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Prepress technology in the converting sector has come on in leaps and bound in recent months. Advancements in proofing and visualisation software have been complemented by a wealth of launches in the platesetter arena. Tim Sheahan investigates

With Emballage in Paris marking the end of the events calendar for the packaging and converting sector in 2012, the past 12 months bore witness to significant developments across the packaging spectrum. Some of the major advancements, across both software and hardware, took place within the prepress technology space for printers in the converting industry.

2012 has been a period of evolution for Esko, particularly in the supplier’s prepress offering. Launched at this year’s Drupa, Suite 12, the latest update to Esko’s software suite for packaging, label, sign making and display, added a raft of new features across the board to its ArtiosCAD, ArtPro, PackEdge, DeskPack and Studio software.

A key element of Suite 12 is WebCenter. Commercially available from October, the software is the supplier’s web-based platform for the management of preproduction approval and project life cycle.

“Framed against the need of brand-owners, WebCenter enables these parties to access and control the process through online graphics approval and management,” says Esko director of solutions management Jan De Roeck.

The collaborative nature of the software helps “keep everyone on the same page” allowing the user to both view, mark and approve images, PDFs and CAD files.

According to De Roeck, WebCenter 12 has simplified the approval process by highlighting real-time collaboration on multiple pages while its lifecycle management option enables the user to split projects into “smaller manageable tasks” for effective management and on time delivery.

Esko says that built-in integration with Automation Engine and ArtiosCAD in addition to “enhanced” third-party interfacing capabilities helps position WebCenter 12 as an effective web-to-production portal that can involve brand-owners in both packaging design and production.

“Improving automation and the approval process are key facets of this latest release and there is no better way to do this than online,” adds De Roeck. “Version 12 is focused on defining the whole process from design to finished pack, and project management is very much key.”

According to De Roeck, purchasing patterns in the prepress arena are being determined by a number of significant factors. “The question of who buys packaging, brand-owner requirements and customer buying behaviour is constantly changing. Then you look at the packaging converters and the great work they are doing, but it is clear that they are facing a number of challenges,” he says.

“Audiences are being targeted in different ways and while we may not be seeing bespoke, personalised packaging on a large scale, audiences are segmented in a number of ways. As a result, run lengths are coming down but the number of jobs a converter will deal with is increasing, so they need to evolve to stay efficient,” adds De Roeck.

Remaining with Esko, digital proofing, colour management and production workflow supplier CGS recently partnered with the company to launch its ORIS Flex Pack // Web contract proofing bundle.

Unveiled at the London Packaging Innovations exhibition in October this year, the package comprises a Roland Versacamm VS-series printer for the production of proofs and packaging mock-ups on a diverse range of substrates.

The bundle also features CGS’ ORIS Flex Pack // Web software, an ORIS heating unit and a full range of proofing media, as well as the ability to connect to Esko’s Color Engine spot colour database.

Pitched as a “turnkey solution” for design agencies, repro businesses and in-house packaging departments, CGS key account director for Europe Heiner Mueller says the bundle offers a “cost-effective packaging proofing solution” that can accurately represent Pantone colours.

Another recent development, this time within the 3D visualisation space, is FFEI’s RealVue 3D Packager, which is a plug-in tool for Adobe Illustrator. It is pitched at graphic designers, creative studios and brand-owners as a low cost alternative to market leader Esko’s suite of software tools.

The software can be used to simulate reflections, embossing and other material and print effects while artwork and print finish effects can be applied to both sides of the material. Other features include the ability to see folding sequences while notes for client signoff can be added to any surface of the design.

Currently on version 1.2, the plug-in rapidly converts 2D artwork and a range of cutter guides from Adobe Illustrator into 3D visuals that can then be delivered to customers in an interactive portable format.

Previewed at Drupa but now commercially available, OpenColor proofing software from GMG is designed to represent pure spot colours while simulating the often complex overprinting behaviour that takes place in the process.

The central USP of the software is the ability to creates multicolour profiles that simulate printing behaviour across a range of printing technologies and substrates but, importantly, without the need for conventional chart-based press fingerprinting. GMG claims that the combination of a CMYK profile with spot colour libraries would often result in the inaccurate simulation of spot colour overprints.

According to the manufacturer, spot colour simulation is achieved by coupling spectral modelling algorithms and ink measurements, which analyse not only the properties of each ink colour but also of the substrate. Spectral measurement information is then applied to a specific printing process such as flexo, followed by the addition of process-specific information in order to simulate the press conditions.

Available in both ‘Basic’ and ‘Plus’configurations, OpenColor features options for various print technologies such as offset, flexo and gravure, which are specified with individual profile creation algorithims. UK start-up Studio404, a graphics studio that specialises in the packaging design industry, has become one of the first adopters of the new software.

Originally the in-house design division of gravure cylinder manufacturer Apex Cylinders, Studio404 has invested in a raft of Esko, Roland DG and GMG products since its launch last month.

“Everyone understands the traditional colour management techniques and as a result, they have been successful in controlling the 4-colour process,” says Tony Lawrence, studio manager at the business. “However, customers increasingly want flexibility and this often requires putting spot colours in the mix and maybe removing a black and replacing it with a dark blue, for instance, instead.”

Studio404 is already using OpenColor to produce designs for a major brand in the tobacco arena. According to Lawrence, the need for more than four colours in the supply chain has resulted in packaging converters requiring more from their colour management techniques and in this case, measuring colour spectrally.

“OpenColor is a fantastic tool and a huge step forward,” Lawrence says. “It enables us to take on a 7-colour process and know how those colours would react in a predictable way. It also takes into consideration the level of transparency or opacity associated with any given ink.”

In the hardware space, Kodak has recently bolstered its platesetter portfolio for packaging converters with the launch of the Trendsetter 1600. Designed for large format printing, the semi-automatic, thermal platesetter can output up to 15 plates an hour at a maximum plate size of 1,325 x 1,630mm and a minimum of 394 x 394mm.

Integrating Kodak’s squarespot laser writing system, the technology is claimed to provide stable, accurate and repeat imaging with a 10,000dpi optical resolution. The Trendsetter 1600 is capable of imaging plates at a resolution of 24,000dpi or screening of 450lpi. The machine also offers optional 20 or 25 micron staccato screening.

Jonathan Moore, packaging sales director for Kodak in the UK and Nordics, adds that the company’s Flexcel Direct System, launched this year, “offers brand-owners and design agencies an opportunity to reduce design set-up costs and increase quality with an extended colour palette”.

Another manufacturer in the CTP packaging arena is Lüscher, which earlier this year announced that it was teaming up with press giant Heidelberg to launch XDrum! UV, a platesetter that leverages technology from both manufacturers.

Combining the exposing unit from Lüscher’s XPose! UV, and the chassis that houses Heidelberg’s Suprasetter, the machine can image up to 25 plates per hour and handle plate sizes up to a maximum 930 x 1,060mm.

GMG’s OpenColor package: spot colour simulation OpenColor FFEI’s RealVue 3D Packager offers 3D visualisation on a range of substrates RealVue XDrum! UV: pitched at firms exposing a minimum of 10,000-15,000m2 printing plates per annum XDrum! UV Kodak Trendsetter 1600: capable of imaging plates at resolutions up to 24,000dpi Kodak Trendsetter 1600

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Studio 404