Are you experiencing Pin-holing and Production Pitfalls? – Part 2



In the previous Part I of this blog, I talked about the ink transfer process in flexographic printing and how it can introduce the problem knows as pin-holing. Over the years, manufacturers have tried to solve the problem in various ways with limited success. Likewise, flexo printers have tried to compensate for the pin-holes by applying more ink to the job, and more pressure on press, but that only drives up costs and introduces other complications.

The best way to solve the problem is to use a specific imager technology to apply a texture pattern on the surface of the plate that breaks up the surface patterns from the anilox roll. By breaking up the anilox pattern, it breaks up the pin-hole pattern, and significantly improves the ink transfer. As I noted in my last installment, that solution exists today and has been driving improved quality in flexo around the world.

Kodak’s innovative, award-winning KODAK DIGICAP NX Patterning is a standard component of the KODAK FLEXCEL NX System designed to address these ink challenges in flexo—specifically solid ink densities compared to gravure printing. Enabled by KODAK SQUARESPOT Imaging Technology, unique to the FLEXCEL NX System, the function of DIGICAP NX Patterning is to image a unique pattern into the surface of the plate.

Compared to traditional surface patterning technologies, DIGICAP NX Patterning is significantly smaller and finer. It is a true micro surface texturization of the plate surface, applied to the 1-bit TIFF in the RIPing process, and utilizing half-pixel imaging at 10.6 x 5.3 microns size, or 2400 x 4800 dpi.

With the ability to create unique patterns in the surface of the plate that overcome production challenges with heavy solid areas, or the application of white ink for flexible packaging, users are seeing dramatic quality improvements. Because of the improved ink transfer, printers are able to more easily achieve their target densities and eliminate the need to chase density with more ink, more pigment, and more pressure. For flexo printers, the result is greater color gamuts, cleaner brighter colors, better print quality, higher print speeds, and greater consistency.

Why are color gamuts improved with this solution? Because the solids are clean rather than being pin-holed, which results in light and dark variation in the colors, often the cause of the term “muddy” colors associated with Flexo. Also, when overprinting to build colors such as in 4- or 7-color process, the results are cleaner and brighter. Having the ability to build cleaner and brighter colors enables flexo printers to do more of their work with process printing instead of having to rely on more expensive spot colors. It also improves the printer’s ability to standardize ink sets, whether for 4- or 7-color process printing.

DIGICAP NX Patterning has been one of the lead technologies in the “flexo revolution” over the last five years, truly allowing printers to achieve the densities of gravure printing, and helping to stop the chase for density caused by excessive pin-holing with traditional flexo. It has been a key enabler in brand owners increasingly accepting that flexo is no longer a second-class print process, easing the transition from offset and rotogravure to flexo.

Innovation in flexo is an ongoing process, and one in which Kodak maintains a passionate commitment. R&D teams continue to explore additional areas where differentiated plate imaging technology can further increase print quality and reduce or eliminate production obstacles. As we look to the future, Kodak technologies such as DIGICAP NX Patterning, SQUARESPOT Imaging Technology, and KODAK HYPERFLEX Imaging Software will provide the foundation for technical advancements in flexo.
Printers are certainly benefiting from these innovative imaging technologies, but they are not the only ones. Brand owners are constantly looking for ways to design packages that catch the eye of the consumer and set their products apart from the competition. Print quality, color vibrancy, and reproduction accuracy are top of mind for marketers—it’s the job of the printer to make it happen and to keep costs in line.

Dr. John’s Contact Information:

John-Anderson-AugFor anyone who does want to email me, please use and please don’t miss out the number 3 in the address, or you will reach another John Anderson in Kodak manufacturing!

Have a wonderful day,
Dr. John

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What measurement condition is your spectro wearing?

by John Seymour, John the Math Guy

These days, all the fashionable spectrophotometers are sporting the new measurement condition, M1. It’s all the rage from Alabama to Aukland. If your spectro hasn’t adopted this new look, then, sorry. It just won’t get invited to the parties with all the cool spectros.

But what is this hip new fashion trend, and why should you care? This blog post goes undercover to get the inside story about the new measurement conditions in ISO 13655. This reporter investigates the four measurement conditions (M1 through M3), but more importantly, explains why you would choose one over the other.

Summary of the measurement conditions
Way back in 2009, when all of our spectros were wearing styles appropriate to that long-lost era, the ISO Technical Committee 130 came out with a new fashion edict. Spectral measurements henceforth shall be made according to one of four types of illumination, and the one chosen shall be reported along with the data.
(Note that the word “shall” is standards-speak for “you gotta do this if you want to comply with the standard. The other key word is “should”, which means “as experts, we recommend doing this, but it is not a requirement for compliance”.)
Why all the fuss? The big driving force behind this is the proliferation of Fluorescent Whitening Agents (FWAs) in paper. These are substances (stilbenes, for the chemists and lingo-philes in the crowd) that absorb ultraviolet light and re-emit that energy as blue light. This makes paper look whiter – which is what everyone wants and craves.I should make a note here. The popular media (Fox News and MSNBC) call them “OBAs”, meaning “Optical Whitening Agents”. While this moniker is correct – stilbene does make paper brighter in an optical kind of way – I would say that so does TiO2 and bleach. The term “OBA” fails to emphasize the key operative, which is fluorescent light.I have already written a bit about the basic problem and the reponse to it. The following exciting articles focus on the “M1″ stuff.
Layman’s Guide to ISO Print Standards
Here are the four exciting choices for measurement conditions:

Most handheld spectros use an incandescent bulb to illuminate the sample. Remember those kinda lights? A little piece of wire called a “filament”? Some electricity going through it? And then the wire gets hot and glows. Guess what? This light source doesn’t have all that much UV content. And guess what again? The amount of UV varies a lot from one instrument to the next.

M0 is based on a hypothetical incandescent light source. For an M0 measurement, the light hitting the sample should(note the word) conform to CIE standard illuminant A – which is to say, a light bulb. The word “should” is important and intentional. This little tiny loophole allows anyone to use the older spectros and remain compliant. This would be a totally dumb idea, but you could use a lightning bug with a hangover as the light source for your M0 illuminant and still be compliant. No one’s gonna check. M0 is the nightclub that any spectro can enter.

If you want to find out if your local neighborhood color scientist is hip, just ask whether he or she is raving about M1. All the hip ones will say M1. The illumination for this measurement condition is based on a theoretical daylight called D50. This puppy packs a pretty good wallop of UV content, so this will excite those ol’ OBAs, if you know what I mean.

Does your spectro want to strut its stuff at the M1 Bistro? The security guard is checking IDs at the door, and any spectro failing to provide the proper levels of OBA ain’t gonna be ordering an avocado-tini at this joint.

OBAs love attention. The only reason they show up at parties is to be seen. But when the spectrophotometer breaks out it’s M2 light source, the OBAs become as invisible as that woman who married Jimmy Fallon. An M2 light source will be almost kinda completely devoid of UV light.

How do you get into this club?  If your spectro comes knocking at the door, there will be a test, and I’m, not talking “written exam”. The test is described in Annex H. To perform the test, you need to get pretty intimate with the instrument. It would make a TSA agent blush.BTW, the TAGA 2015 conference in Albuquerque (March 22-25, 2015) will feature a micro-conference on OBAs. We had a whole bunch of papers on the subject, so the VP of papers decided to talk it up big. Here I am, talking it up big.M2 might seriously have been considered a contender for preferred condition. It does level the playing field when it comes to UV excitation. All M2 instruments have no UV, so none of them should cause OBAs to glow. And they should all agree.But, to make this whole opera work, the light booths really should have the same amount of UV content. And if there were no UV content in the viewing booth, then papers with OBAs would look dingy. And no one wants that.

You may think that M2 is an exclusive club, but M3 is even more exclusive. First you need to get into the M2 club even to be able to bribe the bouncer to get into M3. And you gotta be wearing sunglasses. Not just any sunglasses, but sunglasses with polarizing filters. As a result, specular highlights and fluorescence are not allowed in M3 disco.

So… if you happen to be thinking about dating a spectro, how do you decide which one is right for you?

Do I smell OBAs?

Do you have OBAs?
I know this probably sounds personal, but the first concern is whether you have OBAs in the house. If you don’t have OBAs, then (theoretically), there should be no difference between M0, M1, and M2 measurements. You could use your older instrument that doesn’t offer a choice, or you could go with one of the newer instruments that offer M1.

That question “do you have OBAs?” is pretty much the same as “are you measuring paper?” The thing is, paper is normally brown – the color of a grocery bag. Special processing must be done to make paper white. That could involve bleaching, or it could involve OBAs. Today, almost all paper uses at least some of the latter.

So if you happen to be measuring ink on paper, then you just gotta plunk your money down for an M1 instrument, because you will find your old M0 instrument disagreeable. It will disagree with your light booth, with M1 instruments, and even with M0 instruments from other families. The thing is that pretty much all paper for commercial printing will have OBAs added, so you have a choice as to whether to deal with a petulant teenager, so buy into the M1 craze.

I should add that switching over to the M1 instrument is only part of the change that you are facing. When you make the change, you will find that you need to make sure that your lighting booth adheres to the 2009 version of ISO 3664, so it has the same amount of UV content as the spectro. And all the data that you had previously measured, like profiles of your press and target colors, will need to be updated. I know, not a simple solution.

That covers web offset, sheetfed, and newspaper printing. The situation in packaging is a bit more complicated, so let me describe some cases. Let’s say that you are measuring color on foils or poly. I might be wrong here, but I don’t think you will run into any OBAs. Foils and poly and the floodcoat use something like TiO2 to add whiteness and opacity. Floodcoats wouldn’t benefit by OBAs, since they are not brown. So, like I said, I could be wrong, but I think it would be silly potatoes to add OBAs to foils.

If you are measuring kraft paper, then I think you are likely free and clear as well. If the paper is brown, then clearly no one cared enough to take the time to add OBAs to make it white. Then again, if the kraft paper includes a certain amount of recycled paper, then the OBAs might be sneaking in through the back door.

UV LED “blacklight” flashlight from Amazon for $12.89

How about printing on white cardboard or card stock? Now things get uncertain. You gotta ask yourself, how did the cardboard get white?  Sometimes, cardboard is made white by applying a floodcoat of white stuff. This white stuff might be something like titanium dioxide, which is naturally white. So, it is unlikely to contain OBAs. Then again, cardboard may be white because it has been laminated with paper. If that paper is white, then you can guess that it has OBAs. Another possibility is that the white card stock might be white because the paper is white. So, it could have OBAs.When in doubt… I would recommend having a UV light source around. Anyone who survived the sixties is familiar with these. Today you can get UV flashlights made from LEDs. Cheap and convenient, and a good way to test for the presence of OBAs.

Do you want CIELAB values?
The second concern is whether you want CIELAB values. In my not-always-humble opinion, computing CIELAB values from a polarized instrument (that is, M3) is just plain silly. The whole point of CIELAB is to emulate how our eyes see color. Unless your product is destined to be viewed by people wearing polarized sunglasses under light that is polarized the other way, then CIELAB is probably the wrong choice.

ISO 13655:2009 agrees with me on this one. Here is a quote from Annex G:

Notwithstanding the beneficial effects of crossed polarizers [M3] in the special cases mentioned above it needs to be noted that for most other instances in colorimetry the use of polarizers is counterproductive.

So, if you want to compute CIELAB values, then you must use M0, M1, or M2.

Are you doing process control on a cold set press?
M3 does not mix with CIELAB, but it does mix with density. ISO 13655 has this to say about where the M3 condition might be applicable:

It was discovered that the installation of crossed polarizing filters serves to extend the linear part of the density versus ink film thickness dependence towards higher values, and serves to greatly reduce density dry-back.

There are two points here. The first is that M3 “extends the linear relationship between density and ink film thickness.” This is believed by many, but it is unfortunately incorrect. In my blog post on polarized densitometers I presented a plot showing that there is a linear relationship between polarized and unpolarized density. If polarized density is linear with ink film thickness, then unpolarized must be as well.

The second point from the ISO 13655 quote is that M3 reduces dry-back. Measurements made directly after printing on a cold set press will not change as the ink dries. This is true, and that was really the whole point of the blog post on polarized densitometers. So… I won’t belabor the point here. But I will encourage you to go read the post.

And I will also reiterate a point that I have iterated a couple three times in previous blog posts. There is a difference between “process control” and “satisfying-your-customer control”. The first is about making sure your process is appropriate and repeatable. The second is about making sure that the payments from your customer are appropriate and repeatable. Density and M3 are process control parameters. CIELAB is a product expectation control parameter.

So, M3 can be useful when you are measuring ink that is not quite dry, but its use should be limited to within a given plant. No interchanging of data, you hear?

Are you doing process control on materials with OBAs?
Just in case you have been just too enthralled with this page-turner of a blog post to have been keeping track…

M0 is ok if you have a legacy instrument, and you aren’t really that into OBAs.
M1 is preferred, especially if you might think you have a little issue with OBAs.
M3 is acceptable, but only for process control – no CIELAB allowed.

What about M2?
OBAs are tricky little devils. They make the paper look whiter. But when you apply ink to them, a funny thing happens. The ink blocks the UV, so that the paper under the ink does not get artificially brightened. This can make things a little weird if you are a process control freak. Especially when you come upon an ink that doesn’t happen to block the OBAs. The relationship between the density of the paper and the density of the solid ink gets befuddled.

That last paragraph was written yesterday. This morning, I looked at some data that I got from my good buddy, Gerry Gerlach. His data refutes the stupid statement that I made “The ink blocks the UV.” Good God! What was I thinking. In his data, cyan, magenta, and black all do a pretty good job of blocking the UV. But for yellow ink (and aqueous coating on bare paper) there is a large difference in b* between the M1 and M2 measurements. In other words, the ink and coating are letting the UV light through, i.e. are transparent in the UV. I suspect that not all yellow inks do that, and certainly clear coatings may differ.

So, M2 is a process control thing, maybe better than M1. If you are trying to establish that you are putting a consistent amount of pigment on the paper from day to day, this might be a good thing to try. But as with M3, I caution that this is not the same as making the correct color.

M2 has found another purpose in life just recently with the invention of the OBA index of a paper. It has been noted that OBAs will tend to decrease the b* of a paper. A substrate might measure a little yellowish under M2, maybe b* is +2. If you measure that same substrate under M1, the b* might go negative, maybe -3. The OBA is the difference between the M2 and M1 measurements. In this example, the OBA index would be 5.

Are you sufficiently confused?
I hope this has blog post on illumination conditions been enlightening, no pun intended. Actually, the pun was intended. But the enlightenment was also intended.

John Seymour

About the Author
John Seymour holds the title principal engineer for QuadTech, where he has been doing research in printing, color theory, and imaging since 1992. John was instrumental in the development of QuadTech’s Color Control System and AccuCam. John currently holds seventeen patents and has authored thirty technical papers. He is an expert on the Committee for Graphic Arts Technologies Standards and ISO TC 130, and currently serves on the board of the Technical Association of the Graphic Arts. He writes a blog under the pen name “John the Math Guy”, which is described as “applied math and color science with a liberal sprinkling of goofy humor.”

Prior to working with QuadTech, John worked as a scientific programmer in medical imaging, satellite imagery, electron microscopy, and spectroscopy. He holds bachelor’s degrees in mathematics and in computer science from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

John had a hobby job as a karaoke host, going under the name “John the Revelator”, and before that his hobby job was teaching remedial math at a local university. He likes to think that he is gifted at “edutainment.” John teaches a color science class for QuadTech and has traveled as far as South Africa, England, Germany, and Hong Kong on speaking engagements.

Visit John’s Blog, John, the Math Guy – Applied math and color science with a liberal sprinkling of goofy humor, at

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A Guide to Reflectance Measurement Devices, Part 3

by John Seymour, John the Math Guy

I continue my action-packed series on the plethora of devices for measuring reflectance. Today’s topic is the spherical instrument. This blog post promises to be exciting because I know virtually nothing about the topic. This of course is generally the case when I write a blog, but in this case, I might actually admit to being ignorant if you get enough beer in me. Please try.In the first part of this series, I made the comment that your choice of instrument may not be directly related to which type works the best, but may be dictated by which industry you are in. If you are in the print industry, you are likely to be using (or required to be using) a 0/45 instrument. But, if you are measuring textiles or paint…

Are you measuring either cloth or paint?
If, by chance, you told the reflectance measurement device salesperson that you were in textiles or paint (personally, I am in lady’s underwear), then she would most likely point you to the integrating sphere section of the store. There you would see a few shelves of instruments that are labelled either 8/d or d/8. These are in the “spherical instruments” department.
 When paint and textiles collide
When paint and textiles collide


An instrument that is 8/d will have illumination that hits the sample at 8 degrees, which is to say, just off the axis perpendicular to the sample. Light will be collected democratically — without regard to race, creed, or direction of travel when leaving the sample. This certainly has a satisfying feel to it. It should appeal to the physicist in all of us to know that we are collecting pretty much all of the reflected light. So that’s good.


The picture below shows how this is accomplished. Light enters through a port near the top of the sphere. When light reflects from the sample in all directions it hits the inside of the sphere. The inside of the sphere is coated with stuff that is highly reflective and very matte, so the light bounces off in all directions. And then this light hits the inside of the sphere again, and bounces yet again. Eventually, some of the light hits the detector and is measured. That sphere, by the way, is called an integrating sphere.


Hunter's spherical
Illustration of an 8/d spherical instrument or a Christmas tree ornament
(from “The Measurement of Appearance” by Richard S. Hunter, John Wiley, 1975)


While it feels good to collect all the light, on the other hand, this is clearly not a measurement geometry that simulates anything in the real world. Light comes in at one angle – that part is reasonable enough – and is measured (seen) at all angles. What? Who has eyes like that??!?!


On the third hand, remember what my high school buddy, Herrmann von Helmholtz said: you can switch the illumination and viewing and see the same thing? So, 8/d will give you the same numbers as d/8. And a d/8 measurement is more or less what you get when you look at a car on a cloudy day… illuminated from all directions (well, mostly), and viewed at close to straight on (well, sometimes). The pictures above and below are from one company that bragged about both d/8 and 8/d designs while I was in high school.
US 4,093,991
A d/8 instrument or an engineer’s version of an ornament
(from US Patent 4,093,991, assigned to Hunter Labs, 1977)


SPINing and SPEXing
When using a d/8 or an 8/d instrument, you have yet another decision to make: SPIN and SPEX? These stand for SPecular INcluded and SPecular EXcluded. As with a polarized versus non-polarized spectrophotometer, this is an attempt to differentiate between the bulk reflection and the specular.

The SPIN instrument is just what I described previously. The light is captured from all directions without regard to race, creed, or sign of the zodiac. A SPEX instrument is almost the same, except that a black plug is put at the specular angle (at 8 degrees opposite the illumination). This keeps the detector from ever seeing this specular light. Clever, eh?

Depending on what you are doing with the measurements, one or the other might be more better. Consult your bartender or cosmetician for further advice.

Why is a spherical instrument good for cloth?
There is an inherent problem when you try to measure textured cloth with a 45/0 instrument. The texture will block 45 degree light from getting very far inside the warps and woofs of the cloth. The detector will miss out on seeing that rich color deep down in the fabric. Under typical conditions, our eye will see that light reflected from deep inside, since we normally have light that is hitting the fabric at angles other than 45 degrees. I might add that the fabric I most enjoy viewing is not presented as a flat piece. I much prefer fabric that has some curves to it.So, a spherical instrument has a big advantage when it comes to cloth, or carpet, or textured paint.
 Measuring a lion's tongue
This man is measuring the rough surface of a lion’s tongue with a 0/45 spectro.
I don’t recommend this.


Why is a spherical instrument good for paint?
You want your paint formulation software to work? Don’t even think about using a 0/45 spectrophotometer! A 0/45 spectro is very sensitive to the roughness of the surface that you are painting. If you mix the pigments of the paint based on measurements of one surface and then paint a surface that has a different roughness, guess what? The 0/45 spectro will see a different color. A spherical instrument is more forgiving.

That’s the good part. You can paint one surface to get your paint recipe and the use that paint on another surface and measure the same color with your spherical instrument.

But the bad part is that a spherical instrument is more forgiving – probably more forgiving than the flibbertigibbet who may or may not pay you because the house paint is the wrong color. Generally speaking, measurements made with a 0/45 spectrophotometer correlate better with what we see. Note that I have italicized those words for the benefit of those people who will disagree with me.

This is a point that I find myself making over and over again… process control versus customer needs. Frankly, I am getting sick of talking about it. Some day, I’ll just dedicate a whole blog post to the subject and stop ranting to my therapist.

What if you live at the intersection of textile and print?
 There are some poor sods who find themselves needing to make printed stuff look like textured textiles. Which type of spectro should they use?!?!?
The choice
Textiles or graphic arts?


Some of these poor sods are printers of catalogs. The color of the dress is critical, so they measure the lady’s dress. What do they measure it with? A spherical instrument, of course. Then they go print it and wind up measuring the printed catalog with a 0/45 spectro.

There are also some poor sods who get stuck having to print proofs of textile designs. Once again, we have the graphic arts world crashing into the textile world.

What to do about this? It’s tough, but if the fabric has a mostly kinda sorta matte finish, then the two instruments (d/8 SPEX and 0/45) will read similarly. Just be careful when trying to critically compare numbers from one type of instrument to another.

Are you decorating cans?
 For those who are not in the know, “decorating” is the official way to describe putting ink on soda and beer cans. I know, it sounds kinda froo-froo, but I didn’t make up the term. Most of what I say in these blogs is made up, but this particular factoid is true.
If you are in the can decorating business, and are looking to buy a spectro, then you have to ask the follow-up question: Coke or Pepsi? One of these companies requires that cans be measured with 0/45, and the other with spherical. If I can be trusted to explain their reasoning, one company realizes that 0/45 correlates better with what we see. The other company realizes that 0/45 measurements are hard to duplicate, since positioning is critical.
Coke or Pepsi
One of these is measured 0/45, and the other d/8

About the Author

John Seymour

John Seymour holds the title principal engineer for QuadTech, where he has been doing research in printing, color theory, and imaging since 1992. John was instrumental in the development of QuadTech’s Color Control System and AccuCam. John currently holds seventeen patents and has authored thirty technical papers. He is an expert on the Committee for Graphic Arts Technologies Standards and ISO TC 130, and currently serves on the board of the Technical Association of the Graphic Arts. He writes a blog under the pen name “John the Math Guy”, which is described as “applied math and color science with a liberal sprinkling of goofy humor.”

Prior to working with QuadTech, John worked as a scientific programmer in medical imaging, satellite imagery, electron microscopy, and spectroscopy. He holds bachelor’s degrees in mathematics and in computer science from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

John had a hobby job as a karaoke host, going under the name “John the Revelator”, and before that his hobby job was teaching remedial math at a local university. He likes to think that he is gifted at “edutainment.” John teaches a color science class for QuadTech and has traveled as far as South Africa, England, Germany, and Hong Kong on speaking engagements.

Visit John’s Blog, John, the Math Guy – Applied math and color science with a liberal sprinkling of goofy humor, at

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Building a Superior Artwork Process to Strengthen Your Brand

sgk_logo_pmsBy Jesse Moen, Director, Continuous Improvement Practice, SGK

It’s extremely rare to meet a packaged-goods brand marketer who doesn’t admit, “I have too many rounds of revisions and it takes too long to get my packaging approved.” This is very harmful to brand performance: it reduces speed-to- market and sales and increases expenses across the board. And with new EU and impending U.S. regulations on labeling accuracy, this kind of inefficiency will be even more costly because it leads to mistakes.

Some companies accept packaging headaches. But some dig in and solve them. They start by looking at root causes. There are two, and they are as cultural as they are technical.

The first one goes like this: “I have a new package coming (maybe a full redesign or just an ingredient change). And we have a deadline. I don’t have all of the data I need (something as critical as a nutrition statement or something discretionary, such as romance copy), but there’s so much pressure that we might as well just get started. Just go!”

It’s a fallacy that this pays off in the long run. It works every once in a while, but when a major brand is executing, say, 5,000 packaging changes a year, it’s not sustainable. Pretty soon you’re driving more rounds of revisions, and people are desperately seeking information that should have been there when production began. This costs money, and it’s how costly mistakes happen on shelf.

There’s a practical solution to this, but the change has to be cultural too. The company has to say; “We’re not going to do this anymore. We’re going to figure out what data we need at each stage-gate, and we’re not going to move forward until we get that data.” This is crucial. But it’s hard.

The second cultural issue is package data and how it’s handled; whether a brand manages its packaging in-house or uses vendors. The most efficient brands understand that package data is diverse and it’s coming from everywhere: nutrition facts, ingredients, net weight, barcode, logos and other art elements, romance copy, etc., can come from marketing, design, legal, packaging R&D, product R&D and more. Efficient brands standardize the way this data is gathered and stored. Whether they use carefully curated and protected spreadsheets or a more sophisticated digital database, every stakeholder contributes to a standardized, secure data platform.

As logical as this sounds, there are manufacturers and brands that have a different system for every division. It’s confusing and inefficient, and it makes automation impossible for packaging as well as for related items such as coupons, circular artwork and direct mail.

And it contributes directly to our first root cause – of saying, “Just go!” before all the inputs are gathered, organized and approved. Along with a logical, curated database, efficient brands establish that once the data is stored, it’s “gone” – it’s official and not to be changed. But the data as a whole can’t “just go” until they are all there.

Once a company has addressed these two root causes, then it can standardize according to Six Sigma principles. It can optimize according to lean manufacturing principles. And it can automate by tying the optimized database directly to package design functions.

Current and impending packaging regulations make these improvements crucial. There’s less chance of error at each discrete stage, but there’s a holistic benefit too. If a major brand makes packaging changes to half its SKUs a year, that could total 5,000. EU and pending U.S. packaging regulations will involve every SKU – so let’s say 10,000 for a large brand. If the typical approval process involves 10 people, several rounds of changes and 10 minutes per approval, you’re talking thousands and thousands of hours spent (in a relatively short time) on something that’s not adding to your bottom line.

But what if the proposed U.S. regulations are significantly watered down in the coming year? Brands are free to hope for this, but their issues will remain. Yes, implementing data collection and management best practices is hard work. It might require new technology. And it will require cultural change, which is the hardest. But it’s hard work that pays off permanently. On the other hand, when 10 stakeholders are involved in a package process that starts too early, has too many revisions and still results in an error, that’s hard work with no payoff.

About the Author: 


Jesse Moen brings 10+ years of expertise in brand development/deployment and in the practice of continuous improvement. He is the driving force behind the success of the SGK Continuous Improvement Practice (CIP) and has strategically led initiatives with CPGs and retailers such as Campbell’s, Dial, Diamond Foods, General Mills, Logitech, Merck, Proctor & Gamble, 3M, Safeway, and Titleist. Jesse earned a MA from the University of California, Berkeley and holds a Lean/Six Sigma Black Belt from the University of St. Thomas. |

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The Evolution of Corrugated Doctor Blades



TruPoint_Boxes_250x250Since the 1960s, corrugated printing requirements have grown from simple logistics to eye-catching promotional packaging with skus and tracking information. Improvements in doctor blade materials and tip configurations have played a key role in making this possible. While anilox rolls have gotten better at efficiently transporting a precise volume of ink to the plate, they are only as good as the metering blades they’re paired with: if a doctor blade leaves excess ink on the roll, a printer quickly loses control over quality and consistency.

Corrugated Doctor Blades Through the Years

1960s – Straight UHMW

About 50 years ago, corrugated printers started using doctor blades as a replacement for rubber rolls to gain control over the amount of ink transferred to the plate. (Read:“Corrugated Ink Deliver Systems: Two Roll or Doctor Blade?) UHMW offered a good solution because its dense molecular structure was ideal for printing environments that combined long runs and coarse anilox engravings. This soft, thick material was safe to handle, didn’t score anilox rolls, and was highly resistant to stress cracks and chips. It was also very abrasion-resistant which gave the blades extremely long life. UHMW products were engineered in thicknesses of .090” and .100″ which was adequate to produce the type of work being done at that time (and still in many applications today) – simple solids and lines in one to three colors.

Late 1980s – Early 1990s – Introduction of Bevels

As packaging began to take on more of a marketing role in the 1980s, the demand for higher quality graphics grew. Doctor blades became common in corrugated applications and new press technology, including ceramic anilox rolls and doctor blade chambers, came to market. Blade manufacturers focused on developing stronger, more durable materials that could be engineered into thinner products. Blade thicknesses decreased to .060″ and .080″, and 30° and 45° bevels were introduced to allow a smaller area of contact with the anilox roll.

Late 1990s – Early 2000s – Plastics and Composites with Finer Bevels

Packaging requirements continued to increase in the 1990s, and there were more innovations in anilox rolls and press components. Printers began using more advanced plastic materials for a stiffer, more durable alternative to UHMW.  Acetal blades were effective at metering moderate to high line screen rolls while providing great chemical resistance, good dimensional stability and a low coefficient of friction. These materials could be fortified with additives such as Teflon and manufactured into thicknesses of 020” to .040”. The material was able to accommodate finer bevels of 15° and 22° to produce difficult fine type and reverses. Tight weave fiberglass composites were also developed for screen and process work due to their extremely stiff and durable characteristics.

Mid 2000s – Next Generation UHMW

For printers using UHMW to produce low to moderate graphics, Flexo Concepts introduced a new high-density formulation UHMW to deliver up to 25% longer blade life than traditional UHMW. This next-generation formula was capable of producing enhanced graphics for a longer wear period and is still widely used today.

Today – Next Generation Polymers with MicroTips

Nowadays, box makers are asked to produce packages that serve as both shipping and display vehicles. Graphics requirements are exceptionally challenging and more colors, finer plate screens, half-tones and higher anilox line counts are being used to produce attractive point of sale and point of purchase containers. Predictable ink density and color control are essential to ensure manufacturers’ brand consistency. Until recently, steel had been the only blade that could meet this performance criteria. In 2012, a new blade that offers the best of traditional non-metallics and steel was created for these applications. Flexo Concepts’ next generation polymer blade with a unique MicroTip™ is capable of metering the highest line screens as well as a steel blade for the most demanding graphics requirements (read: “New Polymers Meter Like Steel Doctor Blades”). The MicroTip wears slowly and evenly and delivers consistent ink film thickness for the duration of the print job.

Along with press builders and anilox roll manufacturers, corrugated doctor blade suppliers have done their job of “keeping up with the times.” Blade materials and tip configurations have advanced over the past half-century along with the demands of the packaging industry. While UHMW, traditional plastics and composites are still the best choices in many low-moderate graphics applications, corrugated printers who want to avoid the short blade life and risks with using steel now have a next generation polymer blade to produce the highest quality work.

Request a TruPoint Orange Doctor Blade Sample

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Filed under Corrugated, Doctor Blades, Printing

Are you experiencing Pin-holing and Production Pitfalls? Part I



Flexographic printing technology, like all other printing technologies, relies on the transfer of ink to a range of substrates. With flexography, that transfer begins with the anilox roll, which is designed to enable a controlled, predicatable transfer of ink to the plate surface. Ideally, the ink is transferred to the surface of the plate as a series of dots, but in reality, rotation of the anilox roll often turns the dots into ridges. So the ink transferred from the plate to the substrate can contains ridges and voids—otherwise knows as pin-holes.

Because the ink layer is not continuous, the printed piece suffers from a loss of density and color vibrancy. To get the highest possible density with the least amount of ink, the ink needs to be printed in a thin continuous layer, with no voids. If you can accomplish this, the light from the source reflects evenly and continuously to the observer—in this case, to the consumer viewing packaging on the shelf. But trying to apply more ink to counteract the problem increases drying times and slows presses down, and applying more impression to increase the density results in compressed highlights and reduced tonal reproduction.

More ink also requires the use of a higher volume anilox roll, but these rolls often have lower LPI value, with bigger cells and a larger gap between the centers of each ink dot. What you get then are potentially larger voids between the ridges of ink.

Over the years, several approaches have been developed to try to eliminate pin-holes in flexographic printing. One such approach is to reduce the amount of gap between the anilox cells on the roll. This can also increase the ink flow, but there are production limits on how much this can be done. Another option is to change the surface of the plate, which typically involves creating small cells in the surface of the plate that carry ink in an attempt to transfer more ink to the substrate, but this increases ink use, drying demands, and slows the presses further.

Another newer alternative is to use a specific imager technology to apply a texture pattern on the surface of the plate, like regular rectangular islands surrounded by a thin sea of ink that breaks up the cell pattern from the anilox roll. By breaking up the anilox pattern, it breaks up the pin-hole pattern, and significantly improves the ink transfer.

By breaking up the pattern, this solution allows the transfer of the ink in a smooth layer without the large pin-holes, resulting in cleaner brighter colors, and higher densities, with the same or lower ink laydowns. Also, it should be noted that contrary to popular belief, solid densities are impacted more by the smoothness and eveness of ink laydown than they are by the actual volume of ink transferred, and increased densities with lower ink laydowns allow for better overprints for cleaner and brighter expanded gamuts, without adversely impacting drying times or press speeds.

The key is that better ink transfer allows printers to achieve their target densities, generally eliminating the need to chase density with more ink, more pigment, and more pressure. These features alone often allow printers to achieve greater color gamuts, better print quality, higher print speeds, and greater consistency.

So how do you modify the plate surface to create these surface texture patterns? With the right technology, it’s a fairly simple process that yields impressive results and opens up many more opportunities for flexographic printing.

Learn more on the technology that will prove helpful to address “Pin-holing and Production Pitfalls” you may experience – read Part II of this series next week.

Dr. John’s Contact Information:

John-Anderson-AugFor anyone who does want to email me, please use and please don’t miss out the number 3 in the address, or you will reach another John Anderson in Kodak manufacturing!

Have a wonderful day,
Dr. John

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Filed under Print Defects, Printing

Packaging Regulations: Will You Master the Changes and Benefit?


By Stephen Kaufman
Chief Technology Officer, SGK

Many U.S. and European Union shoppers and consumers merely glance over nutrition information on food labels – or fail to comprehend it when they do pay attention. But that’s about to change. Not just because consumers are growing ever more conscientious about what they eat, but because EU and U.S. regulations will ensure that nutrition information is easier to understand and much harder to overlook on the label.

No doubt, this will drive more consumer engagement with packaging. As for brands and manufacturers, some will see the regulations as a burden to be avoided for as long as possible and minimized wherever possible. But others will see it as an opportunity to become more efficient and more accurate – and more profitable in the long term. Let’s start with the vital background.

The New Regulations – European Union

In the European Union, EU Regulation 1169/2011 establishes a new legal framework for the nutrition information presented to consumers. Ratified in September of 2011, with full compliance for most companies required by December 13, 2014, this new regulation encompasses more than 50 pages of rules that standardize the presentation of food information and lower the administrative burden of tracking data. And, most important, the rules ensure that consumers have complete, unambiguous, highly legible information about the foods they plan to eat prior to purchase. Here are the main features.

Well-Organized Allergen Information

Prior to the new regulation, many products displayed an “Allergens Table” somewhere on the package. But with the new regulations, all allergens must be in the list of ingredients and highlighted “through a typeset that clearly distinguishes it from the rest of the list of ingredients.” This keeps mom from having to read the ingredients first and then scour all the other panels to look for egg yolks, whey, crustaceans or products made with a part from one of the 85,000 extant species of mollusks.

The implications: The redesign of hundreds of thousands of packages across Europe, but the potential to leverage this for a more trust-based relationship with consumers.

More Prominent Secondary Information

The new European regulations require clear expression of many facts not related to the ingredients themselves – such as net quantity, “use by” date, storage conditions, country of origin and instructions for use. While there are some exceptions based on the overall size of the product, most packages will show more information, in a larger format, than ever before.

Paradoxically, there is a push from the sustainability end of the packaging spectrum to lower the amount of post-consumer waste, while at the same time, the 1169 rules dictate the need to hold more information. Expect to see your favorite packages stuffed even more tightly with info.

The implications: A serious design challenge for all brands and manufacturers, but an opportunity to stand out against competitors who don’t handle the redesign as deftly and as attractively.

Clarity Online

The most interesting part of the new EU food labeling regulation concerns “pre-packaged foods offered for sale by means of distance communications.” For example, a candy bar sold through Amazon: the regulation states “information shall be available before the purchase is concluded” and “without charging consumers supplementary costs.” This means brands must coordinate the information printed on the package with information displayed on any number of online retail sites.

The implications: A tremendous responsibility to get lagging online information in sync with the physical package – which could remedy widespread consumer frustration with incomplete and out-of-date e-commerce product information.

The New Regulations – U.S.

New food labeling regulations are coming to the U.S. as well. For example, the Food and Drug Administration announced on February 27, 2014 that there will be:

  • Much more prominent display of information such as serving sizes and calories
  • A requirement that serving sizes reflect what people actually eat at a typical sitting not the smaller amount they “should” be eating
  • More prominent display of daily value percentages for nutrients, along with information about what the values mean
  • Changes in label information based on new understanding of nutrition science – such as requiring information about added sugars, updating the daily values for certain “nutrients of public health significance,” emphasizing the importance of avoiding certain kinds of fat rather than focusing on total calories from fat and so on.

At the same time, there has been tentative activity in the U.S. Congress around requiring prominent front-panel information such as the percentage of wheat or whole grains in products marketed as “multigrain” or “whole wheat,” as well as the inclusion of sweeteners, coloring or flavoring. Proposed new regulations would also prohibit misleading information such as touting low cholesterol in a product containing significant amounts of trans fats.

Although as of mid-2014 the legislation was still in subcommittee, brands should be aware that such legislation would require new label formatting.

The implications: Similar to the EU regulations: serious practical challenges for brands and manufacturers over a short time frame – but clear opportunities to build consumer trust through information transparency and superior package design strategies. The key here is handling the changes in a thoughtful and systematic way.

Your Challenge

Brands know that consumer trust is one of their most valuable assets. And of course, brands are aware of the importance of complying when governments regulate safety into branded products. One minor mistake and you could be looking at a long-lasting, even permanent, impact on your brand.

Beyond avoiding mistakes, smart brands will be using new food labeling regulations as an opportunity. Some regulations – for example, the front-panel disclosures proposed in the U.S. – will require substantial modifications to package design. This is an opportunity to refresh the brand through new package design, messaging, promotions or even nutritional improvements to the product itself.

All of these possibilities are best addressed early and holistically – not dealt with in isolation from the need to comply with new labeling requirements. Although we’ve focused on food labeling, it’s worth noting that pharmaceutical companies face the same kinds of regulatory challenges – and should also be looking for ways to turn labeling requirements into opportunities to improve brand performance.

The Solution

Both food and pharma industries can make it to the other end of the wire by employing a centralized system for managing copy, artwork and digital assets across all the brand’s manifestations, globally.

SGK’s BLUE! is one example of a system that helps brands manage graphics and copy across media to ensure accuracy and consistency. BLUE gives brand owners the ability to centralize product information and brand assets for easy control, and to automatically distribute approved versions across channels to simplify regulatory compliance – and assure overall package quality and appeal.

Brands need to have a plan in place – or much better, a system like BLUE – for managing the many print and digital redesigns that will be required to deal with new regulations that are already in place in the European Union, and soon to come in other regions. Are you ready?

 About the Author

Stephen Kaufman 0844 RTStephen Kaufman, Chief Technology Officer for SGK is a visionary leader able to connect technology enablers to real business challenges in user-friendly ways. As such, he directs the development and implementation of strategic technology solutions for SGK around such pressing client business issues as globalization, supply chain integration, process automation and environmental sustainability.

Kaufman joined SGK in 1993 where he has held a number of technology leadership positions, pioneering the development of what was then the industry’s first digital asset management system designed specifically to meet the stringent requirements of the consumer products packaging sector. Today, this product is marketed under the name BLUE! ™ and continues to be implemented globally by industry giants in consumer products, retailing and life sciences. BLUE! gives brand owners the ability to centralize product information and brand assets for easy control, and to automatically distribute approved versions across channels to simplify regulatory compliance – and assure overall package quality and appeal.


Birtsas, Stephen. “The Three Packaging Challenges Holding Pharmaceutical Companies Back,” Pharmaceutical Compliance Monitor, April 15, 2013. Accessed on April 30, 2014.

FDA News Release. “FDA Proposes Updates to Nutrition Facts Label on Food Packages,” February 27, 2014. Accessed April 30, 2014.­nouncements/ucm387418.htm

SGK News Release. “’Brand On A Wire: Walking the Tightrope of Regulatory and Consumer Trust’ to be Presented by SGK SVP and Group Managing Director Scott Strong at the 2014 PACE Forum in Brussels, Belgium,” February 4, 2014. Accessed April 30, 2014.

Sjerven, Jay. “Easy to Understand Nutrition Labeling Proposed.” Food Business News, October 14, 2013. Accessed April 30, 2014. Regulatory_News/2013/10/Easy_to_understand_nutrition_l.aspx?ID=%7B8A59894A-DECD-4021-BE85-B991BA95B38C%7D&cck=1 BLUE is a product of SGK.

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Filed under Branding, Labels

A Guide to Reflectance Measurement Devices, Part 2

by John Seymour, John the Math Guy

Blogging my way to insanity

This blog post is a second or third or maybe fourth in a series of blog posts attempting to unbewilder the bewildering array of geometries for spectrophotometers. In the zero-eth post, I introduced the idea that reflected light comes in two forms: specular and bulk. That was background for the first post on spectrophotometers, where I discussed the 0/45 and 45/0 spectros. Then in a wild frenzy of blogomania, I followed up with a special article on measuring metallic inks. 

Today I look at one special case of 0/45 spectros, the polarized instruments. Stay tuned for the last section of the post, which is a public service announcement about the difference between process control and customer specs.


A problem unique to newsprint
Suppose your business is printing newspapers. You print on a rough, uncoated stock. You can’t get a terribly high density – everyone knows that, and accepts that a black ink with a density of 1.2D on newsprint is pretty dark. Everyone assumes it’s because the ink soaks into the paper. Actually, the larger effect is because you are seeing more of the specular component, but that’s not the point of this blog post.

Do you realize just how much dryback we have today!!!??

Do you realize just how much dryback we have today!!!??

Here’s a funny thing that everyone in the business of measuring the color of newspaper printing knows about: dryback. If you measure the density of ink hot off the press, and then again minutes or hours later, you will see a drop in the richness of the color. The density will drop by around 0.10D. They call this dryback.

And here’s a funny thing that few people in the business of measuring the color of newspaper printing know. If you were able to measure the density of ink on the press as it is running – not just “hot off the press”, but “hot a few milliseconds after the ink hits the paper”, you would be astounded at the amount of dryback there is. (I was astonished.)

A rich black ink might have a density of 1.10D when it just comes off the press. That same ink will dryback to maybe 1.03D. When it has just been put on the paper, the ink has a density approaching 2.00D. To put that in perspective, that number is higher than almost all printing of black ink on fancy-shmancy ultra-high quality paper.

Wow. Really?

Yes. Really. I was involved in the development of an newspaper color control system, and I have seen it myself with my own two sensors. When ink is first applied to the paper, the surface of the ink is very smooth. As a result, all of the specular light heads off at one angle, and a 0/45 spectrophotometer won’t even notice it. As the ink dries, it conforms to the rough surface of the paper, and the spectrophotometer will start seeing the specular reflection.

What are we gonna do?!?!?
Celio, Mast and Ott, celebrating their brilliant discovery

Celio, Mast and Ott, celebrating their brilliant discovery

Dryback is troublesome for process control. But three guys who were working for Gretag came up with a solution. As the story goes, Tino Celio, Hans Ott, and Mast (I don’t recall this last guy’s first name) were sunning themselves at Malibu Beach. These guys were sipping umbrella drinks and talking about the sad state of affairs when it comes to measuring the color of ink on newsprint.Celio (I think it was him) pointed out some attractive lady, commenting that it would take an instrument with a pretty small aperture to measure the color of that bikini. I am sure most everyone reading this column can relate to the situation… pointing out a hot babe or stud to a buddy. (I assume that most everyone in divorce court can relate to pointing out a hot babe or stud to their spouse.)Ott said “What are you pointing at? All I see is glare!”. Mast. always the clever one, pointed out that Celio was wearing polarized sunglasses, and Ott was not. When the two switched glasses, Ott said “Ahhh… I see her now.” A light bulb suddenly appeared above all three heads.

I may not have gotten the story quite right. I wasn’t there at the time. Maybe it was the Riviera, since these guys were Europeans. I think they were from Switzerland or Uruguay or somewhere? Maybe they were drinking a good Bordeaux? Who knows?  All I am sure of is that one of these guys got this idea.

A pair of polarizing filters can be used to eliminate practically all the specular reflection that a 0/45 spectro sees. Bear in mind that bulk reflection is randomly polarized, but specular reflections remembers the polarization of the incident light. The following diagrams explain how we can take advantage of this fact to separate the bulk from the specular.

Polarized inst #1

All tiny facet of the sample surface that are tilted at 22.5o will direct specular light to the detector

A polarizer is added just after the light -- note that the specular reflection has the same polarization

A polarizer is added just after the light –
note that the specular reflection has the same polarization

Adding an s polarizer at the detector will eliminate this specular reflection

Adding an s polarizer at the detector will eliminate this specular reflection

With these filters in place in your densitomoter, you can measure the sheets right as they come off the press, an hour later, or a week later. The polarized density won’t change. A polarized densitometer is a great tool because it is immune to changes in gloss.

We have ourselves a process control tool! This tool has gained acceptance among densitometerophiles in Europe. But as good of an idea as this might be, it has never really caught on in the US. I suspect that the invention of the Atlantic Ocean has to do with this.The definition of what goes into a polarized densitometer has been enshrined in ISO 13655, and polarized densitometers are referred to by the euphonious name “the M3 condition.”


Naturally, you’re gonna ask how polarized and non-polarized densities compare to one another. Surely there is a simple conversion, right?  As is often the case when I am asked a question, I have two answers: yes and no.
Polarized to non-polarized
The plot shows measurements of a total of forty solid black patches, all of which were fully dried. Each patch was measured by a densitometer with and without polarization. The patches range in density from very light to very heavy, according to the pressman’s subjective view. Ten of the patches were printed on a matte stock, ten on low gloss stock, ten on a medium gloss, and ten on a high gloss stock. The gloss of each was eyeballed by my very carefully calibrated eyeball.The x axis of the plot is the density as measured without a polarizer.  The y axis is the amount that the density of the patch increases when measured with a polarized densitometer.The red arrows illustrate the conversion from non-polarized to polarized on a matte stock. For that particular stock a density of 1.10D shows a difference of about 0.28D. That is, a 1.10D non-polarized density would be read as 1.38D polarized. Similarly, the blue arrows show how the density changes for a matte stock. A nonpolarized density of 2.00D is increased by only 0.06D when the polarizer is kicked in.There are a couple of interesting things to note from this graph. First, for any particular stock and ink, there is a very simple transform between non-polarized and polarized. The difference between one and the other falls along a nice straight line. That’s good news. There is a simple transform!Second, the actual line for correction is highly dependent on the paper stock. For a very glossy stock, the correction is minimal; for a matte stock it is greater. That’s bad news. The simple transform is not universal. To make matters worse, note that the medium gloss patches show the largest change. The patches on the low gloss stock have a conversion much more similar to the patches on the glossy stock.Third, I will put to rest an old wive’s tale. Density is kinda sorta linear with ink film thickness. In truth, the relationship flattens out as you go higher in density / ink film thickness. The tale that the old wife told me is that polarized density is much more better – polarized density maintains this linearity over a wider range of density.

The plot above shows this wives tale is just an old wive’s tale. For any particular stock, there is a linear relationship between polarized and non-polarized density of dry ink, so any comments about linearity with ink film thickness that you can make about one holds equally true for the other.

Process control, or meeting customer requirements?
A great man once said that a polarized densitometer is a great tool because it is immune to changes in gloss. It gives you an indirect indication of the ink film thickness without confounding it with the gloss.On the other hand, that same wise man is about to say that a polarized densitometer is a lousy tool because it only gives you an indication of what the sample looks like when it is viewed under polarized light while wearing polarized sunglasses with your head tilted properly. I haven’t done any in-depth surveys, but I think that most print buyers and readers of newspapers don’t look at the newspaper under this condition.

Using a polarized densitometer to monitor color is like using this guy as an accountant

Using a polarized densitometer to monitor color
is like using this guy as an accountant

The annoying thing about customers is that they have this nasty habit of getting annoyed when the product is not what they wanted. Go figger. If we could only get rid of our customers, life would be so much easier. The print buyer (and end user) really and truly doesn’t care if the “correct” amount of ink has been applied to the paper. If the color on the paper is not the color that they were expecting, then it’s time for them to ask for rebates or go looking for another printer.

Therein lies a dilemma which is inherent to deciding on a color measurement instrument. Are you trying to do process control, or are you trying to measure the color?  Do you want your printing press to run predictably, or would you prefer to get the color that your customer wants?  Process control or customer satisfaction?

Process control often leads to meeting customer requirements. If the whole process is under control, then this is indeed the case. But, for anyone who has either dealt with customer complaints from the field, or who is married, it will be obvious that the best laid plans of mice and men oft go awry.

ISO 12647, parts 2 and 3

And now for the public service announcement…ISO 12647-2 is the standard when it comes to defining print. The purpose of this standard is to serve as a set of acceptance criteria for print. It is often cited as part of a contract for a printing job. Part 2 is about commercial web offset printing and part 3 is about cold set web offset (AKA newspaper) printing.Since the inception of part 2 in 1996, this standard has been clear that quality monitoring is the thing, and not process control. (Well, at least for the solids.) Density (be it polarized or non-polarized) is not a reliable indicator of the color that you see, and should not be used as an acceptance criteria. All the colors of the solids and the solid overprints in the standard are specified in CIELAB, since CIELAB is the closest thing we have to our perception of color.The standards are clear that densitometers are a useful tool for process control, internal to the printing plant. Generally, the printer establishes the density that will get to the proper CIELAB value with any particular substrate and ink combination, and will run to that. But ISO 12647-2 and -3 make it clear that the printer and print buyer should not converse in density when it comes to setting targets and tolerances. And as I have noted here, the printer and print buyer darn well better not even think about talking polarized density. There are just some things that are better left behind closed doors.

About the Author

John Seymour

John Seymour holds the title principal engineer for QuadTech, where he has been doing research in printing, color theory, and imaging since 1992. John was instrumental in the development of QuadTech’s Color Control System and AccuCam. John currently holds seventeen patents and has authored thirty technical papers. He is an expert on the Committee for Graphic Arts Technologies Standards and ISO TC 130, and currently serves on the board of the Technical Association of the Graphic Arts. He writes a blog under the pen name “John the Math Guy”, which is described as “applied math and color science with a liberal sprinkling of goofy humor.”

Prior to working with QuadTech, John worked as a scientific programmer in medical imaging, satellite imagery, electron microscopy, and spectroscopy. He holds bachelor’s degrees in mathematics and in computer science from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

John had a hobby job as a karaoke host, going under the name “John the Revelator”, and before that his hobby job was teaching remedial math at a local university. He likes to think that he is gifted at “edutainment.” John teaches a color science class for QuadTech and has traveled as far as South Africa, England, Germany, and Hong Kong on speaking engagements.

Visit John’s Blog, John, the Math Guy – Applied math and color science with a liberal sprinkling of goofy humor, at

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Filed under Color Management, Standards

How to Avoid Product Recalls While Building Your Brand


By Michael Leeds,
Senior Vice President of Client Engagement, Americas, SGK

The American food industry is on the cusp of an unprecedented change in regulatory standards, inspection, enforcement and, logically, the frequency of recalls. The number of “reportable foods” in the Reportable Food Registry is increasing. The FDA’s Food Safety Modernization Act has given the FDA much more authority, including authority over actual recalls, food performance standards, traceability and inspections. And manufacturers are likely to be responsible for hazard analysis systems.1 But that’s not all.

FDA-proposed changes to the Nutrition Facts label (covering nutrition information, serving sizes and the size of the label itself) and the display of other information could impact nearly 60,000 manufacturers and 750,000 Universal Product Codes (UPCs), representing nearly $250 billion in sales.2

These changes require significant relabeling efforts by manufacturers in a specific time frame and have been estimated to cost up to $3 billion.3 And the European Union is already well into labeling changes that must be completed by the end of 2014.

Naturally this activity has forced food manufacturers and brand owners to analyze the impact on their businesses. For example, a great deal has been written on how these companies should handle the increased liability risk and the obstacles to recovery after a recall. But there’s been less discussion of the food label itself – and this is risky, because where product safety, recall protocols and nutrition information are concerned, all roads go through the label.

Simply put, any company that’s potentially exposed to the risk and damage of recall due to misleading or inaccurate label information should be preparing to optimize its graphics processes. This will ensure that nutrition and traceability information is accurate in the first place, which in turn can mitigate the risk of a mislabeling recall and lower risk insurance costs. It will also go a long way toward satisfying government agencies and consumers, as both groups are loudly demanding better, clearer, more accurate labels. And optimum labeling can preserve – even enhance – hard-earned brand equity.

How can a manufacturer or brand owner optimize the accuracy of a product label? There are several interconnected ways:

A full commitment to best practices. In the coming years, this is not a luxury or idealistic – it’s crucial. In 2011, the Grocery Manufacturers Association surveyed representatives from 36 companies, a majority of them with more than $1 billion in sales and nearly a quarter with sales over $5 billion. All had undergone Class I (health and safety) recalls.

Nearly half estimated the cost of the recalls at under $9 million, but 29 percent estimated between $10 million and $29 million, and 23 percent estimated $30 million or more. For 5 percent, the cost was more than $100 million.4 The cost of a full implementation of best-in-class graphics workflow management system is far lower than this, and it pays permanent benefits.

Here’s another way to look at it… While the FDA calculates the cost of amortizing the impending packaging regulations over a 20-year span, an optimum graphics process can be implemented in less than a year.

In this light, the new food labeling regulations aren’t just regulations: they’re a prime opportunity to refresh and grow brands – and to drive agility and efficiency in the graphics process to save costs and increase speed to market.

A commitment to a better graphics workflow and technology. At a cost far less than even a small Class I recall, a manufacturer or brand owner can implement a system such as SGK’s BLUE, including implementation, training and ongoing support. This kind of system is designed specifically to optimize the storage and application of label artwork and copy across all media. It minimizes the number of “touches” by humans in the process of producing labels or digital expressions. And it protects approved assets from accidental changes or misapplication. It can even produce key performance indicator data to further improve accuracy and speed.

Technology like this is fully embraced by the pharmaceutical industry for the same reasons it’s now ideal for the food industry: strict demands for quality, accuracy and traceability, including cGMP mandates. And in an age of “just-in-time” global manufacturing, this geography-agnostic technology can give companies much- needed control of far-away processes.

Vendor consolidation. While much of the new burdens fall on manufacturers, brands can suffer in long-lasting ways from recalls. And when a comprehensive store brand is supplied by dozens or even hundreds of vendors, it’s very difficult to have total visibility and control of accuracy and consistency on labels. Consolidating the label graphics phase with one expert company – rather than leaving it to the individual manufacturers – gives the brand owner considerable control, consistency and savings.

When companies use multiple agencies and multiple printers, there often isn’t a single source of coordination. And many companies no longer have the additional staff or deep knowledge on their payroll that they had 10 or 20 years ago. It may be that the medium- and small-sized companies are even more in need of impact analyses and project management services than the larger food and beverage manufacturers.

Although the food labeling regulatory changes discussed here are still being formulated and finalized, it’s certain that food manufacturers and brands will have additional new risks and burdens. They will address those through risk assumption and risk transfer plans, certainly. But risk avoidance is equally crucial. Optimizing the graphics supply chain and workflow processes is a proven strategy for risk reduction – and brand building.

About the Author:Michael_Leeds 2

As Senior Vice President of Client Engagement, Americas, at SGK, Michael Leeds has over twenty-five years of client-facing experience supporting global brands that include Accenture, Coca-Cola, Johnson & Johnson, and Kellogg. Michael’s roles include Global Account Management, leading SGK’s Client Engagement Organization, and creating leading practices for the Client Growth Organization. Michael holds a Master’s degree in Business Administration from Rutgers University in New Jersey.


  1. In Appendix 1 of “Capturing Recall Costs: Measuring and Recovering the Losses,” GMA/Association of Food, Beverage and Consumer Products Companies, Covington & Burling LLP, Ernst & Young; October 2011.
  2. Nutrition Facts/Serving Sizes Combined PRIA, U.S. Food and Drug Administration
  3. Ibid.
  4. In “The Price of a Recall” in “Capturing Recall Costs: Measuring and Recovering the Losses.”


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New Doctor Blade Technology Is Worth a Look


FlexoConcepts-logoBy Brad Williams, OEM/ Account Executive, Flexo Concepts

New_Technologies_SignAs a salesman introducing new technology to a mature industry, I am constantly hearing, “But I’ve done it this way forever.” Press men are busy and don’t’ have time to waste trying new products when their current ones are working fine. But changing times call for an ongoing evaluation of your print process to find ways to improve. Today’s printers are smart to run controlled tests of new products to make sure they are maximizing efficiency and profitability and “keeping up with the times.”

Anilox roll evolution

Chrome anilox rolls

I like to use anilox rolls as an analogy. When chrome-plated anilox rolls came on the market almost 80 years ago, they were an improvement over the previous (and crude) methods of ink transfer. Steel rolls were covered with a chrome layer and mechanically engraved using a knurling tool. The dimples or “cells” filled with a precise volume of ink and carried them to the plate.  This gave the printer more control over the ink application process and better print quality.

As the industry continued to evolve, however, the limitations of chrome-plated rolls became apparent. The chrome surfaces wore down quickly from the friction between the roll and the doctor blade. Due to their shape, the cells quickly lost volume capacity and print densities declined. Also, the maximum line screens that could be achieved with the knurling tool were 500 lpi which was only enough for basic and moderate graphics reproduction. As demands for higher quality printing increased, and there were advancements in presses, plates and inks, so did the need for better anilox roll technology.

Ceramic-coated rolls

To keep pace with the industry, anilox roll manufacturers began applying a ceramic coating to their rolls using a plasma spray device. These new surfaces had hardness of over 1400 Vickers compared to 850-900 Vickers for the chrome-plated surfaces.  As the hardness of the roll determines its strength and durability, the new surfaces had better resistance to wear from the doctor blade. These rolls were too hard to engrave mechanically and lasers started being used to etch the rolls. The lasers produced a consistent engraving with cleaner cells and more distinct cell walls. Higher line screens could be achieved to expand a printer’s graphics capabilities. The ceramic surfaces not only lasted longer but the cells were also less sensitive to volume changes from wear. Printers gained more control over print quality and were now able to achieve target ink densities with thinner ink films.

New doctor blade technology

Like presses and other press components, doctor blades have evolved to adapt to the market. Blade manufacturers are continually experimenting with new materials and edge designs and introducing new doctor blade technology to keep up with their customers’ needs.


Today’s steel blade users have a choice of carbon, stainless, long life, coated and ceramic blades to fit their precise applications. Until now, steel was considered the only material capable of achieving a fine contact area with the roll and produce an effective wipe on high line screen engravings. Printers had to accept the downside of frequent blade changes, injuries and anilox roll scoring because there were no alternatives.


Plastics, on the other hand, have always been known for their blade life and safety. The material has to be thicker to provide rigidity and these blades were suitable only for producing low-moderate graphics. The upside is that they don’t have to be changed as often, and the long and steady wear period allows for consistent ink film thickness for the duration of the print job. The material is also safer to handle and won’t score anilox rolls. Plastic doctor blade choices include a variety of acetals, UHMWs, and polyesters.

Next generation doctor blades

Flexo Concepts® recently introduced a new blade that acts as a hybrid between steel and plastic. A combination of an advanced polymer material and an innovative tip design called “MicroTip™” allows the blade to perform in high line screen applications where previous non-metallic materials were not an option. Printers using these advanced polymer products get blades that can produce the graphics quality of steel while remaining safe to operators and anilox rolls. The blade is now successfully being used in a range of narrow web and wide web applications.

As with anilox rolls and other press components, new doctor blade technology has gone hand in hand with the evolution of the flexo printing industry.  The new polymer MicroTip blade is an example of a product that, once again, improves upon “what you were using before.”  Why not try it?

Request a TruPoint Orange Doctor Blade Sample

FlexoConcepts-logoAbout Flexo Concepts

Headquartered in Plymouth, Massachusetts, Flexo Concepts manufactures TruPoint doctor blades, the TruPoint QuikWash™ System and wash-up blades, and MicroClean™ dry media anilox cleaning systems.  All products are designed to improve print quality and reduce operational costs for flexographic and offset printers.  Flexo Concepts maintains distribution locations in North America, South America, Europe, Asia, Africa and Australia.  For more information about the company and its products visit


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Filed under Anilox Rolls, Doctor Blades