A Two-Pronged Approach for Increased Profitability – Part I

Have you noticed the push for higher quality flexo printing? What about the more devasting trend where brand customers are moving toward an increased number of SKU’s, shorter print run lengths, and tighter color tolerances? This kind of shifting landscape creates some pretty tough conditions for printers who must then incur many more make-readies to accommodate the shorter press runs. In addition, make-ready times are getting even longer so that printers can achieve the new tighter color tolerances being placed on them. Together, more make-readies and longer make-readies translates to much lower profit margins for flexo and packaging printers.

So what can printers do in this situation to maintain their profitability and still meet their customers’ expectations? Over the next 2 weeks, I will present a two-pronged approach that we see printers employing to address the challenges imposed by brand owners. This week’s blog will first examine how “printing to the numbers” can provide some immediate relief to printers. Then, next week, we will turn out attention to how an investment in an inline spectrophotometer for automated color measurements can help printers. Together, both of these solutions allow printers to take control of the color print process, remove the color guesswork, and turn their operation into a more repeatable manufacturing process with reduced make-ready times and higher overall color quality and repeatability.

Prong # 1 – Printing to the Numbers
So just what “numbers” are we talking about here? Well, this depends entirely on the type of work you are printing. For those printing spot colors like Pantone or brand colors, running to the numbers means using a spectrophotometer to measure CIELab values of those spot inks and adhering to the deltaE tolerances agreed upon with the customer. Taking color measurements to determine the accuracy of spot colors is far more predictable than making visual assessments and guessing at corrections on press. With a single measurement, many spectrophotometers and pressroom color management software solutions can instantly guide press operators to the lowest possible deltaE by providing very specific density adjustments for each color. In some cases, the software will also immediately indicate to the operator if a fundamental problem exists with an ink and they must either “tone” it on press or reformulate it back in the ink department. This allows math and science to quickly call the shots and replace the subjective judgement of your press operators where experience levels can vary drastically. Again, the name of the game here is reducing the guesswork and turning your color print process into a predictable and repeatable process.

In the case of process CMYK or ECG work, there are lots of good reasons to adopt one of the many industry standard print conditions that are available today. These standards include FTA’s FIRST, ISO 12647-6, GRACoL 2013 (CRPC6), and many others. However, regardless of the standard you choose, given the demands on flexo printers for shorter run lengths and tighter color tolerances, the adoption of an industry color standard and running to the numbers is extremely beneficial for printers. It provides a known print condition with quantifiable color metrics that can be measured and controlled (density, CIELab, TVI, hue angle, etc.) to remove the guesswork and ensure you have a known, stable, and predictable color process that you can achieve day in and day out. While using a pressroom spectrophotometer as a guide to find and achieve your color standards faster is a time saver in make-ready, taking periodic color measurements throughout production is also important to ensure you maintain color consistency throughout the job. This production check will prevent costly remakes and many brand customers now require measurements throughout production to ensure compliance with the job tolerances.

So that is a look at the first strategy flexo and packaging printers are employing to create a more repeatable and predictable print manufacturing process. Removing the guesswork allows printers to cut their make-ready times, reduce wasted materials, and deliver more color accurate and consistent printed products. Stay tuned for next week where the second half of this blog will look at “Prong #2 – Inline Color Measurement” and see how this technology further increases profitability for flexo and packaging printers. Thanks and please stay safe and healthy!