Big Value, Small Environmental Footprint

Asahi Photoproducts - Asahi Kasei

 

 

By Dr. Dieter Niederstadt – Technical Marketing Manager Asahi Photoproducts

 

 

 

 

This is what drove Nu-Maber, a leading Italian repro house, to choose Asahi AWP-DEF water-washable plates with Pinning Technology for Clean Transfer. The company is known for being innovative and forward-thinking, and has many firsts to its name. Being the first in Italy to adopt Asahi AWP-DEF plates adds another diamond to its crown.

Nu-Maber Blog Post with Livio Simionato“We wanted to stay current with the latest trends in flexography in order to deliver plates of the utmost quality to our customers, while also taking into consideration the environmental footprint of the platemaking operation,” said Livio Simionato, Nu-Maber’s CEO. “After reviewing the options available in the market, we chose to partner with Asahi, and we have been able to grow our business in both narrow web and wide web markets using Asahi AWP water-washable plates, for printing on paper and plastic substrates .

Simionato was also concerned about the environmental impact of platemaking, both in his operation and that of his customers. “One of the attractions of these water-washable plates,” he explains, “is the elimination of the solvents required for the production traditional flexo plates. But perhaps even more importantly, the Pinning Technology for Clean Transfer that is a hallmark of these plates results in a cleaner overall printing process with fewer press stops for plate cleaning, improving pressroom productivity for our customers and reducing waste.”

Simionato and his team are working hard to educate the Italian flexographic market about these benefits. “Asahi studies show significant improvements in overall equipment effectiveness,” he says, “which means much less waste and significant time savings. We’re seeing this in action with the customers who have adopted these plates, and we want to make sure that everyone in the Italian flexo community has access to these outstanding plate solutions that will drive their productivity and their profits while also improving quality.”

Pinning Technology for Clean Transfer is also ideally suited for Fixed Color Palette printing using a fixed set of 4 to 7 inks and requiring precise plate-to-plate registration, a printing process that is growing in popularity among packaging converters and brand owners alike. Some experts estimate that fixed color palette printing using seven colors can match as many as 90% or more of the 1,838 named Pantone spot colors, reducing ink inventories and improving efficiencies.

View Video – Asahi Photoproducts – NuMaber AWP Interview

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Filed under Plate Technology, Printing

The Rise of Pantone Simulation in Flexography

The Rise of Pantone Simulation in FlexographyRecent studies and trials aimed at optimizing Pantone simulation suggest that the fixed palette approach is ready to revolutionize the flexography and label industries. The change is due specifically to advancements allowing for unprecedented process control and consistency as well as the development of new tools designed to pinpoint which process parameters are failing so they may be addressed before problems arise.

4C  No limits – No compromise!

According to Nick Harvey – Print Application Director of Apex International – 4 color fixed palette has many advantages over 7 color simulations in for particular for wide web Flexo. First you must understand and consider that existing wide web printers have:

  • Many existing designs that they hold plates in stock for (100,000’s Euro’s)
  • Many ink press returns in stores that require re-formulating for spot color printing (1000‘s Euro’s)
  • A number of customers that will not move old designs to Fixed Palette

When you understand and consider the above, printers require a transition solution to move over to Fixed Palette. Apex 4C using the GTT technology offers this smooth transition. Harvey states that an estimated 90% of printers only have 8 color presses and therefore 4 color Fixed palette plus White allows for printers to use the spare 3 units for:

  1. Spot colors that are not possible with 4C simulation and this gives the possibility to print 100% of the pantone book.
  2. Printing designs side by side saving set up costs, increasing run lengths, increasing profits
  3. Printing up to 800 colors at the same time (a designer’s dream)
  4. Printing added value combination lacquers, Gloss, Matt, Tactile
  5. Printing up to 800 Metallic colors at the same time just by backing simulations with silver
  6. You still have the possibility to increase to 5, 6 or 7 C as and when it suits your business needs and your production is comfortable and consistent with 4C.
  7. Finally the ability to print all existing designs in the current format without disturbing the 4C fixed process set.

Added to the above moving to Fixed Palette printing in the first instance is a matter of variable elimination in order for printers to make the transition into Fixed Palette Color simulation they need to optimize their internal process control which requires a mind set to remove / eliminate as many process variables as possible.

Therefore starting this journey into Fixed Palette is much smoother when you begin with the already familiar Y M C K process set. When it is understood that 4C brings a possibility of more than 800 colors within a delta e of 2 this is already a huge step forward, whilst at the same time allowing all existing designs to be printed and press return inks to be used away during the transition as stated above.

The demand for optimized fixed palette is only expected to grow as brand owners demand better color consistency with shorter run lengths and just-in-time production. Chief among these concerns is the ability to create color consistency across multiple markets ensuring that the same values and same Pantones can be printed on labels just as they can on films.

For more than a year, Apex International has been involved in a project to proof that Fixed palette printing with only 4 colors is the future of the Flexographic printing industry. At Drupa the results of the trials will be presented to the international Flexographic printing industry.

What is so special about this project?

Fixed palette optimization through advances in color management and process consistency has fundamentally changed flexographic printing in the 21st century. Brand owners around the world have taken notice. In fact, more and more brand owners are choosing printers with a proficiency in fixed palette. Two leading brand owners – Asda/Walmart and Morrisons – have contributed their participation to the project from the start. They have offered designs of some of their packages to be used and printed in the trials.

Secondly, the designs contain packages that were previously printed in various different types of printing techniques, going from Litho to Aluminium foil lidding, from Gravure to Surface Prints in Flexo and from UV Label to UV Shrink sleeves. All these designs are now printed in Reverse on OPP in Flexo!

Third, the number of different designs per printing plate are incredible, all printed with CMYK. For the Morrisons design more than 100 Pantone colors were matched and 28 (!) designs were printed. The Asda printing plate covered 17 designs and also here more than 100 Pantone colors were matched!

“Nothing is Impossible”

Apex International has proven that the impossible ís possible by presenting print results in UV label, OPP Polythene and Offset/Litho. Visitors to Drupa can come to the Apex booth and check the color results with their own eyes, as well as with the X-Rite Color management equipment Exact Scan & ColorCert Master. Since it is about matching the original proof that is signed off by the brand owner, the Apex stand will also provide this original proof.  And as if that weren’t enough proof, Apex also displays some of the original packaging the way they can be purchased in the supermarket nowadays.

The Morrisons Print Proof

The Morrisons Print Proof with 28 designs previously printed in different printing technologies, now all on OPP Reverse Print in Flexo.

The ‘role’ the Anilox played

“Achieving color consistency is probably the most difficult component of transitioning to a fixed palette process.” says Bas van der Poel, Technical Sales Director EMEA at Apex International. “Fixed palette is about control: control over variables, control over ink flow and so on. It is this control that has allowed us to hit the number of Pantones we have with these trials and do so while not having to make any changes to plate inventory. It requires a level of control that simply is not possible with conventional anilox rolls.

Apex holds globally recognized patents on the award-winning GTT technology that uses continuous lasers to engrave a slalom pattern onto the anilox. The continuous laser is responsible for creating an anilox product capable of the smooth, consistent and controlled laydown necessary to optimize fixed palette. The Fixed Palette 4C consists of 4 GTT rolls/sleeves and one calibration roll/sleeve for closed-loop control and a guaranteed process stability”.

Get Your Fixed Palette Sample Kit Now

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Filed under Color Management, Printing

Color Accuracy and Consistency: A Balancing Act

X-Rite Pantone Logo

 

**Originally published on the X-Rite blog

 

When all of final production packaging comes together on the store shelf, it’s a brand’s moment of truth. Do the stand-up pouches, overwraps, and corrugated POP displays match? How close is the color to its standard?

We know you spend so much time and money designing, proofing, sampling, printing, and shipping… so where does the color go wrong? Is it an issue with color accuracy, consistency, or both?

Color Accuracy and Consistency: A Balancing Act 1

Package designs come together on the shelf. Here you see pouches, labels, cartons, and corrugated with visual inconsistencies—these are issues that can be overcome.

Today we’ll look at some of the key underlying issues in a color workflow so you can take corrective action with suppliers and get your brand color right, the first time.

1 –Substrates, printing processes and ink types all affect color.

Unique packaging helps products stand out, but the variety of printing processes, inks, and substrates required to make it happen creates a real challenge for brand owners and graphic designers to achieve consistent color. When designing layouts and approving colors, brands need to consider all of the variables that impact final color.

Many years ago, Flint Group put together a color quiz with the question: “Which swatches are printed with the same ink?”

FlintInk

Even though there was no attempt to match color on these substrates, you probably see two or three swatches appear close in color. The reason? Even though they were all printed with the same ink formula, they were on different substrates. It’s amazing how much the color varies.

Plastic, metal, glass, paperboard, and corrugated cardboard are vastly different substrates. Some, like paperboard and corrugated cardboard are more porous and will absorb ink, while metal will not absorb ink at all. Depending upon the amount of absorption, the substrate color will interact with the ink and change the appearance of the color. A color that is approved on a white substrate will look quite different – and probably be unachievable – when printed on brown corrugated.

DifferentPackaging

Substrate isn’t the only variant in the quest for color consistency. Different printing processes also affect the printed color. Offset, flexo, gravure, letterpress, digital, and screen all use different types of inks and colorants; some are water-based, some are petroleum-based, and the curing methods and gloss levels can result in colors that vary substantially.

The key is to consider as many of the variables as possible during the design phase, and think through how they will affect final color. It’s also important to stay in close contact with your printer or packaging converter to ensure they understand, and can achieve, your expectations.

2 – Multiple packaging components can make or break the brand.

There’s more to a brand than just the package. Even if you have all the variables under control for one packaging component, the other components – such as the flexible plastic pouch, the folding carton, the printed labels, and the shelf trays – must all match when they come together at the point of sale.

Paper_cup_2_greens

This graphic shows how Pantone 3425 C will appear when printed on both white and brown cardboard.

As you can see from the coffee cup image, the printed color difference is quite noticeable. Is it OK if the green on the white cup doesn’t exactly match the green on the brown thermal cup holder? It’s a balancing act between what’s achievable and what’s acceptable.

3 – When you’re working across multiple sites, color is even harder to manage.

Multiple print suppliers are usually required to handle large volumes of brand packaging. But even when using the same substrates, inks, and printing processes, converters in different parts of the world simply do not produce the exact same color.

If a brand owner approves a slight variation from a printer in New York, and a slight – but different – variation from the printer in Madrid, when all of those components come together at the point of sale, those slight differences may be much more apparent.

When-Color-Goes-Wrong-_-1

This type of color difference can give the impression that the off-color products are damaged, old, or fake, and they will probably end up on a discount store shelf.

The only real way to ensure accurate color across multiple sites is through digital specification and evaluation – that is, using digital values for color in conjunction with physical references.

4 – Color communication can be ambiguous. And expensive.

Historically, physical standards have been the accepted way to specify and communicate brand colors. While they still play an important role in a color workflow, they can also pose potential issues for brand owners.

First, they’re subject to deterioration through age, wear and discoloration. Even if Pantone 306 is communicated as the standard, what looks like Pantone 306 in the designer’s new Pantone Guide might look different in the printer’s 10-year old version, leaving room for misinterpretation. It’s also wise to reference standards for multiple substrates, which aren’t always available or practical as physical references.

Lighting plays a role in visual evaluation. A color difference may be more obvious when viewed beside a window in the store than under fluorescent lighting in the lab.

JudgeQCPrint

Comparing a sample with a standard in a light booth allows you to view and approve color under consistent, known lighting conditions.

Physical standards can change. How do you know all of your designers and suppliers are using the most recent or most consistent ones?

There’s also the cost and efficiency impact of sending physical materials back and forth for review and approval, or sending stakeholders to each print shop to visually approve color on press.

5 – The Snowball Effect

Combine all of these variables and you get the dreaded “error stack.” Although each player in the supply chain, from designers to premedia to ink supplier to printer, may meet the physical standard within a specified tolerance, adding each of these small differences together can lead to bad color, and a negative brand impression at the point of sale.

What’s a brand owner to do?

One potential key to reducing inefficiencies is digital color specification, communication, and approval. Even if the color is specified in Paris, printed to the numbers in Ohio, and approved in New York, the digital version of Pantone 360 will always be the same when you use digital specifications across the workflow.

About the Author:

Cindy Cooperman is X-Rite Pantone’s Global Director of Sales for Packaging & Brand. In this role, she is responsible for leading a global sales team focused on delivering value and solutions to the packaging supply chain to include brand owners, designers, premedia partners, packaging converters and ink companies. She brings together companies, people and ideas to guide the relevant players in the packaging industry adopt new technologies in practical and profitable ways.

Cooperman joined X-Rite in 2012 from the Eastman Kodak Company, previously Creo Products, where she held a variety of sales and technical positions in the Packaging and Strategic Accounts teams of the Graphic Communications Group. She delivered exceptional performance levels during her 13-year tenure with the company. She is a graduate of Ryerson University with a Bachelor of Technology in Graphic Communications Management. She also completed the Project Management Program and a Finance and Accounting program at the DuPree College of Management at the Georgia Institute of Technology.

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Filed under Color Management, Printing

Lower Your Anilox Line Screen and Cell Volume for Better Performance!

pamarco-logo-400

by John Rastetter and John Bingham, Pamarco

It sounds counter-intuitive to lower your anilox line screen to improve performance but that’s exactly what we are proposing. Read on for a detailed review of the logic and the results.

For years anilox producers have been recommending that printers increase the anilox line screen to improve print reproduction. The thought is that by increasing the anilox line screen more support is given to the printing plate, producing cleaner print. Increasing line screen does insure that more cell walls contact the plate, but what it primarily does is reduce the percentage of cell volume that is transferred to the printing plate. The lower transfer efficiency creates a thinner ink film. A thinner ink film in turn produces cleaner print. However, there are negative side-effects of increased anilox line screen ; plugged cells, scoring, and pre-mature wear.

Lower Your Anilox Line Screen and Cell Volume for Better Performance
On the left is the EFlo cell technology and the right the HourGlass cell, note the clean sharp cell formation created by fiber-optic laser technology
 

Pamarco feels there is a better way to produce the same, or improved print result and at the same time increase ink transfer consistency and anilox durability. This is accomplished by decreasing the anilox cell count and reducing cell volume to produce anilox engraving that provide the correct ink film thickness, more consistent ink transfer and an engraving that is more durable.

Today’s anilox technology utilizes fiber-optic, multi-beam, Thermal engraving technology. To be more specific, Instead of using a blend of gases, mirrors, and tubes to produce a single laser beam, a crystal creates a short pulse-length beam that is so powerful a single beam is split into as many as four smaller ones. The splitting of the beam is what currently enables anilox cells to be “multi-pulsed” or “multi-cycled” creating cells that are “carved” with precision. The end result is a great deal of heat and energy directed into the cell of an anilox within a very short time-frame.

The benefit of fiber-optic technology is the ability to produce a wider range of line screens (35 lpi to over2000 lpi), increased cell depth and increased volume per line screen. This fiber-optic technology also allows us to create cell bottom that are flatter, shallower and smoother than a comparable CO2 laser engraving. Software advances in conjunction with this laser technology allow us to produce new cell shapes like EFlo and HourGlass, these new cell designs add additional performance benefits as well. However, If not implemented correctly the down-side of this technology can be a reduction in cell durability (resistance to scratching, scoring, and premature wear).

Older CO2 technology typically burned / engraved cells with a single pulse and at a pulse-length much longer than fiber-optic technology. CO2 technology does not vaporize as much of the ceramic that is burned away to form the cell, leaving a rim of melted ceramic on the cell walls referred to as re-cast. Melted and re-hardened ceramic is believed to be harder than the “as sprayed” ceramic on the surface of the anilox. This recast assists with durability of the engraving. Fiber-optic technology, because it burns at a shorter pulse length creates recast in a different way, it tends to accumulate in nodules or posts at the corners of the cell. If cell geometry is not correctly established by utilizing an acceptable depth to opening ratio, the multiple pulses inside each cell can over harden the nodules, causing them to become brittle. The end result can be chipping or breaking of these particles, creating pre-mature wear and/or tiny scratch or wide score lines on the anilox.

Since the anilox industries implementation of Thermal lasers, the focus has been to increase anilox line screen and cell volumes. Where a 4.0 bcm may have been utilized at a 400 line screen, today it is common to produce the same volume at a line screen of 600 and higher. The 600 line screen at a 4.0 bcm produces cleaner print than a 400 line screen at a 4.0 bcm because less of the 4.0 bcm volume transfers to the printing plate. This is caused by the fact that deeper cells have a lower transfer coefficient. The resulting transfer produces Print that is cleaner, but density is reduced and engraving life is compromised. Pamarco thinks a better approach, in most cases, is to decrease the anilox line screen and cell volume to reduce the ink film thickness transferred to the printing plate. This will produce cleaner print, targeted ink densities and anilox cells that are more resistant to wear and plugging.

Lower Your Anilox Line Screen and Cell Volume for Better Performance - engraving-testing
“Above are photographs of the 450 lpi – 3.4 bcm and 600 lpi – 4.0 bcm engravings tested on the banded roll. Cell depth on the 450 was 15.5 microns with a 53.4 micron opening (29% depth-to-opening ratio) versus a cell depth of 20.3 microns with a 40.3 micron depth (50% depth-to-opening ratio). Note the improved smoothness of the cell walls on the 450 lpi”.
 

An example of this can be illustrated by a recent banded roll test. A test was done to determine if a better alternative is available to a 600 lpi, 4.0 bcm, 60° cell used by a customer for combination process/line work/solids printing and a 900 lpi, 2.6 bcm, 60° cell used for process print. To enable us to utilize a more durable lower line screen engraving, without sacrificing print cleanliness, it was necessary to also decrease the cell volume as we decreased the line screen.

Eight engravings were tested – 600 lpi – 4.0 bcm, 550 lpi – 3.8 bcm, 500 lpi – 3.6 bcm and 450 lpi – 3.4 bcm for combination print and a 900 lpi – 2.6 bcm, 850 lpi – 2.5 bcm, 800 lpi – 2.4 bcm and a 750 lpi – 2.3 bcm for process print. The end result was, by reducing both line screen and volume, all four engravings in each category produced nearly identical density and dot gain results. The advantage of utilizing the lower line screen and volume engraving is the cell surface is much smoother and it will transfer its volume more consistently.

Lower Your Anilox Line Screen and Cell Volume for Better Performance - LPI
The table above shows the results of the highest and lowest LPI for each application, please note the LPI, BCM, density and dot gain results for each.
 

In addition, Pamarco believes engravings used with steel doctor blades should be diamond film polished after engraving using a precision mechanical process. This process removes the nodules and creates a flat, smooth surface that is resistant to wear. All of our engravings used with steel doctor blades receive this process. In addition by utilizing lower cell count and volume ratios this process can be done with much more successful and repeatable results. Cell walls are flatter, smoother, and narrower, allowing for greater durability while insuring consistency in ink transfer and print performance.

The anilox’s “job” is to transfer a precise, predictable, and consistent ink film to the printing plate. The ink film is determined by the cell volume, not the line screen. It may be time to re-think the specifications of this import tool for greater long-term printing performance, consistency and durability.

For more information about Pamarco or for help acquiring the correct specifications for your anilox rolls, please call us at 1-800-53Flexo.

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Pinning Technology for Clean Transfer

Pinning Technology for Clean Transfer is a unique plate technology engineered by Asahi Photoproducts to transfer all remaining ink to the print substrate due to the photopolymer plates having a lower surface energy than other plates on the market. Not only does this deliver stunning graphical quality, but it also improves overall production efficiencies due to reduced makeready waste and fewer press wash-ups.

Pinning Technology for Clean Transfer - infographic

Asahi AWP™ water-washable plates use Pinning Technology for Clean Transfer. This enables them to produce superior results compared to both traditional and digital flexographic printing plates. They also are a more environmentally sustainable solution. It should be noted that up to 15 litres of solvent per plate are used in the solvent-based platemaking process. The entire AWPTM plate manufacturing process creates little waste, just unexposed polymer residues and wash out solution, which are collected and safely incinerated.

In a recent controlled test comparing water-washable plates to standard solvent-based plates, results indicated operations could achieve in an immediate ROI when switching to these plates.

  • For the conventional plate, the run length was 37,368 linear metres. It took a total running time of 173 minutes. Total press down time was 47 minutes for plate cleaning and make-ready. Waste produced was 1,025 metres. OEE efficiency was calculated to be 72%.
  • For the Pinning Technology plates, the run length was 38,000 linear metres. It took a total running time of 140 minutes. Total press down time was 8 minutes for plate cleaning and make-ready. Waste produced was 450 metres OEE efficiency was calculated to be 91%.

Pinning Technology for Clean Transfer

Pinning Technology plates produced 575 linear meters less waste material. They resulted in a 26% improvement in overall equipment effectiveness (OEE) with fewer press stops for plate cleaning and more consistent overall quality. For a 24-hour operation, this translates to the ability to process at least two additional jobs per day at a higher quality level with more contrast and less environmental impact.

Pinning Technology for Clean Transfer - OEE AWP

The cost benefit of the AWP plate may vary depending on the customer’s production profile but is typically between 25% – 35% vs. conventional plate technologies.

Due to their exceptionally precise registration, plates with Pinning Technology for Clean Transfer also make it easier to implement Fixed Colour Palette printing to virtually eliminate the need for spot colour inks, reducing ink inventories and minimising or eliminating the need for press wash-ups between jobs.

Using fixed colour palette printing, the breakeven between flexo and digital printing continues to fall to as short a run length as 350 metres. This means that flexo is competitive with digital for all but the shortest runs, and there are many benefits packaging converters can gain by moving to this model, including very short job changeover times with minimal or no wash-up and limited waste due to the fact that inks do not have to be changed. Plus, more than 90% of Pantone colours can be accurately rendered using fixed colour palette printing.

Pinning Technology for Clean Transfer is an innovation in flexographic plate technology and a win/win for forward-thinking flexo printers.

View Pinning Technology Video

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Filed under Plate Technology, Printing

Addressing Metering Challenges of White Inks

by Daetwyler

White-Inks-Infographic

WHY ARE WHITE INKS DIFFICULT TO WORK WITH?

All professional printers eventually come up against the metering challenges of white inks. Throughout the industry, white inks are notorious for being inconsistent and requiring frequent changing of doctor blades often. The longer a doctor blade lasts, the more expensive it is in many cases. Weighing the cost of a doctor blade vs. the cost of press downtime is as issue printers and coaters deal with constantly. The issue with metering white inks is actually a little more complicated than just buying the right blade.

GATHER PROFESSIONAL SUPPORT:

First and foremost, ink, anilox, and doctor blade suppliers should all be consulted in a cooperative manner. When everyone knows the details of the scenario, a more comprehensive solution can be attained. Having end seal suppliers involved can also prove useful. Most people working in these industries are either printers themselves or have at least been involved in the print industry for some time – so they will most likely be able to relate to your specific challenges.

COMMON SENSE ANSWERS:

Having your press and chambers in optimum condition can provide big results. By taking care of the mechanical issue in order to optimize the setting of the chamber at the lowest amount of pressure possible, run times for both doctor blades and end seals can be significantly extended. By simply taking the extra 10-15 minutes to clean a deck and an extra 2 minutes to set it lightly and evenly, some issues may be completely resolved. It’s definitely worth investigating before moving on to more involved solutions. CAREFUL SET-UP AND MAINTENANCE: Maintaining the proper viscosity and ink/vehicle/solvent ratio is another very important consideration when it comes to working with white inks. Often, when issues come up with white inks, even though other printing functions have been problem-free for some time, viscosity and solvent ratios are a primary reason behind the problem.

In most cases radius tipped blades are used for any roller under 600 lines per inch (lpi). Switching to a radius tip blade from a lamella or bevel blade may help or eliminate many white ink challenges. Increasing the thickness of the blade may help as well. However, remember, the more steel you throw at the problem, the more it increases anilox wear – so proceed with caution. Many printers elect to use a coated blade to address the wear, quality and press downtime issue with metering white inks. These coatings are generally significantly harder than a standard doctor blade but not quite as hard as the ceramic anilox roller itself. Other ingredients in the coatings can help address coefficient of friction values (COF). These coated blades can greatly increase doctor blade wear but should also be installed in the chambers properly and care should be used setting them. They are significantly higher in cost, though proper care when using them can increase the return on your investment. In some cases, plastic blades have been used with promising results. While this has not proven to work across the board for consistent metering, it may be worth looking into.

Download the full White Inks White Paper for more information. 

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Filed under Doctor Blades, Ink, Printing

6 Factors of Maintaining Plate Quality

APR Logo

by Catherine Green, All Printing Resources

6-factors-plate-quality-800x800-300x300Platemaking is a science, not an art. While there is a bit of flexibility in specifications for different processes, there are defined parameters that must be followed if high quality plates are to be made consistently. In this article, we’ll discuss six important factors for making high quality plates.

1. Relief Depth

Relief depth is the difference in height between the printing surface and the floor of the plate. We can obtain this measurement by measuring the overall plate thickness, then subtracting the floor thickness.

There are recommended relief depths for different plate thicknesses:

Plate Thickness Ideal Relief Depth Max Relief Depth
0.045” (1.14mm) 0.018” – 0.022” 0.022”
0.067” (1.70mm) 0.018” – 0.022” 0.025”
0.112” (2.84mm) 0.020” – 0.025” 0.030”
0.250” (6.35mm) 0.050” – 0.070” 0.070”

2. Imaging Quality

Whether you’re using digital or analog plates, the finished plate cannot exceed the quality of the original image carrier. If you’re making analog plates using film, confirming proper film density (over 4.0) is critical. With digital plates, the digital imager must to be checked for correct focus and power settings periodically (every 4 to 6 weeks, or any time the laser head is contacted by a loose plate). These tests can be done yourself with the proper tools and training, by your digital imager supplier, or by APR’s TSG group.

3. Exposure Conditions

Plate exposure units contain two types of UV bulbs: UVA bulbs (for back, main, and post exposures), and UVC bulbs (for light finishing). For maximum plate quality, these bulbs must be monitored and replaced at the end of their useful life. While extending exposure times to make up for weak bulbs can work in a pinch, this tactic sacrifices plate quality. Longer exposure times can lead to broadening of the plate’s shoulder angle, resulting in dot gain and filling in of fine reverse detail (especially with analog plates). In addition, the plate room environment should be kept clean and free of dust to prevent any unwanted debris from contaminating the plate before or during exposure.

4. Polymer Saturation

Both solvent and aqueous platemaking use liquid to wash away the unexposed photopolymer in the plate’s non-printing areas. This liquid, whether a hydrocarbon solvent or water, will eventually become contaminated with dissolved polymer solids. The level of saturation, or percent solids, can have a dramatic effect on both plate quality and equipment maintenance. In solvent platemaking, it’s recommended to keep the concentration of solids below 6% to ensure optimum plate washout and keep equipment maintenance to a minimum. If the solids are allowed to collect above this level, the result can be increased washout time, which results in a longer dwell time in solvent for the plate, culminating in a longer drying time. Extensive cleaning may also be needed to remove excess polymer buildup throughout the system. In aqueous platemaking, weekly solution changes and machine cleanings are key to trouble-free operation. Since aqueous polymer doesn’t dissolve completely in water, there is a chance that small particles of polymer could re-deposit onto the plate if they are not removed from the system. It is essential that these machines are kept clean and proper filtration is used to manage the washout solution. The exception to this rule is thermal plate processing. Since thermal processors utilize a one-time-use wicking media to remove the uncured photopolymer, there is no polymer saturation to monitor– only the amount of wicking media remaining in the machine.

5. Drying

One of the most important, yet most overlooked factors in solvent plate quality control, complete drying is crucial to consistent platemaking. Incomplete drying can be caused by a number of factors including early removal of the plate from the dryer, inadequate dryer air circulation, and improper drying temperature. To check a solvent plate for complete drying, remove the plate from the dryer and allow to cool for 5 minutes. Next, measure the overall plate thickness with a micrometer. The plate should be no thicker than 0.001” – 0.002” over the original plate gauge (be sure to measure the original gauge on a sheet of raw material). When plates are not completely dry, they remain swollen from absorption of solvent. This can lead to problems on press including poor registration, over-impression, and decreased plate life.

6. Plate Handling

Good plate handling and storage practices can save time and money with both press downtime and plate remakes. Plates should always be handled with care, and treated as a fragile component of the printing press. Never place objects on top of plates, fold/crease plates, or expose plates to unknown chemicals. Plates can be only be stacked flat when foam or parchment paper is placed between them to prevent direct contact. Environmental factors that can harm printing plates include exposure to room light or sunlight, and storage near ozone-producing equipment (most common offenders include: HVAC and electrical equipment). To ensure maximum plate life, used plates should be cleaned as soon as they are removed from press using an approved cleaner and a soft horsehair brush. Another great option for plate cleaning is an automated plate cleaning machine. These simple machines make quick work of dirty plates, produce consistent cleaning results with minimal labor, which streamlines the post-press workflow and makes the most of valuable employee time.

By following these simple steps, you will ensure that your platemaking and storage is as efficient and effective as possible.

For more information regarding products or procedures mentioned in this article, contact Catherine Green of APR’s Technical Solutions Group (c.green@teamflexo.com).

About the Author:

Catherine-Green_200Catherine Green – Catherine has over 12 years experience in graphic arts. An honors graduate of Clemson University’s Graphic Communications program, she has held positions in prepress, platemaking, and technical support. Before joining APR’s Technical Solutions Group, Catherine worked for Asahi Photoproducts as their Technical Specialist for North America. She brings expertise in digital platemaking, prepress, and process improvement to the TSG. She is an active member of the FTA, serving on both the Excellence in Flexography judging panel and FQC groups.

About All Printing Resources, Inc. (APR)

All Printing Resources, Inc. (APR) is a proven resource for solutions, trusted service, and support to the flexographic printing industry. APR delivers measurable performance enhancements and total cost reductions, including the after sale attention needed to see optimal results. APR represents some of the most innovative product lines worldwide and takes a “team” approach to deliver process improvement and innovative solutions.

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Filed under Plates, Prepress, Printing

Bringing Gravure Quality to Flexo

TCL Packaging Teams with Creation Reprographics & Asahi Photoproducts to Bring Gravure Quality to Flexo

 

About TCL Packaging
TCL Packaging is a leading UK printer and converter of packaging films. The company provides food and non-food flexible packaging and promotes itself as a supplier of perfectly printed packaging films. TCL partners with Creation Reprographics for plate production. Founded in 1999, TCL Packaging invests in the latest technologies to ensure the highest quality packaging production. It has a team of 55 staff working across reprographics, lamination and ink technical management.

TCL Packaging Managing Director Mike GoldingChallenge
When current Managing Director Mike Golding joined the company in 2009, he saw a need to develop new systems, procedures and go-to-market strategies to bring the company in line with then-current market realities. After completing a management buyout in 2012, Golding set about finding the best solutions to increase TCL Packaging’s competitive advantage, productivity, and profitability, while reducing its environmental footprint.

Solutions
In addition to investing in a new 70,000 square foot facility in Telford and three new Uteco presses, Golding turned to the company’s repro house, Daventry-based Creation Reprographics to find a way to bring gravure quality to flexographic printing. Creation Reprographics was able to help the company meet those requirements using Asahi Photoproducts AWPTM water washable flexographic plates to deliver the photo-quality reproduction that brand owners and retailers seek in the specialty packaging market.

Results
“From the outset, TCL aimed to be a technically capable, high quality packaging producer; and the fact that much of the original team is still in place is testament to the vision and focus we’ve have engendered in the business in recent years,” says Golding.

Dean Langford, TCL Production Manager, attributes much of the company’s success to the focus on teamwork at the site. “We are very demanding as a customer to our supply chain,” he says, “but we also believe that every problem can be turned into a success, as long as there is collaboration. We grow and develop our people internally, and we partner with our suppliers to get the best business and product performance.”

Partnering for Success

TCL & Creation Reprographics Shopfloor

One of TCL’s valued partners is Creation Reprographics. The Daventry-based company’s use of Asahi AWPTM plates was a key factor in establishing the relationship. Founded in 2004 as a reprographics studio, Creation Reprographics provides a range of platemaking, proofing, design and management services. It delivers high levels of customer service for brand, label and wide-web print customers and supports brands with innovative technical production strategies, including moving work from gravure print to flexo for more flexibility without any compromise in quality.

TCL & Creation Reprographics Shopfloor

Whilst flexography has always been a more efficient and cost effective printing process, the challenge has been to close the gap between offset and gravure printing, both in terms of quality and environmental sustainability. Plate manufacturers have been challenged to create a more environmentally friendly plate without losing the benefits and advantages of quality and efficiency; and according to both TCL and Creation Reprographics, Asahi Photoproducts has met that challenge with its AWPTM plates.

Asahi AWPTM Benefits
Traditionally, water washable plate quality has been considered a second-best solution when compared to solvent plates. However, the AWPTM plate does more than match traditional solvent technologies; it outperforms the best digital plates currently available for flexo. For the first time, a digital photopolymer plate can hold extremely small dots, smaller than those of solvent processed plates; and its stability on press is superior to solvent plates. The plate is engineered to deliver a sustainable quality output with fast plate access time. Its water processor keeps water use to a minimum and washed photopolymer residues are filtered, resulting in solid polymer cake that is easily recyclable.

In addition, due to the smaller dot size, low dot gain and high dot stability of the Asahi AWPTM plates, especially when used in combination with the latest generation of screening technologies, as well as its extraordinary ink transfer that minimizes press stoppages due to wash-ups, these plates deliver the best of all worlds – high quality, smooth gradations with vignette fades to zero, environmental sustainability and optimum overall equipment effectiveness (OEE).

“At Creation, we pride ourselves on our approach to the environment,” says Matt Franklow, Managing Director. “We invested in AWPTM Plate technology from Asahi Photoproducts some years ago as part of our environmental strategy. The AWPTM Plate uses water rather than solvent to clean the plates, which has to be better environmentally. And it uses water sparingly.” At Creation Reprographics, rainwater from the site roof is collected, filtered and then used for plate processing before being recycled again, minimising the carbon footprint of the process even further.

A Winning Combination
All of these factors presented a winning combination for TCL. Langford adds, “We’re all about replacement of gravure here at TCL. We initially assessed about five different flexographic plates. But when we began working with Creation Reprographics we were really impressed with the quality standard they could deliver on the Asahi AWPTM plate solution. Working with our repro team, Creation Reprographics took two eight-colour gravure jobs, did extensive colour management and fingerprinting work and delivered them in five colours for our new Uteco line investment, with outstanding performance according to our customer.”

Langford concludes, “The fact that we can drive our print performance up above standard gravure using the Asahi AWPTM plate, says we going to be competing and ahead of the game in the long term.”

And the strategy is working. Today, business is booming at TCL Packaging. For the past three years, TCL has been growing at an average of 10% per annum, which outstrips overall market growth, with the UK flexo packaging market having grown at about 3% annually in recent years.

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Filed under Packaging, Plates, Printing

Who You Gonna Call?  Ghost Hunting in Flexographic Printing

Apex International Blog

by Doug Jones, Apex International

Ghosting, a faint image from another part of the design that appears where it shouldn’t, has always haunted the flexo industry.  Ghosting is most obvious in areas where large solids are used and always on printed side of substrate in the image area.  

ghosting-image

What causes ghosting?

Fortunately, the cause is far from supernatural.  While much has been written on the subject, most agree on these six issues as the most likely causes of ghosting.

  • Ink starvation
  • Ink fluidity is not appropriate
  • Chambered doctor blade not adapted
  • Mechanical issue
  • Anilox roll is not properly cleaned
  • Premature drying of ink on the anilox roll

What can I do?

Leave the Proton Pack at home!  The next time you have an issue with ghosting, try working through each of these possible solutions.

  • Increase ink level and/or pressure into the chambered doctor blade.
  • Use higher anilox roller volume
  • Add solvent (retarder) to increase ink fluidity, to flood the cells, and avoid ink drying into cells
  • Use a specific design of the chambered doctor blade to force ink to flood the cells
  • Select anilox roller where the circumference is a whole number multiple of the repeat length of the design times the number of plates round the cylinder or change the diameter of the plate cylinder
  • Increase the speed of the machine

Download the Flexographics Solutions Guide

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Filed under Print Defects, Printing

Are Your Doctor Blades Due for a Checkup?

APR Logo

by Catherine Green, All Printing Resources

In flexography, print defects can stem from a multitude of moving parts, making troubleshooting feel like a constant game of chase. Much like the human body, with proper care and maintenance, all parts of this highly complex system can work together in harmony.

While the anilox roll is the heart of the printing press, the doctor blades are the workhorses that let the anilox do its job properly. Without even, consistent ink metering, the anilox is unable to deliver a uniform, measured ink film to the printing plate surface– its primary (and only) function. Ensuring your doctor blades are set properly in the press can make or break your printed result.

Doctor Blade Pressure

By inspecting the contact patch surface, information can be gathered to determine if the blade pressure across the chamber is set evenly. Uneven blade pressure can be due to misaligned chambers or incorrect installation of the doctor blade into the blade holder. Also, contaminants in the ink can leave behind score lines in the blade, or worse, the anilox roll. Looking for these clues and correcting the issue with proper ink filtration can prevent anilox refinishing and costly press downtime.

Installation of the doctor blade into the holder is easily one of the most commonly overlooked factors in the process. If the blade is installed incorrectly, it is nearly impossible to achieve proper ink metering. Doctor blades should always be installed into a clean holder, completely free of ink residue or other debris. When placing the new blade into the holder, ensure the blade is fully seated, then secure the blade from the center, working your way out to the ends. Following this simple procedure will ensure you’re starting a straight and true blade with each changeover.

This photo shows the precise measurement of a used doctor blade’s wear angle. (Click image to enlarge.)

This photo shows the precise measurement
of a used doctor blade’s wear angle.

If the press uses a chambered system, you’ll need to ensure the end seals fit properly and the blades are in the proper position in relation to the end seal. Check the fit of the seal in the chamber by looking for any gaps or excess compression around the seal. Also be sure that the anilox radius is an exact match to the anilox used on press. The fit should always be snug and accurate. To further prevent leaks, ensure the doctor blade overlaps the end seal halfway.

Once the blades are properly installed, the correct blade pressure is set, and the press is up and running, how can we know everything is performing as expected? This is where doctor blade analysis comes in. By carefully analyzing the used blades (both metering and containment, where applicable), APR’s Technical Solutions Group can pinpoint issues such as improper blade angles, poor blade mounting, or uneven chambers. This can be quite helpful when troubleshooting an existing problem, setting up a new press, or testing doctor blades.

To schedule a doctor blade trial or find out more about our analysis services, contact Catherine Green at c.green@teamflexo.com.

About the Author:

Catherine-Green_200Catherine Green – Catherine has over 12 years experience in graphic arts. An honors graduate of Clemson University’s Graphic Communications program, she has held positions in prepress, platemaking, and technical support. Before joining APR’s Technical Solutions Group, Catherine worked for Asahi Photoproducts as their Technical Specialist for North America. She brings expertise in digital platemaking, prepress, and process improvement to the TSG. She is an active member of the FTA, serving on both the Excellence in Flexography judging panel and FQC groups.

All Printing Resources, Inc. (APR) is a proven resource for solutions, trusted service, and support to the flexographic printing industry. APR delivers measurable performance enhancements and total cost reductions, including the after sale attention needed to see optimal results. APR represents some of the most innovative product lines worldwide and takes a “team” approach to deliver process improvement and innovative solutions

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Filed under Anilox Rolls, Doctor Blades, Printing