With pack types and designs agreed upon, the team went to Taylor Communications’ Mankato, MN location to print. The laminate pouch and pastry bag were printed on Taylor’s Mark Andy Performance Series P7, and the pressure-sensitive label was printed on the company’s Mark Andy 2200.
No printrun is without its difficulties, and in emulating a real-world scenario, that was true of the UW-Stout’s time on press, too.
“One obstacle we had to overcome was executing a spot-matte varnish on a laminate substrate,” Johnson explained. “For our laminate custard pouch, we had two layers of material: a 75-gauge transparent OPP laminate that we printed on, and a 48-gauge metallized LLDPE—our silver multi-layer material—that we applied to the printed substrate using the solventless lamination process.”
The team had hoped to use the spot-matte varnish to print repeating and patterned images of the rolling pin. After researching surface tension, dyne levels and corona treatment, Johnson and the team discovered they wouldn’t be able to corona treat both sides of the material. It meant a resulting dyne level that wouldn’t allow the varnish to adhere to the substrate. “We had prepared different plates so we were prepared to print the rolling pin image with white ink,” she added, “and that was the ultimate result.”
For the pressure-sensitive label destined for the bakery’s clamshell containers, a foil substrate was used. Bartel revealed that the team tested five combinations, consisting of a mix of whites and laminates, before settling on a white tonal value that included 25 percent, 35 percent, 50 percent and a solid. “We printed the labels on a shiny foil substrate with different percentages of white ink behind the red swirls to create more contrast, and then applied an inline matte laminate to the label,” she noted.
The single-size paper bag also gave the team trouble and required several on-press modifications. “We had difficulty getting the image to print as intended,” Lee admitted. “After making a few adjustments to the ink and substrate, we eventually realized we needed to make a new plate for the image to print correctly.”
“We were constantly evolving and problem solving to make these three products to the best of our ability,” Lee continued, and that was a message the team sought to communicate in their presentation to Competition judges. “We really wanted to drive home the fact that we were a part of the entire process for all three products, despite using an industry partner. We were involved in prepress, plate making, press setup, the pressrun, finishing—everything.”
With a 30-minute time cap on their presentation, the team had to balance all the details of the design work and printruns, trials and tribulations and triumphs, and weaving a narrative of the year-long project from start to finish.
Following the announcement of the Overall Excellence win, the team got a “take two” of sorts when it presented for FTA FORUM & INFOFLEX attendees in the Monday morning technical session titled “FQC: Research Is the Key to a Successful Future.”
“Presenting to industry professionals and FTA members was nerve-racking, but in a different way,” Lee recalled. “We already knew we had done well during the Competition, but this time, many more people were watching and listening to us; people who have been in this industry for years.”
Bartel likens the victory lap-esque second presentation to a “once-in-a-lifetime experience”: “We are all so grateful that these people took the time to attend and learn about our work.”
If there was one moment when Dudek may have felt inclined to interfere with his school’s team, it would have been during the Awards Banquet. The Banquet, which took place the day after the Competition’s judging, is where, each year, its various winners are announced.
“On the evening of the Awards Banquet, my phone started to buzz with congratulatory emails from industry partners, then LinkedIn messages, then text messages; however, it wasn’t until nearly an hour after the first email message that I ‘officially’ learned from our team that they’d won the award of Overall Excellence,” he remembered. “It was extremely exciting to know the hard work by the team was recognized at a national level.”
Nyseth echoed that sentiment and believed it would bring more attention to the school’s graphic communications program: “The win put UW-Stout on [industry leaders’] radars, showed them what we’re doing here, the capabilities of our high-caliber students and let everyone know our program can compete with—and outrun—the big dogs.”
For the Competition team’s members, the win was the culmination of an entire year’s worth of hard work. “Hearing our school name announced at the Awards Banquet is something that I will never forget,” Lee said. “I am truly blessed to have been able to be a part of the Competition and compete against the other great schools. It was the best possible way to end my second year as a team member.” Johnson remembers the feeling of pride when Phoenix Challenge Chair Bettylyn Krafft read her school’s name: “We were all in shock that it was happening—It was a very special moment. Knowing that a year’s worth of hard work paid off and that we were representing our school at such a big venue was amazing.”
The Phoenix Challenge describes the intent of the College Competition as “engaging college-level students in creatively solving a current, industry-relevant flexographic problem which would allow them to practice and showcase their research, problem solving, design and print production skills.” The word “relevant” may be an understatement, as every piece of research, every problem solved, every design considered, every step of the print production run the UW-Stout team did—and every participating team does—is done to best emulate what flexographic printers do every day.
“The year-long competition taught me how to thoughtfully plan an extended project,” Lee said. “We were responsible for our own deadlines, as well as communicating information and schedules with our client and our industry partners.”
To potential future competitors, Johnson describes the Challenge as an incredible learning opportunity for students interested in the worlds of print and graphics. “I highly recommend that students get involved with this competition; the experience has certainly impacted my life in a very positive way.”