Consistency is key
Consistency is key
The management of colour across the converting industry has been a constant pressure point. With new colour spaces being defined and better reliability, especially on digital presses, Dave Howell discovers that converters are more active than ever in delivering vibrant and consistent colour to their brand partners
How converters handle colour management has always been a vital issue. Customers have understood for decades that colour forms an essential component of their brand’s communications. As the packaging industry has continued to diversify, managing colour consistency across a variety of form factors, using a range of substrates, is critical.
Colour matching is also about more than just brand communications. Converters in specific sectors, most notably foodstuffs, need to meet strict regulations when choosing inks. For instance, earlier in 2017, Pulse Roll Label Products announced the launch of its PureTone Food Packaging Compliant (FPC) UV flexo ink system, a product aimed at the narrow web converting sector.
Gary Seward, the company’s managing director, says, “We are committed to the principles of protecting food consumer safety within the areas under our control, and consequently Pulse Roll Label Products is a fully engaged partner in the food packaging supply chain.”
Converters are also moving to gain more control over colour output from their installed presses. A good example is Pipi Print & Packaging, a company that currently has two Heidelberg B2 sheet-fed presses. The company recently employed the expertise of Prepress UK to improve its colour consistency.
Pipi’s managing director Raj Palmer says, “We are [creating] packaging product for the pharmaceutical and cosmetics markets, where quality and consistency are critical. It was important for us to be getting the very best out of our litho presses.”
Brands are also expanding the number of SKUs they are creating, and therefore need to manage. Here, converters are moving their workflows to accommodate shorter print runs and more personalisation as well as serialisation. They are also increasingly using digital presses to deliver their needs.
These changes to the demands that brands now place on converters means that the vital component of colour consistency must be managed no matter which type of packaging is being output, as Matt Baldock, business manager of UNI Packaging UK, explained to Converting Today.
“ESKO’s Webcenter is the obvious, all-encompassing tool that has not only maintained its already ubiquitous ‘Colour Engine’ but has completely modernised colour management,” he says.
“It allows remote access by end users to approve colours across formats online, and offers the option to witness workflows, cycles and job status, exploiting the power of the internet,” Baldock continues. “An all-in-one system like this has increased converters’ and repro houses’ engagement with their consumers, ensuring they feel more involved in the process and increasing their involvement. It has been a seminal step in bringing the traditionalist print industry into the 21st century.”
Whether a converter is working in a specific niche or services a range of verticals, digital presses continue to show how they can be used to deliver the expanding demands that brands are placing on their converting partners. It’s no accident that digital presses are the go-to for customisable packaging or packaging that has attention-grabbing print finishes. Digital offers short make-ready times and the ability to manipulate colour in unprecedented formats.
The ability to manage a brand colour is fundamental, as consumers have powerful associations with brands and the colours they use. For example, Pantone 2685c is inexorably linked to Cadbury. But Baldock says this can sometimes be an impossible task when trying to match a chosen spot colour for CMYK press output.
“Within colour management there are retailer driven trends to optimise number of colours, primarily for cost purposes. This means we are seeing ranges of packaging being printed using a fixed colour gamut,” he says. “This is essentially standardising a printing press on a set of 4,5,6,7 inks which can be used for a specific range. Because the number of colours are minimised and the whole colour spectrum is not required, you can adequately convert spot colours to CMYK and expand the gamut to CMYK + 2 or 3 extras. Reprographic departments would liaise with brands to make this happen. The benefits also follow through to the printer, as downtime between jobs is reduced and so productivity is increased, again helping with cost.”
And getting colour right has massive commercial impact on brands, according to Craig Du Mez, brand manager at QuadTech Inc. “There has been a great deal of research done on this question,” he says. “Jill Morton of Colorcom gathered some interesting study results in her article ‘Why Colour Matters’. According to a study conducted by Loyola University Maryland, colour increases brand recognition by over 80%. Additional research shows that colour has a significant impact on sales since ‘people make a subconscious judgment about a product within 90 seconds of initial viewing and between 62 and 90% of that assessment is based on colour alone’.”
Clearly the management of colour is much more than an aesthetic decision. Converters need to deliver cost-effective packaging that has high levels of colour-matching, as brand and colour are inexorably linked today.
It can be a challenge for converters to colour-match for the brand packaging they need to produce. For instance, a major step forward was taken in late 2016 at Labelexpo, where HP showed its new premium white ink. Converters using digital presses had struggled to achieve a high white, especially in conjunction with other print forms such as screen, and when in use with clear or metallised labels.
How a colour space is managed and manipulated has also changed. The latest development comes from Coloro, which decodes colour as the human eye sees it. The system assigns a seven-digit code to represent the point where hue, lightness and chroma intersect. There are potentially 1.6 million colours available in the system and 3,500 colours have been selected for showcase in Coloro products, based on global input from trend forecasters at WGSN, colour experts at the China Textile Information Center (CTIC), and creative and fashion industry leaders.
Thorsten Traugott, leader of the Coloro launch at Ascential says, "Coloro simplifies how we identify and create colours, enabling colour to be a truly strategic tool for the creative industry. Harnessing the colour expertise within CTIC, we worked closely with 80 leading influencers in the textile and fashion industry to ensure the product responded to their industry needs. The result is a product that is a true game changer."
Converters have also had to become experts in the use of colour, in how it is perceived and its behaviour when used with different substrates, as Cindy Cooperman, global director of packaging and brand at X-Rite explains.“The next innovation will take measurement beyond colour to include appearance,” she says. “This is already happening in the automotive industry, where the use of special-effects paints and coatings is common. These special-effects paints and coatings can change colour based on the viewing angle.”
Colour management, then, has evolved. However, consistency is still an issue that many converters struggle with. Digital output is a continuing and expanding trend. The showing of colour solutions on the HP stand at Interpack in 2017 is a clear indication of this trend. And with ISO 32000-2 defining PDF 2.0 imminently expected that will offer additional spot colour control, converters will continue to improve their colour management skills.
Fixed Colour Palette offers savings
Brands are constantly looking for savings when colour-matching for their converting partners. The recent news that FFP Packaging Solutions now offers Fixed Colour Palette (FCP) with key UK retailers, including Asda and Tesco, is a major step towards more colour consistency.
“The process of FCP is a growing trend within the printed packaging sector and we have been keen to be involved with brands and retailers as an approved FCP Printer,” said Paul Hesketh, print development manager at FFP Packaging Solutions.
The release of FFP’s Fixed Colour Palette reference book gives brands, designers and converters a common reference to achieve high levels of colour-matching and consistency.
The guide enables brand managers to select repeatable, achievable colours based on the Pantone library, but produced using the CMYK process ink set. In the format of a colour book, it was reverse-printed on clear PET film and then laminated to white PET. The printed film was produced on one of FFP’s W&H Miraflex printing presses using Asahi plates with pinning technology for clean transfer.