Prepress & Workflow

When Hurdles Disappear

Posted: June 6, 2008 by
Noel Jeffrey

Inkjet and monitor-based proofs are hardly novel phenomena in the packaging workflow. Like many of the brand labels, bags, and boxes they help define and refine, they continue to be "new and improved." Front-end software that can do more and enhancements to output devices have contributed to inkjet's increasing popularity. Enforced process control lets more people trust their monitors. Dot-for-dot systems remain in play, and one has added functionality. And, at the recent drupa preview in Düsseldorf, Germany, there were a significant number of announcements specific to package proofing systems.

Issues remain, however. Just last May, the Clemson Department of Graphic Communications and the Foundation of Flexographic Technical Association (FFTA) cosponsored the second "Digital Proofing for Flexography," two days of hands-on seminars that also gave participants the opportunity to see systems from all the major digital proofing vendors.

Jay Sperry, research associate, Sonoco Institute of Packaging Design and Graphics, Clemson University, led the program ( "In many package printing applications, brand and spot colors are often overprinted to create unique colors on the package, " Sperry explains. "Digital proofing, and inkjet specifically, can allow for better simulation of the resulting trap color based on mathematical models for color reproduction. A discussion that always gets a lot of attention is the need to see halftone dots on a contract proof. Many digital proofing applications are required to sacrifice some color accuracy to provide halftone dots. "

Inkjet software and hardware

"There have been radical changes in attitudes regarding inkjet proofing," says James Summers, president of GMG USA. "We are in the acceptance phase. Inkjet is extremely repeatable and accurate." GMG is located in Tuebingen, Germany, and offers ColorProof, DotProof, and FlexoProof systems. Summers and Sperry agree that no system can reproduce opaque white or metallics yet and nobody has figured out how to image on card and board stock.

"A strength of what we do is that we reproduce the color and appearance of the background, whether it's fluting or a pattern," Summers says. "The inkjet background doesn't feel the same, but it gets you very close." Regarding dot-for-dot proofing, Summers notes: "Software can now take the same files going to CTP or film and use those to produce the proof, so we can reproduce the dot structure. That was problematic in the past. "

As for output devices, Summers says that inkjet systems have an expanded range of available gamut and can incorporate spot colors. In addition, HP's Designjet Z6100 series now has a built-in spectrophotometer so that calibration is easier. "Printers or prepress houses can install these machines at remote locations (hub and spoke model) and monitor them from their headquarters, " says Summers. "They've greatly simplified recalibration and machine setup."

According to Tyler Harrell, innovations and solutions manager for EskoArtwork, FlexProof/E, announced last July, is his company's newest generation of proofing RIP to inkjet devices. The product's drivers are powered by EFI's Bestcolor technology, output to a wide variety of inkjet proofing devices, and produce contract proof print quality. FlexProof/E can accept the same data used for the final production plate.

FlexProof/E is also said to provide color accurate contract proofing for extended color gamut printing, offering accurate rendering of seven-color ink overprints and support for latest wide-gamut inkjet proofers. Companies are starting to adopt an ECG color set rather than using spot colors, typically using a combination of CMYK and two or three additional colors such as red, green, and blue.

Harrell also sees the hub and spoke model in the marketplace both at trade shops and converters. "A contract proof is part of a trade shop's product," says Harrell. "Today, the pressure of time to press has pushed some trade shops to bring their proofing operations onsite to the converters, even though they maintain control. " He explains that converters with a graphic hub and multiple print locations save both time and money with remote proofing, and they can shift jobs to the best location.

Derek Awalt, product manager Americas, Halftone Proofing and Inkjet Solutions, Kodak's Graphic Communications Group, observes: "Our customers are using a combination of proofing technologies in their proof production workflow. Digital halftone, inkjet, and monitor proofs are all used at different stages depending on the requirements of the customer and the job."

Kodak's inkjet offerings, Matchprint Inkjet Systems, are driven by Kodak developed Kodak Proofing Software and offer seamless connectivity and production features needed to produce accurate and repeatable inkjet proofs. The software drives output devices from Epson and HP.

Monitor-based proofing

While experts agree that monitor-based contract proofing has yet to make inroads in packaging, it is becoming a staple in the workflow process from design to content signoffs. James Burk, senior account manager at Paxonix, a division of MeadWestvaco offering web-based brand and packaging management, notes that none of his company's clients use its monitor-based proofing for contract proofs, although they use it heavily for communication, collaboration, and early rounds of proofing.

"The technology exists to eliminate hard copy proofs," Burk says. "The resistance is cultural, not a technological one." In addition to inkjet, Kodak's proofing offerings for packaging include a digital halftone solution, Approval NX Digital Color Imaging System, and the monitor-based Matchprint Virtual technology that is part of Kodak's Insite Web-based workflow product.

Pat Lord, product manager, portal products, Kodak's Graphic Communications Group, notes that with approved calibrated monitors, Matchprint Virtual technology offers color accurate proofing as well as content proofing capabilities. "Insite enabled Matchprint Virtual use in packaging is growing," says Lord. "We're doing a lot of work to extend to capabilities of proofing spot colors." The advanced Spot Color Fidelity is now used by technicians rather than ICC profiles to develop sets of parameters of how the images on the monitor will print. The program considers things like opacity, ink lay down, tints, and overprints, among other factors.

To date, ICS' Remote Director monitor-based product has not been widely adopted in the packaging world. Dan Caldwell, v.p. of operations, says that's changing. In early May, Schawk Digital Solutions Inc. (SDS), a division of Chicago-headquartered Schawk, announced that it will be using core Remote Director monitor proofing and approval technology in its upcoming 2.2 release of BLUE, SDS's graphic life cycle management software. SDS serves the consumer products company, retail, pharmaceutical, and media and entertainment industries.

Remote Director itself is set up so that users who approve color must have a calibrated monitor to view the file. ICS supports all the popular instruments for monitor calibration but according to Caldwell, they make all these instruments behave the same way. "It's a unique feature over other systems," Caldwell says, "and it has increased our acceptance in the marketplace." Caldwell also acknowledges the spot color challenge. "In our 3.6 Remote Director release, we've refined our special blending option so that users can select the mode in the proof and blend the spectral values of spot colors, " he says.

Halftone dot-for-dot

While more than one vendor offers halftone proofing systems, Kodak has been particularly focused on the packaging market, including offering a cutting and creasing table to use with its Approval NX Digital Color Imaging System to speed production of 3D mockups. "Designers want to produce multiple comps, mostly manually, in the early development stages, " says Kodak's Awalt, "and they don't want to compromise in the finishing stages. The table is very important to the system. "

Approval NX images high resolution proofs with adjustable density and dot gain. Its Recipe Color Technology enables simulation of spot, PMS, brand, or corporate colors imaging CMYK and/or applying extended gamut donors of orange, green, blue, and specialty donors of white and metallic. It can laminate the image to a wide variety of substrates.

Southern Graphics, with its more than 30 global locations, provides an example of a marketing and print media services organization using a combination of proofing methods. Scott Thompson, director of commercial technology at Southern Graphics, says that in the past six to nine months they have been implementing GMG inkjet digital proofing aggressively, using both HP and Epson output devices.

"We're running the HPs with the onboard spectrophotometer where we're doing remote proofing at client locations," says Thompson. "It cuts the amount of labor and the skill set needed for our onsite employees, but Southern Graphics always controls access to the device. Remote on location proofing saves time and costs and speeds the time to market. Thompson notes that Southern Graphics has already taken remote proofing global to locations in the U.K. and Asia.

Thompson also says that they have implemented color accurate monitor proofing solutions at some companies and plants for intermediate proofing. "Many customers require a tactile proof to cover legalities and sign offs," he says. They also offer Kodak Approvals to customers who prefer a halftone dot system.

Finally, despite the sophistication of digital proofing systems, there's no predictability as accurate as a press proof—which on long-run presses became prohibitively expensive a long time ago. Now, in some cases, digital presses like the HP Indigo, NexPress, Xerox, and Xeikon offerings are used as proofing devices since their quality output now matches flexo and offset production.

Burk from Paxonix points to digital press speed and flexibility as a common sense solution: "Digital presses offer a means of press proofing and the capability to do short runs of samples, say 1000 pieces for sales reps, distributors, and so on. "

The Keys to Packaging Proofs

Jay Sperry, research associate, Sonoco Institute of Packaging Design and Graphics, Clemson University ( lists the following as key issues when proofing for packaging:

• Transparency of spot colors and their overprinting color reproduction
• Kraft, metallic and other unusual substrates
• Metallic, opaque white, spot varnish, etc. (so far an on-monitor virtual proof is the only good way to show this)
• Predicting the minimum dot and highlight gain
• Simulating substrate texture, noise associated with low LPI printing
• Proofing multiple LPI (one for CMYK, one for Line work) on the same proof
• Contract proofing spot colors and process colors on the same proof (moving away from color chips for targets)

A Taste of New products at drupa

GMG Connect is completely new. It's a software solution that permits simple integration of GMG products in Prinergy, EskoArtwork, and Dalim workflow environments. The software is additionally of great benefit for efficient remote proofing, enabling cross-platform checking of print job statuses via the Internet, for example. New versions of ColorProof, DotProof, and FlexoProof focus on additional functions, even easier handling, and intuitive support of the various industry standards. The software solutions feature the new Adobe PDF Print Engine technology.

EFI launched Colorproof eXpress, a powerful entry level proofing product targeted at creative professionals, graphic designers, small agencies, prepress houses, and print buyers. It outputs accurate proofs, full color printouts, and brilliant photos with a single RIP/inkjet printer combination.

Kodak's Approval made its fifth appearance at drupa. New features being shown for the Approval NX System include: new Digital Donors (yellow, magenta, and blue); packaging Precoat and Prelaminate; Degloss Sheets; a new Cutting and Creasing Table; and a new version of Kodak Proofing Software for Kodak Approval.