Step & Repeat
Fusion Flexo used to step everything manually in Adobe Illustrator. “The old way was a nightmare. Many times, the resulting file would be so large that we’d have problems RIPing the job. For this particular job, the step and repeat was done in PACKZ. Using PACKZ, we’ve reduced our times by a substantial amount,” explains Boyd. “We’re working our way toward moving our step-and-repeat process into CLOUDFLOW. We believe that we will be able to easily cut our prepress time in half.”
At the moment, stepped files are sent for approval via email. “In the future, of course, we will use CLOUDFLOW Proofscope,” says Boyd. “There, they will be able to view separations, read bar codes and make annotations, which will communicate that back to us to make revisions. Once our customer approves the job, it goes to final QC. That’s where the colors, stepping, curves, screen angles and trapping are verified to ensure everything looks correct. Then it goes to plate making.
“Once the Facelift ticket’s done, it will interface directly with CLOUDFLOW. When our one-ups are approved, customer service notes it, and the workflow will do the rest,” continues Boyd. “In a trade shop environment, it’s never a ‘one size fits all’ solution, because you get different customers, different printers, and different presses—and many different parameters and specifications.”
“A few of our customers are thinking about using Intelligent Flexo,” notes Boyd. “Some of it has to do with the speed of getting the plates done. Because we can produce thermal plates the same day in most cases, we can knock out a tremendous amount of production. We’ve imaged some files with Intelligent Flexo. It’s done on DFR, a standard non-flat top dot plate, but produces a textured result that I believe will carry more ink that will yield better solid ink density and overall print quality. We are working hard to develop a pattern that will work well on a standard digital plate that can be imaged on our Screen or Esko imagers.
“I can see where, in a system that affects the entire plate, patterns could be applied to certain areas where you don’t want them to be—whereas, some of the more advanced Intelligent Flexo patterns can be pulled back just around type and other line work. Intelligent Flexo looks like it has many more options, and we’re not limited to just a few patterns,” says Boyd. “We can develop our own proprietary surface patterns—and apply different ones to the same plate. We can customize patterns to accommodate the customer’s needs. This will allow us to apply surface screening to our entire plate catalog, opening the door to new business opportunities. That’s pretty big.”
Fusion Flexo has three imagers: a Kodak Flexcel NX Mid System, a Screen PlateRite FX1524 and an Esko CDI Spark XT. The company offers both thermal- and solvent-processed plates, and has the latest DuPont Cyrel FAST 2000 TD thermal plate processor at 42-in. by 60-in. “We offer DuPont, Kodak, XSYS (Flint Group) and MacDermid Graphics Solutions plates. I don’t believe that one plate works for everyone and every situation. This particular job was plated on a Kodak Flexcel NX plate with DigiCap,” recalls Boyd.
Working on the native PDF file makes everything much more efficient. “We have an updated RIP coming that will reduce our times even further,” says Boyd. “If we were trying to do micro-text and very fine line art, we would need to image at higher resolutions. However, for our everyday work, we create exceptional plates at 2,400 dpi.”
Once plates are imaged and processed, they are dried (if solvent) and then de-tacked and light finished. Centerlines and colors are scribed into the floor of the plates when needed. Then the sheet of plate material is taken to Fusion Flexo’s Zund G3 M-2500 digital cutting table where it is cut into individual plates.
After Fusion Flexo cuts the plates, they are inspected for any imperfections. Utilizing the Zund cutting table, Fusion Flexo creates and cuts custom boxes that best suit the plate size. Foaming each plate and packaging it tightly ensures a safe and undamaged delivery.
As anyone involved with flexographic printing knows, there are many different job specifications, and a lot of information that has to be captured in MIS to communicate back and forth. “We have to enter job information manually because there’s currently not a link to the CLOUDFLOW system,” says Boyd. “We do have certain workflows that are based on the actual file name. If file names are correct, the workflow basically does everything. They can specify if they need a color print or color-managed proof. It’ll create the stepped, distorted PDF file ready to RIP.”
Fusion Flexo’s plan is to have everything start in Facelift, where the art will be uploaded directly. The folder structure will be generated using CLOUDFLOW and the job will then be added to the production schedule, and prepress will be notified about the new job.
“This is real-world stuff. Every printer is different,” observes Boyd. “We do our best to make sure each one has the highest success rate at printing something. It’s rare for us to have to go back and fix something.”
A prepress department could use any system like HYBRID PACKZ and HYBRID CLOUDFLOW to change its business by optimizing and streamlining prepress processes. “PACKZ is very efficient and precise about creating press-ready files. It’s allowed us to do work that would take days and trimmed it down to hours.”
For example, Fusion Flexo creates plates for labels used in the horticulture industry for major DIY brands. “We created lots of different SKUs. Generally, we receive and process 50 in about four hours through our prepress department. Before, it would have taken us two days,” Boyd says. “Another reason we invested in our HYBRID Software system was we didn’t want a platform that was locked into anyone’s technology. HYBRID Software will work with everything.
“We knew that if we could get our work done faster, we could be more competitive. Plate making is such a commodity—often just sold on a square inch basis—that to compete you must streamline your processes and enhance your upfront capabilities. The pressure is on to differentiate by providing the best prepress services,” he continues. “It’s on me to generate all of these workflows—even the Facelift ticket. I am sure that many companies our size face the same challenges. It’s the melding of expertise, time, resources, and new systems that we all juggle to maintain our competitiveness. I’m happy to say that we are busy—and making progress.”