: “Standards work, we know they work. If you’re not incorporating them into your process, definitely follow the
FIRST standard.”
Bisson: “The more a brand owner knows, the more realistic expectations we have. Flexo has been changing so fast that I feel it’s extremely important to keep up with the technology.”
Sanel: “Maintain your presses. Hire good people who understand how to make your presses shine. Be willing to stretch yourself to print something you didn’t think you had the capability to in the past.”
Chop: “Keep embracing these technologies that are out there. Too often I see older technologies and tools in general.”