2020/03/18 Digital Innovations Signal Bright Future For Color (part 2 of 2)

Digital Innovations Signal Bright Future For Color

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Use of Color Is Evolving
The way that color is used on packaging is also changing, and this has an impact on the printing presses.
In recent years, minimalist designs have been utilized on packaging, leaving a cleaner look and a clear brand message. This means that the colors that remain on the packaging are even more important. Gradients are also used more widely now, helping to provide an element of dimension and freshness.

Greater digitalization and automation have been transformative across the packaging industry.
Stephen Jones, manager digital integration (packaging) at Philip Morris International, agrees that digitalization is the way to go at a time when speed of response is critically important.
“With the new products we are entering a world that is dynamic, fast and more unpredictable than ever – which variants will consumers buy most, which ones will have to be replenished soonest? In order to keep pace we need to change the ways we make our products: waiting two or three months to get our printed materials is no longer an option for us. The flexibility and speed that digital offers, plays a key role in helping us support the transformation we are going through.”

Flexibility Is A Major Asset
In an era of more numerous but shorter runs, flexibility is one of the biggest assets of more digitalized technology. Companies are doing shorter runs, smaller batches, diversifying the packaging more, all resulting in many more SKUs. But as one brand  owner puts it, “We are using conventional, economy-of-scale machines for more and more agile jobs.” More agile printing technologies that enable efficient printing with high color consistency are likely to increase in demand.

The digitalization and automation of the flexographic process (known as DigiFlexo) has provided an exciting middle ground, bridging the gap between what digital printing can do and what traditional flexo technology delivers. The digitalization of the flexographic process has made it consistent and easily repeatable, with very quick job changes, start-ups and minimum waste.
From a color perspective, the DigiFlexo innovation has brought consistent color matching and control, an appealing benefit for brand owners.

“Digital and DigiFlexo options are appealing. We are looking into them to see if they can help us to achieve shorter operation times and deliver more color consistency,” says Amigoni. “The process becomes more standardized, with less room for human error. As well as greater consistency, digitalized color solutions mean quicker time to market, better stock management, and good opportunities for data collection and analysis. We are certainly looking into DigiFlexo, mainly for labels at the moment.”

Expectation And Achievability
And it’s not just color consistency from job to job, but the reassurance of knowing throughout the process that the digital colors are accurate – “creating expectation and achievability,” as one brand owner puts it. Digitalizing colors and being able to simulate the consistency among substrates at the design stage, creates higher expectations and achievability at the printing stage. If it is possible to digitally communicate these colors to all parties in the graphic chain, then this helps to get the results in line with expectations. It also means that companies can digitally measure and control each of the productions according to a digitalized color standard.

One of the biggest drives to simultaneously improve color consistency and production efficiency has been the Extended Color Gamut, or ECG.
ECG printing uses three additional ink colors on top of the conventional colors of cyan, magenta, yellow, and black (CMYK), enabling a match with more than 95 percent of the Pantone book, compared with approximately 65 percent previously. This means there is no need to keep huge inventories of spot colors, but these can be added if required. The digitalization of color matching has made 100 percent color conformity with the job master request possible. It ensures color matching of packaging worldwide, irrespective of the geographical locations or the different ability of the press operators.

The use of ECG is on the rise. The Pantone company estimates that 15 to 25percent of all packaging is printed using ECG (based on printers using ECG software), and this is expected to increase more than 50 percent within the next decade.
“I am convinced that moving away from spot colors – where you have thousands of inks on a shop floor – will have a big impact on reducing cleaning time and on sustainability,” says Cavallari from Nestlé. “Spot colors have been a good way to bring color consistency, but today we are convinced that with standard process colors it is possible to reach sufficiently good color consistency. In this way, we can avoid spot colors, which are associated with high costs. I believe that in the future, ECG will become standard.”

What Is The Advantage of ECG?
ECG speeds up time to market and turnaround time.
“The key competitive advantage for us would be speed to market,” says one brand owner. “The quicker we can launch a new packaging the better, and there’s no question that the speed would improve with a fixed sets of inks. Also, we would know at the design stage which colors are achievable.”

In 2013, BOBST launched the REVO DigiFlexo project with a team of leading industry partners. REVO has succeeded in making available to converters a turnkey seven-color ECG printing process and digitalized workflow; a closed loop solution with fixed partners for consumables, hardware and software equipment and devices.
Converters using a REVO package can start with ECG from day one. Because REVO packages contain in-line color measurement and standardization of all print elements including plate, anilox, inks, pre-press, substrates and inspection, consistency can be achieved. 

Sunset of Spot Colors?
ECG is the default method to produce colors in digital presses. The recently announced Mouvent technology has developed proprietary screening technologies for the optimization of the ECG process. A wide color gamut range is achievable using the unique Mouvent Cluster print heads and the digital workflow and color matching are perfectly integrated for label production.

With the continuing rise of ECG, flexo and digital inkjet are expected to share the same color space, so the same jobs can be printed with different technologies without differences in colors and quality perception. Digitalized closed-loop solutions will enable quality and color control to achieve digitalized print consistency worldwide, regardless of whether the technology is flexo or digital.

Recent innovations have taken us a step closer to that reality. Converters and brand owners will now be able to rely on a new digital technology to protect their brand identities, and will benefit from major time savings and quality improvement benefits. The future of color fidelity and consistency in product packaging — whether printed via flexo or digital inkjet — is bright.