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Colour Management

Colour Management

Expectations of colour management have increased exponentially in recent years. A brand-identity colour that is not quite right or an unappealing image of a serving suggestion won’t cut it anymore. Emma-Jane Batey speaks to industry leaders to learn more about how colour management techniques and technology enhance a product.

Body: Defined as the controlled conversion of colour representation across devices such as image scanners, digital printers and offset presses, colour management is an integral part of successful converting and packaging. With the aim of ensuring a good match across devices and substrates in terms of images and text, it is critical that customers’ products resemble what they envisioned in the planning process.

Digital technology is a vital force behind the power and appeal of colour management. Specific RGB coding can be used to ensure a repeatable match, agreed colour profiles and reliable prototypes.

The close connection between modern colour management and digital technology is reflected in Marks & Spencer’s use of digital printing for its latest confectionery packaging. Working with Ultimate Packaging, Marks & Spencer is the first UK retailer to embrace on-demand digitally printed packaging for its Summer of Flavour fruit jellies, using printed and laminated flexible packaging.

Andrew Speck, commercial and environmental packaging manager at Marks & Spencer, says: "Marks & Spencer and Ultimate Packaging have worked closely to develop food-approved, digitally printed flexible packaging. Digital print allows small volumes of printed packaging to be produced, which enables new products to be trialled in store. With no need for printing plates, and a reduced artwork process, this has opened the door to on-demand print, something that conventional print techniques cannot deliver."

Reduced range

Ultimate Packaging developed a new technology and called it Flexeye, which uses a reduced colour range to be used in digital and conventional printing. With only four colours, Flexeye eliminates ink waste, uses fewer solvents and printing plates, and reduces costs, production times and impact on the environment.

Ultimate Packaging is an expert in the production of printed flexible packaging, having pushed the boundaries of high-definition flexo-print technology with Flexeye. Chris Tonge, sales and marketing director, says: "Ultimate Packaging has pioneered this new method of printing. Our Flexeye process uses just four colours to create exceptional designs that would normally have taken eight or ten, meaning that less ink is used in each design."

Over the past decade, the company has invested heavily in a range of top-quality print machines and other equipment, including the X-Rite Colour SpectroEye colour management system. Tonge says: "Ultimate Packaging’s aim is always to be the smartest choice for customers that require high specification, printed flexible packaging with a truly reliable colour match. We deliver the complete service from concept to finished pack, with the ability to produce short runs of packaging that allow our customers to be reactive to market conditions, run more promotions and interact directly with their customers."

Ultimate Packaging supplies a large number of the UK’s leading retailers and has reached hero status with Marks & Spencer, for which it provides packaging for a number of other grocery and chilled food products such as potato bags for two ranges. The brief for the Summer of Flavour range was that the pack reflected a traditional sack format while delivering high-impact product photography and brand marketing, and met the strict demands of the British retail giant’s Plan A initiative. This ethical and environmental programme is focused on responsible sourcing and reducing waste.

Mark & Spencer’s print and colour manager, Karen Rowe, says: "As part of a small team dedicated to the production of packaging for Mark & Spencer’s foods, I work closely with the product development and technical teams and designers to deliver print solutions and bring exciting designs to market within a commercial framework. Plan A underpins everything we do, as we want to guarantee that our products look beautiful on the shelf, perform well for our customers and are environmentally responsible. Part of that is making sure our colour management is as appealing and effective as possible so that there is no waste when it comes to inks, and that the packaging is right first time."

Colour rationalisation

The X-rite Colour SpectroEye machine that Ultimate Packaging uses is one of the latest offerings from global colour management machinery expert X-Rite, which is a Danaher company alongside colour experts Pantone and packaging and print machinery giant Esko.

Connected to the PantoneLive Rationalisation Service, a cloud-based solution for digitally communicating colour management and colour libraries with its customers, the X-Rite Colour SpectroEye delivers colour mapping and rationalisation. Chris Halford, technical director for X-Rite Pantone, says: "A printer’s colour library can grow substantially when new colours are added. Without appropriate management to the possible issues of duplication, this can quickly become an unmanageable number, resulting in inefficiencies in ink matching, production planning and increased ink inventory costs.

"We have worked with a number of converters who have seen a 30-45% reduction in their colour libraries. This creates a leaner colour palette with fewer colours to manage and a smaller inventory of inks. This saves time and budget and reduces errors. The remaining colours in the digital library can be easily accessed, giving the printer and the brand-owner the confidence that their colours are consistent, no matter where the item is produced or what substrate is used. The combination of rationalising and colour mapping allows printers to create a palette of converter-validated and Pantone-approved colours and, as a result, printers can take full advantage of the benefits of reducing spot-colour libraries."

Esko makes sure that colour management is integral to successful converting and printing. A global supplier of integrated solutions across the printing industry, Esko’s products and services drive profitability in the packaging and printing supply chain by reducing time to market and raising productivity. Its highly respected colour management software package – Color Engine – has been created to enable colour management across the packaging and print supply chain by providing a central colour database for all colour-critical data.

Color Engine provides two core functions: it accurately predicts what the brand colours will look like on the finished pack in advance of the production being signed off, and it communicates colour information to all stakeholders in the packaging supply chain, from designers and brand-owners to converters and manufacturers.

M&H Plastics, based in Suffolk, delivers distinctive packaging with its high-quality plastic bottles, jars, flexible tubes and closures. Accurate and reliable colour management is part of this ongoing process. With an extensive range of over 1,200 standard products, as well as custom-made solutions, M&H Plastics offers full-service, high-quality packaging.

Rare ability
Louise Soloman, packaging development manager for M&H Plastics, says: "Colour management is a wide-ranging and specialist element of packaging. It involves technical equipment such as spectrometers, as well as a human touch from experts who have outstanding visual capabilities – unsurprisingly, there are few people around with this ability. We are experts in understanding how artwork for decoration, which is often produced on paper or on screen by an agency for a client, will have a different colour or effect on every kind of polymer used for plastic bottles and tubes. Consistency on production is paramount, so we consistently check degrees of tolerance and ensure all of our equipment is maintained to the highest standard. We also focus on achieving colour consistency when it comes to different printing techniques, such as flexo, block and screen. Concentration of information has an effect on colour too, such as lists of ingredients, standard regulatory information and symbols to be printed on the packaging."

Soloman adds: "M&H seeks to match existing artwork to colour plaques for the customer to approve. However, it is also important to test whatever substrate is being used to see how that polymer will take the colour. M&H, therefore, will work closely with the ink manufacturer to ensure that the colour remains true, based on whatever material is being used."

Generally, there are a number of things that can affect the perception of colour on products in the production process. For instance, when screen printing is used, the type of mesh and screen will dictate the ink mixture and affect the final look. Soloman says: "The technology behind screen printing is always developing, and M&H constantly seeks operating and practical efficiencies. From an artwork perspective, it is also important to produce samples to show the varying effects of concentrations of text and logos on the customer’s perception of colour. M&H also tests colours to ensure that the product will look its best within the retail environment."