The Yellow Brick Road to Continuous Improvement: “Lions and tigers and bears, oh my!”


by John Lawrence, Business Development Director, Europe at SGK and member of SGK’s Continuous Improvement Practice

Many will remember the rhythmical chanting of Dorothy Gale (played by Judy Garland) and her unusual counterparts in the in 1939 version of The Wizard of Oz. For those of you fortunate enough to have experienced the film, whether as a child or through your own children, Dorothy is swept away to the magical land of Oz by a tornado and embarks on a journey to find the Wizard who can help get her home.

This classic film has featured prominently in my household over the last few months as my 4-year-old stares in wonder at the challenges and barriers placed in Dorothy’s way as she follows the “yellow brick road.” It got me thinking about process and the supply chain within the graphics industry. Dorothy asks a fair question that applies to our industry, “Is there a place where there isn’t any trouble? Do you suppose there is such a place, Toto?”

In the graphics industry, we all strive to find this place over the rainbow and similarly we also fear the lions, tigers and bears on the journey. Of course, the goal is to reduce our chances of meeting such characters and obstacles, but the real question is what we can learn from the ones we do come across. In Dorothy’s case her encounter with the Cowardly Lion leads not only to friendship and an alliance to achieve her ultimate goal of going home, but also to an understanding that he too has an objective to fulfill.

The yellow brick road is a metaphor for a prescribed journey or process to a destination. Brick-by-brick Dorothy gets closer to her destination with the help of her friends. She follows a prescribed and well-travelled route with no intention of ever leaving it. But on the other hand, she doesn’t look close enough at the solution, which she and her friends already possess. Glinda (the Good Witch of the North) had already revealed that Dorothy’s Ruby Slippers were magical – just not revealing their specific power.

Continuous Improvement is about listening, learning and implementing new ways of working to improve brand performance. Ultimately it is about reflecting on a process that delivers incremental and transformational change. In The Wizard of Oz, a transformational change is achieved by two characters: the Wizard himself – not because he had any magical powers – but simply because he was able to identify how Dorothy, the Cowardly Lion, the Scarecrow and the Tin Man could take greater ownership of their challenges. The second transformational character was Glinda who had the solution all along, it was just that no one had asked her or, more importantly, no one had listened.

In the world of graphics supply chains it is often a belief that it is someone else’s responsibility to solve a perceived challenge or prevent it from occurring. But in reality all stakeholders within a supply chain should continually be seeking ways to improve their own performance.

As consultants we examine more strategic elements that include deciding how to increase the value of the delivery process output to the customer and how much flexibility is valuable in the process to meet changing needs. Our goal however can only be achieved through these stakeholders appreciating their critical role and ownership of the solution.

Granted that the film itself would have been very short if the characters had identified “value add” vs. “non-value add activity” too early on in the story, but they would have achieved their objectives far quicker and more effectively.

In the real world we must also determine the best avenues of support by stakeholders in the supply chain, technology, resource and agency partners. We understand that by developing the most efficient workflow a business will benefit from:

  • Increased customer loyalty and market share
  • Achieve growth in sales and earnings
  • Sustain competitive advantages
  • Improve stakeholder value
  • Reduce risk

In short, evaluation and implementation of better ways of working drives quality, delivery and a key element in the current environment: cost.

SGK’s Continuous Improvement practice recently worked with a global FMCG organisation that was faced with the common challenges of an outdated graphics design workflow, as well as global markets challenged by a lack of resources. They sought improvements to cost, service and agility of design execution across the graphics supply chain. This business recognised the need for change and has since evolved its model – by listening to employees – and implementing new ways of working that have delivered multi-million pound (£) savings, reduced risk of product recall, quality consistency in operations across large and small markets, increased delivery capacity, and importantly, wide ranging acknowledgment of the improvement and efficiencies in the working lives of key brand owner stakeholders. This organisation’s graphics “yellow brick road” was a far more pleasant journey through the collaborative approach to improvement and a sustainable approach to implementation.

Why evolving through Continuous Improvement is a must.
Inefficiency is common as organisations grow over time. As companies change additional layers of stakeholders can lead to decentralised and ambiguous accountability of process. What should be a relatively straightforward, streamlined workflow becomes bogged down in a complex and time-consuming web of competing agendas, obsolete policies, and siloed communications.

Just as in The Wizard of Oz, self-inflicted barriers within brand environments can make for a long road to your destination. However there are tools and practices that will improve the quality of your branded assets, allow you to go to market faster, at a lower cost and with more efficient use of resources that will help cut out non-value-added time and energy from your branded material supply chains.

At SGK, we don’t claim to wear ruby slippers, but we do recognise from experience that stakeholders within your business do. Given the opportunity to tap them together, change can happen and the results truly can be magical.

Learn more about how to achieve better marketing supply chain performance from SGK’s Continuous Improvement Practice.

John Lawrence Head ShotAbout the Author:
John Lawrence leads SGK’s Continuous Improvement Practice (CIP) in Europe, helping brands build strategies that deliver optimized graphic processes, technology and roles to accelerate brand performance. John has worked in both agency and brand positions over his career and is passionate about devising and delivering solutions for his clients to help develop and grow their brands.

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Filed under Branding, Printing

Field tests with print samples using XRGA and Techkon instruments


by Allison Lakacha, Techkon

A previous blog post (“Consistent Color Measurement”) discussed instrument settings and procedures to ensure consistent color measurement throughout the supply chain. Once these are all in place, how well will instruments agree?All spectrophotometer manufacturers quote “repeatability” as one of their specs. This is the degree to which an instrument agrees with itself when making measurements of the same spot on the same sample, over a short period of time. Instrument repeatability is a small number, often less than 0.1 ΔE*ab. This number is misleading, since it is by far not the limiting factor. And it sets up an expectation that different instruments should agree this closely.There have been a number of studies by researchers where different instruments have been compared. John Seymour presented a paper at TAGA 2013 where he summarized the results of seven studies. Quoting from his paper:It’s difficult to distill these studies down to a single number, but it is fair to say that 1.0 ΔE*ab is a reasonable estimate for average disagreement, and that seeing disagreement greater than 2.0 ΔE*ab is not uncommon.

Our Own Tests With 4 Instrument Models

To see where things stand in field use, we measured a range of printed colors. Both spot and process colors were included. Each color was measured using four spectrophotometers:

  • Three X-Rite models – 939, SpectroEye, and eXact
  • One Techkon SpectroDens

All instruments were within the certification from their manufacturer. The three X-Rite instruments are all XRGA certified. The fourth instrument is a Techkon SpectroDens. In each case, the print was measured at approximately the same spot.

The goal was to try and answer the following questions:

  1. What is the typical variation we can expect when measuring printed colors with different instruments ?
  2. How does the Techkon SpectroDENS compare with X-Rite’s XRGA certified instruments ?

TABLE 1: Color values measured on 4 different instruments using M0 condition. Samples had little or no fluorescence.


FIGURE 1: Blue bars show inter-instrument agreement between Techkon SpectroDENS and three different X-Rite models. Orange bars show inter-instrument agreement between three different XRGA certified X-Rite models in field use.


We reduced the measurement data to color differences in ΔE00 between 6 different pairs of instruments. Three of these pairs were between Techkon SpectroDENS and X-Rite models. The other three pairs were between the X-Rite models themselves. In this exercise, average color differences in ΔE00 ranging from 0.24 to 0.55 were found when considering all 16 colors. The maximum color difference in ΔE00 for any color between any pair of instruments was 1.06. This represents what can be expected in commercial practice for certified and well-maintained instruments. The variation between instruments is within expected tolerance for printing of brand colors (color difference in ΔE00 of 2.0 to 3.0). It is worthwhile to note that the Techkon SpectroDENS agrees with the X-Rite units almost as well as the X-Rite instruments agree amongst themselves.

What about M1?
All previous measurements were under M0 mode, and on samples with little or no fluorescence. What about M1 measurements on fluorescent samples? Dave Wyble et al. measured fluorescent reference tiles with seven M1 instruments from three instrument manufacturers, including Techkon. These reference tiles were also measured by the Canadian national standards lab, NRC. The results showed a broader dispersion among the eight instruments in M1 mode for the most highly fluorescent samples than we would see in M0 measurement condition. This paper titled “”Investigation of the Implementation Aspects of the M1 Condition” was presented at 2015 TAGA by Wyble and Seymour and will be published soon. We hope to further explore the topic of inter-instrument agreement in the presence of fluorescence and UV light in a separate post.

What is XRGA?
When X-Rite joined with GretagMacbeth in 2006, they had to deal with a unique problem. They now needed to harmonize the measurements from instruments that had been designed and manufactured by different companies on different continents. The acronym “XRGA” was coined to brand this effort of reconciling measurements to a newly adopted common reference point. It is not a universal standard, but an internal reference point used by X-Rite to calibrate different instrument models in adherence to standards (ISO 13655, in particular). Other instruments developed according to ISO standards that are calibrated according to best practice manufacturing processes can be expected to agree with each other as well as XRGA instruments. More about XRGA here.

In Conclusion

  1. Inter-instrument agreement is important where production samples are compared to reference data set that was obtained from a different device. If the standard and sample can be measured on the same device, there is normally no need to be concerned about inter-instrument agreement.
  2. We found that print samples measured on different instrument models can typically be expected to vary by average ΔE00 of 0.5 for M0. With fluorescent samples, the M1 measurement condition shows somewhat larger variations according to a recent study by Wyble and Seymour.
  3. From our data collected using field instruments in normal pressroom use conditions, we observed that Techkon SpectroDENS agrees with the X-Rite units about as well as X-Rite instruments agree amongst themselves.

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Filed under Color Management, Printing

How to Modernize Your Packaging Graphics Management Process From Start To Finish


By Bill Farrisee, VP, Managing Director, Latin America, Schawk

Executive Summary
As technology continues to change, opening up more possibilities, but becoming more specialized and complex at the same time, marketers and brand owners can no longer afford to maintain the status quo when it comes to protecting their brand equity.

But by continuing to subscribe to the myth that there’s ‘no cost’ for prepress, consumer products companies worldwide are jeopardizing the integrity of their brand’s assets. And this, in turn, compromises their packaging’s ability to communicate as powerfully as it can to consumers.

This paper uncovers the high consequences of the ‘no-cost’ myth and explains what marketers and brand owners can do now to protect their prepress and optimize their packaging graphics management process from start to finish.


There’s no denying it, the prospect of “no cost” or “free” services can be extremely enticing. But when it comes to protecting brand standards and the integrity of your products’ printed packaging, marketers and brand owners must fully consider how the “free prepress” myth could impact brand integrity and your bottom line.

By believing that there is no cost for prepress, consumer products companies worldwide are missing out on big opportunities. This commodity purchasing strategy, which was intended to save money is actually costing more in the long run. And it’s preventing marketers and brand owners from modernizing their packaging graphics management process.

The reality is prepress is never free. You will be paying for it no matter what a vendor tells you. In fact, if you’re a marketer or purchasing agent and you hear a vendor say, “There’s no cost for prepress work,” you should run away! A statement like this is untrue because the cost is simply bundled into the cost of printing. You’re getting a low cost on a poorly executed package. Just what you paid for.

With over 60 years of helping the world’s most loved brands prepare their products for store shelves, we’ve observed problematic assumptions about the cost of prepress, which lead to big problems for marketers and the brands they manage. You may be familiar with these issues, some of which include:

  • Package printing expertise is not seen as a requirement.
  • Marketers’ lack of control throughout the package printing process.
  • Lower standards create lower expectations.
  • Revisions are needed and standards are set by accident.
  • The best price may not deliver consistent quality.

These challenges, common to many large consumer products companies, present serious consequences to the company’s package printing and to the brand as a whole. Let’s examine some of the effects of subscribing to the “no cost” for prepress myth.

“Bundled fees” mean marketers pay more.
This might not be much of a problem if a package prints only once and only at one printer. But what if that package prints twice or three times or 10 times? Then the costs of prepress are being paid for as part of the packaging price each time that package prints. So when costs are included in the price of the packaging, this often means the marketer is not saving money at all. In fact, they’re paying many times over unnecessarily for prepress with potentially compromised quality each time because a benchmark standard was never properly established.

Different printers, different results.
Consider what happens when package printing is moved from one supplier to another. The original printer probably won’t be happy that they’ve lost business to a competitor. How likely is it that they will send their prepress work to another printer? If anything is sent, it’s most likely the original artwork that was sent from their client – not the actual artwork that was used to print the package. Remember: the “final artwork” was modified to fit the particular situation at the original printer. The new printer receives the artwork and starts the entire prepress process over again. Different printer, different press, different specifications, different results.

Who’s got the final artwork?
The design and artwork that marketing approved from the designers will eventually be passed to purchasing and on to printers and the printer’s prepress suppliers (either internal or external). Suddenly marketing needs their current artwork. Where is it? Who has it? It isn’t what the design firm produced because that was changed by Printer A. It isn’t Printer A’s prepress work because that was passed to Printer B when Printer A lost the business. And it isn’t at Printer B because they had to modify the design for their conditions, which are different form Printer A. The hard truth is that nobody has the final artwork that actually produced the packaging in the market! Or, just as bad, there are multiple versions of the artwork, depending on how many suppliers were involved. Either way, you’re back at square one.

As you can see, the “no-cost” myth actually has very high cost consequences. And these costs far outweigh the perceived benefits of saving some money in the short-term. In order to optimize your packaging graphics management process and take control of the quality of your branded materials, here are four things you must do:

  1. Maintain design integrity.
    Marketing departments already have budgets for the design work that is required for developing packaging graphics and images. It’s a natural extension of the design phase to assure that the design is executed all the way to the consumer the way it was intended to by the designers. It’s the details that are responsible for maintaining the integrity of the design so that the package communicates as powerfully as it can to consumers.
  1. Develop a realistic budget.
    In order for marketing to take over the complete management of the graphics reproduction for its packages, marketers must develop a budget that includes all the work that is necessary between the time the design firm is developing concepts to the time the job is printed. Once you acknowledge that prepress is never free, this becomes easier. Remember, prepress may be communicated to you as “no cost” and it may appear to be the lowest cost, but neither is true.
  1. Involve the right groups.
    A system that includes the CPG company or retailer, the designers and a packaging prepress company is the best solution. By bringing the three operations together, the quality of the brand image can be developed and maintained throughout the process. Each operation can have various responsibilities but the team approach has proven successful for many consumer products companies in the United States, Canada and Asia, as well as Latin America, where a few leading CPG companies have already adopted this process.
  1. Let the experts help.
    An experienced and specialized packaging prepress company brings unique value to the supply chain. The right packaging prepress company works with all the major packaging printing methods and packaging materials. It understands the print process limitations and can bring that information for the team during the design process so that the selected design can be reproduced effectively across a wide range of packaging styles and print methods.

The right packaging prepress company provides a color management system that works with the designers and the printers to assure that brand graphics are reproduced properly and consistently. In addition a print management process is developed to help qualify new printers and monitor the print reproduction of existing printers. The system provides feedback to all the partners in the process to assure continuous improvement. Some of the advantages include:

Centralized graphics elements deliver efficiency
A system like this centralizes the graphic elements in one location that can manage and distribute the packaging graphics to all the partners in the supply chain. This way a consumer products company has control and has the opportunity to repurpose their graphics for various marketing needs whether it’s packaging, point-of-purchase displays, sell sheets/brochures, or web pages.

Digital asset management delivers efficiency
Digital asset management (DAM) systems are available to help consumer products companies gain better control of their packaging graphics, speed the approval process, allow for more thorough and complete communication and allow internal and external supplier access to information globally, seven days per week, 24 hours a day.

Measureable results
All this leads to improved speed to market, which drives sales and reduces costs. A recent case study shows how a major consumers products company in the U.S. was able to reduce time to market from 16 weeks to four weeks, while reducing artwork rework by 50 percent and costs by 20 percent.

These are just some of the benefits of working directly with a packaging prepress supplier and paying the right price for the best prepress services available. As opposed to paying the wrong price by believing that there is “no cost” for prepress. Utilizing a color management system will keep you from spending more than you have to, from impeding your speed to market and jeopardizing brand equity with inconsistent reproduction.

Your brand deserves the very best. Learn more about how to overcome the complex logistics and outdated practices that are impeding brand integrity and keeping consumers from experiencing your products the way they should.

Or contact a member of our team with specific inquiries.

 About the Author:
Bill_FarriseeBill Farrisee, VP, Managing Director, Latin America, at Schawk, has 28+ years of experience in the packaging and pre-media services. As founder of Schawk Latin America, Bill has 17 years of experience managing businesses in LATAM. He received his Bachelor of Science in Packaging from Rochester Institute of Technology and MBA from James Madison University.

Schawk is a global brand deployment company that produces brand assets and protects brand equities. Schawk identifies and deploys scalable solutions to address a brand’s complex production and delivery needs through proven expertise in workflow, resourcing, color management and imaging. We bring our clients’ brands to market faster, with greater accuracy, consistency and efficiency across mediums, protecting the equities that make them more desirable and profitable. Schawk is part of SGK, which is a division of Matthews International Corporation. For more information visit:

© 2015 Matthews International Corporation. All Rights Reserved. No part of this work may be reproduced in any form without written permission from the copyright holder. Schawk is a registered trademark of Matthews International Corporation. The Schawk logo is a trademark of Matthews International Corporation. All other trademarks are the property of their respective trademark owners.

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Filed under Branding, Prepress

Standardisation of Ink Transfer for Converting Corrugated Paper Board


by David Parr, Pamarco Global Graphics, Europe

The recent release by FEFCO of a new Standard for Converting equipment further emphasises the constant demand by the corrugated industry for consistent print quality, regardless of the press equipment being used. By categorising the key elements of the printing process, such as “Colour variation”, “Ink Consumption”, “Ink system cleanliness after wash-up”, printers, Press OEM and suppliers, can now all work to a common defined standard for converting corrugated paper. This will help to ensure their products are correctly specified and toleranced, in order to meet the specific targets of each of their clients.

To document this standard, the FEFCO team, collected and analysed considerable amounts of data, with a fundamental part of the printing section being to understand and quantify the process of Ink transfer through the printing system. In order do this, it is first important to define the term “Ink Transfer”. Within the corrugated converting system, “Ink Transfer” can be defined as “the weight of ink applied to the board, every print repeat”. In relative terms, it can be quantified by measuring how much ink is at the start of the process, specifically, the quantity of ink carried by the anilox roll, in relation to the quantity of ink at the end of the process, essentially, the amount of ink on the surface of the paper board. By defining and measuring the quantity of Ink as an Ink Film Thickness (IFT) in microns (um), it is possible to calculate the relative Ink transfer through the flexo printing process using the simple calculation:

Relative Ink Transfer in Flexo =

% IFT = IFT on Paper board x 100%
IFT on Anilox

FEFCO Standard calculation for Ink Transfer

Why is understanding Ink transfer important? Taking a look at the causes of common defects in flexo printing, will quickly answer this question, with the majority of defects such as Dot gain, dirty print, skip out, mottling, pin-holing, to name a few, being caused by having too much or too little ink, being transferred through the printing system. This leads to variations in print quality from press to press and from job to job. These are the major hurdles to achieving right-first-time graphics and consistent printed box quality. To eliminate these defects is a constant batttle for convertors, meaning that incorrect Ink transfer can frequently be the direct cause of delays with press set-up, increased downtime, product reject & waste and increased consumable costs. For high quality, cost conscious printers, Ink Transfer matters a lot!


Study of Ink Transfer: In a recent project to study Ink Transfer in corrugated printing, one of several sponsored by Pamarco Global Graphics, industry specialist Wilbert Streefland, organised a series of tests on the Bobst Masterflex press, located at a DS Smith plant in Germany. By installation of 2 calibrated Pamarco Eflo anilox rolls into the chambered inking systems, the target was to measure Ink transfer through the converting process and to study the changes in Ink transfer in relation to the common variables of corrugated flexo printing. The key variables tested were 1) Press speed, 2) Paper Board type & quality, 3) Ink density, 4) Water addition to ink 5) Single colour & Wet-on-wet, 6) Full & half tone plates and 7) Anilox specification & cell profile.

Test variables: Range (Supplier)
Press speed: 3500 & 7000 Sheets per hr (Bobst Masterflex HD)
Paper board type
& quality:
Uncoated White top Kraft & Semi-Coated (Not specified)
Ink density: Low density & High density (Flint)
Water addition
to Ink:
0%, 10% & 20% water concentrations
Single colour
& Wet-on-wet:
Full tone magenta & cyan and half tone black plates (Flint)
Anilox specifications
& type:
Screens, 100, 160 & 320 l/cm, Ink Film thicknes 5 & 10 um,   EFlo, 75 degress extended cells (Pamarco), Hexagon, 60 degree (Bobst press rolls)


Weighing the ink loss after each print repeat: One of the unique feature of the trial, was the method used to measure ink transfer. By installation of a precision weigh scale under the ink bucket on each of the print units, and linking with a press sensor to trigger the ink weight measurement with every sheet that passes through the print station, it was possible to accurately measure the ink loss with every sheet of board printed. In a series of 7 different trials, using over 10,000 sheets of board, at print speeds of up to 7000 sheets per hour, the data collected and analysed exceeded 60,000 individual weight measurements.

By measuring the exact Ink film thickness of the anilox at the start of the process and by knowing how much ink was deposited on each sheet of board, it was possible to calculate the exact quantity of ink transferred through the process. Hence by monitoring the variations in relative ink transfer with every changing variable, it was possible to determine, which variables had the most significant effect on ink transfer.


One unexpected finding of the testing was that the ink loss on one print unit was significantly higher than on other units, to a point where ink transfer had exceeded normal print conditions. This led the team to identify a leaking ink pipe, which was causing ink to be deposited to waste at a rate of several kilograms per hour and a cost of many euros per day. Besides corrupting the data until the problem was fixed, the obvious conclusion of this chance discovery was to consider that the inclusion of an inexpensive weigh scale on each press ink station, could easily identify these types of faults and lead to substantial savings in ink costs on a daily basis. “Press manufacturers take note of potential upgrades!”

What are the key factors for good ink transfer in flexo: Several of the conclusions from the trial were expected, such as the addition of water can improve ink transfer, but is offset by a substantial reduction in print density. The trials certainly proved that the addition of uncontrolled quantities of water to the ink is definitely not recommended when trying to maintain controllable levels of colour density. Other results which indicated that wet-on-wet printing gave higher ink transfer than single colour printing were less predictable and would require further testing to quantify the impact on high graphic printing.


EFlo anilox: Based on previous tests and industry experiences, it was no surprise to learn that the EFlo anilox had the highest ink transfer in all tests, with the extended cells, proving to give optimum ink transfer under all conditions. However one of the most significant and unexpected findings from the trials was that the relative ink transfer values in all tests, always stayed within the range of 12 to 35%, a surprising low value and certainly one which leads you to ask, what happens to the rest of the ink?

Press speed & Ink density: The tests demonstrated that when using high density inks, speed variations between 3500 & 7000 sheets per hour, had very little impact on ink transfer. However when using low density or water diluted inks, which is probably more normal conditions for many board convertors, higher press speed, gave reduced the ink transfer.

The substrate is critical: One of the fundamental conclusions of the trial and one which is no surprise to many experienced corrugated printers is that minimum amount if ink that needs to be transferred to the paper substrate is dictated BY THE SUBSTRATE! This means that selection of anilox specification to suit the type of paper board remains the critical decision for printers and press OEM. When printing on un-coated board, you should select an anilox which has sufficient Ink Film Thickness (often referred to as Cell Volume), to provide enough ink for good coverage and print density on that board. This project has shown that changing ink density and press speed will only take you so far; therefore matching anilox specification to paper board remains a fundamental decision for optimising print results.

In conclusion, it is believed that these trials are the most comprehensive study of ink transfer through the flexo converting process in a practical and commercial printing environment, but as with many ground breaking projects, in answering some questions, many new questions are also raised. Certainly it is thought provoking that 65-88% of ink remains within the inking system either in the doctor blade chamber & pipework , on the surface of anilox roll. Little wonder that maintaining the cleanliness of anilox remains a major task for printers when trying to produce consistent print results”.

Better understanding of how ink is moved through the whole press system, will lead to discovering how ink transfer can be further optimised, helping to improve converting performance and reducing costs. In the meantime, having the knowledge to specify anilox and inks that give optimum ink transfer and printing performance in relation to the paper board, and maintaining the inking system in a clean condition, remains an essential part of the corrugated converting process.

David Parr, a mechanical engineer, is Technical Sales Manager for Pamarco Global Graphics, Europe. He has worked in the flexo industry since 1986 and is a specialist in anilox technology.

Wilbert Streefland, formally the Technical Development Manager at SCA is owner of Technology Coaching BV and is a specialist consultant for organisations driving developments in printing throughout the world.

For full test results and more information about Ink Transfer, please contact David Parr, Pamarco Global Graphics at or Wilbert Streefland, Technology Coaching, BV at .

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Filed under Corrugated, Ink, Plate Technology

New Polymer Doctor Blades are Safe Substitutes for Steel in Flexible Packaging Applications

by Flexo Concepts


Blade_Safety_Accident_Free_Days_215x275If you are using steel doctor blades, you are probably well aware of the risk of serious cuts from handling the blades. Pressroom injuries can be expensive in terms of morale and accident-related expenses. Today’s next generation polymer blades combine the best of traditional plastic and steel blades and provide safe substitutes for steel in flexible packaging applications.

As steel doctor blades wear, their tips become honed through contact with the anilox roll, leaving razor-sharp edges. Press operators need to be extremely careful and wear protective gloves when removing the worn blades from the press to avoid injuries.

Until recently, steel was the only material capable of producing the high quality print required in flexible packaging applications so printers had no choice but to accept these risks. While plastic blades were safer, they were not able to achieve a fine enough contact area with the high line screen rolls.

Today’s next generation polymer blades act as a hybrid between steel and plastic and offer a safe alternative to steel. The combination of an advanced polymer material and an innovative “MicroTip®” design allows these blades to perform in highly demanding applications where previously steel was the only option. Due to their material composition, the new polymer blades are safe to handle even when worn. Converting to these blades will reduce lost-time accidents and can save a printer a lot of money in terms of workman’s compensation insurance rates, medical bills, labor replacement expenses and press downtime.

When it comes to the pressroom, safety is everyone’s concern. Flexible packaging printers no longer have to accept the danger that comes with using steel blades to get the print quality their customers demand. To greatly reduce the risk of injury and associated costs, try substituting next generation polymer blades for steel.

About 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 Doctor Blades, Printing, Wide Web

Pressroom Color Management – Taking It to a New Level

By Salmon Creek Media & Marketing

PolyFirst Packaging is one of the largest producers of specialty plastic bags, pouches and plastic packaging in the country. In 1998, PolyFirst Packaging started with a mission to produce the highest quality plastic film and bags, on time and at a fair price. They stuck to their guns and are now produce a breadth of products that rivals anyone in the county. Running multiple facilities in Wisconsin and Illinois. They extrude their own films and convert a wide variety of plastic packaging running state of the art printing and laminating equipment.

In 2014, the company wanted to take a more objective approach to color matching and at the same time simplify the data that the press operators use, so they began to look for a tool to help their press operators make better decisions about color adjustments on press. (We wanted to take a more objective approach to color matching and yet simplify the data that the press operators use.)

Choosing a Software Product

Ryan Fischer, Printing and Prepress Team Lead at PolyFirst Packaging, first heard about SpotOn! Flexo in early 2014 while talking with a representative from All Printing Resources (APR). He observed a demonstration of the software at the FTA InfoFlex 2014 and then witnessed firsthand its application during a live press run in early September 2014 when APR’s Richard Black attended a press characterization at PolyFirst Packaging. Black had SpotOn! Flexo loaded onto his laptop, and after watching the press operators struggle to get color he opened his laptop and started taking some measurements.

“My initial reaction was mixed because of its simplicity,” Fischer explained. “I’m used to complicated color management tools that throw a lot of data at you, but after reading John (John the Math Guy) Seymour’s article titled ‘are my CIELAB knobs?’ I had a paradigm-shift. In terms of processes, it made sense to me that CIELAB-centric color-management software belonged in the ink LAB (no pun intended), and density-centric software belonged press side.”

Fischer and the pressroom manager, Mitch Wieczorek, discussed the software and decided to purchase SpotOn! Flexo for their press operators because of its simplicity as compared to conventional color management software.

“Once we saw this unique software in action, we knew it was what we wanted,” said Fischer. “It focuses on color density, which we stress as being the primary step for ink toning on press, and it has the ability to predict what affect pressroom adjustments will have.”

Working with the Software

APR sent the PolyFirst IT team a link for downloading that included a “Read Me” file with installation instructions. The installation went smoothly, and very quickly the pressroom team, with no training, was setting up jobs with the easy-to-follow instructions.

PolyFirst trialed the software for 30 days before purchasing it, and the feedback is that press operators would have been unhappy if it had been removed the software from their computers after the 30-day trial.

“We saw close to a 50 percent reduction in what I would call ‘ink-toning time’ during the 30-day trial,” stated Fischer, “mainly due to the usefulness of the software in preventing the press operator from making incorrect adjustments. In the past, we may have added a base color to change the hue or chroma of toned ink because of his perception. With the new software, those potentially unnecessary steps are removed if the software shows, for example, that the operator can achieve color by just adding extender.”

Today, five PolyFirst press operators and four from management/administration are using the SpotOn! Flexo software.

The Benefits Realized

In addition to gains mentioned previously, the new software provides PolyFirst with a well-organized database for a digital color library. Other software programs required searches of the full library, color-by-color. When a job is pulled up in SpotOn! Flexo, only the colors applicable to that job are shown without having to dig through an expansive full library.

Workflow Benefits
Communication between prepress and press is more clear and concise. In the past, prepress communicated a color on a spec sheet, and it was up to the press operator to find the color. Typically, the specification was in the form of a simple Pantone number, and the problem with that is that “Pantone colors” have a tendency to multiply when they become mixed inks. One customer’s approved color that may be designated with a specific Pantone number may not match another customer’s approved color in terms of L*a*b*, even though the Pantone numbers are identical.

Now, prepress assigns colors through SpotOn! Flexo. Prepress sets up a job in the software, and the press operator simply pulls up the job, and the specific color targets applicable for the job are right there. The software removes ambiguity and reduces the amount of time a press operator previously spent searching PolyFirst’s color libraries for the appropriate colors to apply to a job.

Quality Benefits

According to Fischer, “SpotOn! Flexo establishes standards and tolerance sets differently than other software programs I have worked with. Not only do jobs have specific color sets, but each color set can also have standards and tolerances applied. So, if a customer has required standards that may differ from our own standards, those standards can be applied to the job.”

“For example, if our standards are delta-E00<3.0 (D50/2), and our customer requires delta-E76<2.0 (D65/2), we can apply those standards to the colors in that customer’s job. Instead of communicating the customer’s requirements through a specification and relying on the press operator to change his settings where the potential for error exists, those settings can be automatically applied along with the color targets.

“I’ve worked with software programs that require those settings to be set manually. If there are multiple presses running and using a single workstation, the operator from press A may switch the setting specific to his job, not reset them when finished, and when the operator from press B takes his measurements, if he doesn’t notice the change it could result in an inaccurate measurement without operator B ever noticing. This is not a problem with SpotOn! Flexo because each color-set and each job can have independent settings.”

Customer Satisfaction Benefits

Quality benefits go hand-in-hand with customer satisfaction. Many customers today have sophisticated expectations in terms of color management. Those expectations may include color management software requirements, tolerance requirements, digital library requirements or a host of other things that SpotOn! Flexo accomplishes.

“It’s an exciting display piece to have press-side,” Fisher said. “We’ve had customers press-side for press checks who have been impressed with the use of the software while their jobs were being set up.”

polyfirst-logoAbout PolyFirst Packaging

PolyFirst has become the preferred choice for custom packaging and custom design printing. Their state-of-the-art printing presses print up to eight colors, both process and spot colors allowing for greater flexibility when designing a package. In addition to printed bags, they also print rollstock for vertical and horizontal form fill and seal (V/F/F/S) applications. 

PolyFirst offers one-stop shopping by working with existing art files or creating new art; they can work with practically any art file you provide. Their design team will work with you to create the ideal package for your product. Visit for more information.

spoton-flexoAbout SpotOn! Flexo

SpotOn! Flexo is new, leading-edge technology that makes it possible to get optimum color reproduction and density information for any spot color, right at your fingertips. SpotOn! Flexo utilizes Predictive Analysis to determine the best ink density for optimum color reproduction. There are many timesaving and cost-cutting benefits of SpotOn! Flexo software. A major benefit is the reduced press “make-ready” time trying to obtain the correct color match to a spot or custom/brand color. Spot On! Flexo addresses the typical way density is identified and optimizes it. For more information about SpotOn! Flexo software, visit 

scmm-talking-boxesAbout Salmon Creek Media & Marketing 

Salmon Creek Media & Marketing provides a wide range of services in support of social media and traditional marketing initiatives. From marketing and advertising materials to social media management, blast e-mails and e-newsletters to Web-site development , we provide a full array of products and services to position a company and its products in front of its customers. We work with customers to understand the process, identify their goals and objectives, and create a plan to achieve their marketing objectives. Visit

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Filed under Color Management, Prepress, Printing

Consistent Color Measurement


by Allison Lakacha, Techkon

Software settings are another practical issue in achieving consistent results. Spectral measurements are mathematically converted to color and density values. These conversions depend on settings and options selected through software. It is important to check software settings that pertain to color measurement and conversion.
Spectrophotometers have a number of settings which all have an effect on the reporting of color values. For measurements to agree, all the settings should first agree.
In the US, the most common settings are:

  • Status T
  • No Polarization
  • Absolute White Calibration
  • D50/2°
  • M0
  • ∆E76 (∆Ecmc & ∆E00 are coming into use, you really need to ask your customer)

Effect of illuminant and observer angle on CIE a*-b* values


Three papers viewed with ultra-violet (UV) light shown on left and without UV light on right. The presence of FWA (fluorescent whitening agents) can change the color drastically when viewed in light that contains some UV. In the absence of UV, the impact of FWA on appearance is minimal.


The color difference between two yellows, using different color difference formulas

Environmental Conditions
Spectrophotometers are not nearly as delicate as they were years ago, but they are still precision instruments. Extremes of temperature and dropping are not good for them, needless to say. But even temperatures ten degrees out of the normal operating range can temporarily have an effect on the measured values. Where possible, measurements should be carried out in an area where the temperature is controlled.

Dust or other contaminants are not friends of your spectrophotometer. A dirty lens can effect measurements. Dry compressed air can be used to clean dust from any external glass, but internal dust or smears must be taken care of by a service technician.

Calibration and Certification
There is one critical – and often under-appreciated – item that often comes along with a spectrophotometer: the calibration plaque. This plaque serves as a reference so the device knows what “white” is. If the plaque gets dirty, or if the plaque from a different unit is used, error will be introduced. (All spectrophotometers have such a plaque. Some plaques are internal to the unit.)

Is the certification of the instrument out of date? While spectrophotometers are very reliable instruments, they will drift, or be damaged in non-obvious ways. Instruments should be periodically recertified according to manufacturer’s specifications.

In the picture below, a page from a catalog was placed on top of a white backing (on the left), and a black backing (on the right). The backing material not only has an effect on color, but also can enhance or prevent show-through from the other side. This is true for light-weight stocks and can be huge for translucent or transparent films.


To numerically demonstrate the effect of backing, two areas on this sheet were measured with white and with black backing. The change in density due to ink on the other side is about three times as large with white backing, so you should measure over black backing when there is print on the other side. But ISO standards favor measurement over white backing. Regardless, for color measurements to agree, one must use the same backing material each time.

White Backing Black Backing
#1 0.132 D 0.183 D
#2 0.203 D 0.206 D
of ink on
0.071 D 0.023 D


To get consistent color measurements pay attention to measurement settings, room temperature, presence of dust, white tile cleanliness, periodic device service and certification, use of consistent backing.


Filed under Color Management, Printing

Welcome to the Small Ball Era of Marketing



By Bruce Levinson, Vice President, Client Engagement, SGK


Baseball gurus refer to the term “small ball” as a way of manufacturing runs by executing a series of well-timed plays. It might start, for example, with a leadoff walk that creates the opportunity to steal second base, setting up a sacrifice bunt situation. This approach is in contrast to relying on the “long ball” – basically swinging for the fences each time at bat. I mention this not only because the new baseball season is upon us, but also because it provides a cogent analogy to the way smart brands are winning in the rapidly changing marketplace today.

Brand management is evolving from an annual plan consisting of a few, often well-funded, major events (the long ball) to the more agile management of a stream of activity that is constantly reviewed, evolved and resourced to the degree of opportunity. Both resources and risk are dynamically allocated. Budgets are more fluid and decisions made in real time, not solely as part of an annual exercise.

This is, in effect, small ball marketing and there are important ramifications for brand managers looking for an edge. Small ball marketing tools certainly include social media both for listening to and for engaging with consumers of their brands and categories. Brands must connect with consumers on an emotional level to forge any meaningful relationship. This entails being part of their lives, part of the conversation that most likely isn’t focused on your brand’s features and benefits. It might be about a common belief, value or purpose that your brand can credibly support, demonstrate or contribute to. Generally this purpose is well-known and thoughtfully planned, however the best opportunities to engage are very often spontaneous.

A timely tweet with a meaningful message can be just as effective as a lavish ad campaign; especially one focused on the conversation as it is stood at the time the agency was briefed. Agile brand management goes beyond social listening and timely tweeting. It is also about finding new ways to capitalize on opportunities as they arise. This applies equally to brand communication as it does brand innovation.

Brands are finding competitive advantage in their ability to launch a new product in less time than a competitor. Two companies may have the identical insight or discover the same trend, but one company will better able to deliver on it. This is partly due to a more flexible supply chain and partly due to a mindset of corporate culture that rewards opportunistic marketing.

Two technological drivers are breaking down conventional models of agile opportunistic marketing: e-commerce and digital printing. Volumes have been written about the former, which is changing so much about the marketing landscape, but the area I want to highlight here is the ability for a brands to do three things: (1) carry less inventory; (2) lower their volume hurdle rates; and (3) rollout innovation faster, without awaiting the next shelf reset. These three things combine to effectively redefine a marketing organization’s need for scale and its evaluation of risk. There will be internal hurdles of course because resources are finite, however there is much greater flexibility today as a result of e-commerce.

Digital printing is on the verge of having a similar step-change impact on speed to market. What has for years been a pragmatic solution for quick-turnaround sales samples or other very limited production requirements is becoming increasingly viable for smaller scale production. Digital printing is beginning to change the way companies approach promotional packaging and could enable regionally specific packaging, retailer-specific items, and even consumer customized packaging.

Digital printing is a game changer because it gives brands a fast and efficient way to produce limited runs of unique, promotional, or opportunistic packaging graphics. Whereas conventional printing requires color separations and producing plates or cylinders, digital printing can be turned around quickly and inexpensively so long as the print runs stay below an ever-changing volume threshold and within the parameters of the press, substrates and form-factors.

What’s more, the combination of digital printing plus e-commerce provides the flexibility to, for example, sell a small volume of product to a concentrated, highly loyal fan base that would never be sufficient to meet the hurdles of the physical shelf. These are precisely the small-ball opportunities that large CPGs typically take a pass on, but no longer have to. Today a new model is emerging: one where innovation is brought to market at the point of opportunity, rather than limited to traditional retail or supply chain constraints.

Bruce_Levinson_2011About the Author:
Bruce is Vice President, Client Engagement at SGK, a leading brand development, activation and deployment provider that drives brand performance. Bruce is a passionate architect of brand strategy and is highly experienced in translating consumer insights and client needs. His experience helps clients meet market and regulatory demands while driving brand initiatives domestically and internationally. His previous positions include director-level marketing roles at Unilever in the US and UK, and as an advertising account executive.

Bruce Levinson <>
Twitter: @SGKInc (

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Filed under Branding, Marketing

Printing Corrugated Without Pressure



By Tom Kerchiss, RK Print Coat Instruments Ltd


Packaging designers and converters regularly need to pull more than a few white rabbits out of the hat if they want to keep consumers not only noticing their clients’ products but also purchasing them. A holistic approach is necessary, designers, marketing teams and packaging technologists must come up with a winning formula time after time after time and before any novelty value wears off and the consumers move on to something else. A winning packaging concept is made up of many elements but always includes the form in which the packaging will take (pouch, box, paperboard sleeve, etc.,), functionality and image/appearance. – Never forgetting what is creatively or physically possible given the chosen substrate and the print and production processes chosen.

Colour is a crucial factor; serving first and foremost as a brand recognition marker for the consumer but colour also provides an objective indicator of what to expect and how we perceive the world around us.

Colour and its appearance varies according to factors such as light but also the substrates involved.

In direct printed corrugated applications the substrate plays a major role in dictating how the ink is going to appear on the finished job. Absorption and surface tension are the two main factors that influence print density, drying, trapping, and dot gain.

When providing a customer with a colour match, it is important to use the same substrate as will eventually be printed on. Printing one colour on Kraft, mottled or even clay-coated sheets that have the same surface appearance will yield a wide range of shades from the same colour. The reason for this is that the sheets with a high level of absorption produce a weaker colour due to the ink being absorbed into the substrate; those sheets with a lower absorption however will produce stronger colours, and if clay-coated sheets are used the ink will not penetrate the surface. Surface tension therefore plays a role in determining colour strength.

When printing on clay-coated board, insufficient coverage or poor trapping may well be associated with poor adhesion, due to the materials in the ink having a combined surface tension that is higher than that of the substrate. This produces a cohesive effect, causing inks to shy away from some areas of the substrate surface and produce an uneven appearance to the final print. Inks with a higher level of polymeric additives, and incorporating water can be used with great effect; in this instance; the water is often added at the press side to reduce viscosity for faster drying and faster press speeds. Care has to be taken though as too much water causes an imbalance in the ink, reducing the rub resistance and gloss characteristics. A diluting vehicle can be used to maintain ink balance.

The rub resistance that printed ink exhibits has to be modified in some instances. For example, Kraft, mottled and bleach board tends to show more rub than a clay-coated board. Rub resistance is adjusted with waxes and specific polymers; colour communication devices are ideal for monitoring results as well as for product development (inks, adhesives, varnish, etc.). The FlexiProof designed and developed by RK Print Coat Instruments Ltd can be used for conducting tests associated with rub, wear resistance, scratch resistance, gloss and other parameters.

On a clay-coated board the ink supplier needs to be aware if the board is going to be overprinted with a varnish. Usually, complex graphic printing is undertaken on clay-coated board with the varnish added to serve barrier and gloss purposes. In this instance it would be counterproductive to add a wax additive, which would not only reduce the gloss but cause problems with solid over solid trapping.

The pH of inks used for graphic printing on clay-coated board is generally higher than for Kraft board. This is because the inks that print on clay-coated board incorporate more polymer and have a carefully balanced level of water. The higher pH helps to stabilize the ink, makes it stay open and slows the drying of the ink on the printing die. A lower pH range is advisable for Kraft type boards because these are generally printed at faster speeds and quick drying is necessary. Adjustment of pH is usually done with amines or ammonia. The former is more stable, while the latter poses health risks, requires more attention and leads to faster drying.

Irrespective of the method the ink pH must be checked occasionally to prevent changes caused by evaporation. PH stable ink is the best option, requiring less attention.

The printing of corrugated board, in this instance post printing is subject to many processing variables, striping being one of them. Striping is print density and/or print gloss variations that appears as stripes on the printed liner parallel to the flutes of the corrugated medium. These print density variations are caused by the printing pressure inconsistencies associated with the board, while the print gloss variations are caused by surface distortion of the corrugated board, such as wash boarding.

Whether direct printing, printing on linerboard, etc., flexography is often the dominant print process and as already indicated process inconsistencies

affect colour quality and result in excessive waste, machine downtime and rejects. Colour communication devices and other product monitoring tools are now common in many production environments and play an important role in maintaining commercial and product viability.

About RK Print Coat Instruments Ltd

RK Print Coat Instruments Ltd are headquartered in the United Kingdom but their colour communication and print/coat/laminate product development and quality control systems are sold worldwide. Further information is available by visiting

An advantage of devices such as the FlexiProof, the Control Coater or K Printing Proofer or any one of the many other colour communication devices developed and manufactured by RK Print Coat Instruments is that can and are used by everyone involved in supply chain from ink manufacturer to substrate producer to printer/converters, etc. This makes for greater collaboration; highlights problems quicker and speeds process solutions.

The FlexiProof 100, the FlexiProof UV and FlexiProof UV/LED can be used for a wide variety of purposes. They enable users to colour match off-press resolving ink and other related issues, easily and quickly – reducing on-press waste and providing savings in other areas such as time, energy costs, press downtime, etc. They can be used to determine printability – gloss, flexibility durability and rub resistance, prior to full-scale production. How inks/substrates interact can be determined while users can trial new or unfamiliar materials on the FlexiProof rather than tying up an income generating production press.

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Filed under Corrugated, Printing

Branding By Numbers: Making A Case For Colour KPIs

By Paul Haggett, Business Development Manager, Schawk

In the production of graphics for branded materials, whether it’s printed packaging, a label or even something as simple as a shipper, errors and inefficiencies always have root causes.

As in many other areas of business management, key performance indicators (KPIs) are great at helping us locate and identify the root causes of errors and inefficiencies, and provide us with the facts needed to correct them.

KPIs can also go further to foster collaborative dialogue and analysis amongst all stakeholders in the graphics supply chain, be they designers, production agencies, print vendors and of course brand owners themselves.

Ask the right questions.
When it comes to the production of branded materials, the key questions are what are the right KPIs and how can we implement and act on them? Surprisingly, many stakeholders in the graphic supply chain are not clear on these answers.

Set benchmarks.
As is the case with many things in business and in life, the old adage, “If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it,” applies here. So the first step is agreeing to a set of relevant benchmarks to measure against. When it comes to branded materials, outside of the actual packaging material or substrate, you can measure two crucial elements: content and colour.

Establishing KPIs for colour:
Defining KPIs for the capture and use of content, the actual pack copy and regulatory data itself, is a task for another article. Here we are going to concentrate on how setting KPIs for colour can deliver significant benefits to all stakeholders in the graphics supply chain – in particular the brand owner.

From the outset, it is crucial there is collaboration between all those involved. Arbitrary setting of colour KPIs by a design agency or a graphic production/pre-press agency will only cause angst for a printer. Likewise, applying colour KPIs defined by a gravure printer who prints on gloss while films to a litho printer whose common substrate is recycled board will be a waste of time.

The point here, is that engaging the relevant stakeholders at the outset helps to set realistic expectations for all concerned. Benchmarks are established, and if required, boundaries can be pushed.

A collaborative graphic production partner who can coordinate with all relevant print suppliers and the chosen creative agency can best achieve this task. Visibility of the entire project and accountability through defined KPIs ensures a consistent outcome of all branded materials, regardless of the printer’s geographic location. With sufficient preparation, costly and time-consuming press passes can be a thing of the past.

That’s where platforms like ColorDrive come in. With ColorDrive, the industry’s first and only supply chain-focused, cloud-based print quality management platform, stakeholders can monitor print quality parameters globally, in real time, and make calls on colour adjustments with greater confidence.

To learn how to improve print outcomes for all your branded materials and preserve brand equity download Schawk’s ColorDrive brochure.

Paul_HaggettAbout the Author:
Paul Haggett is business development manager in Australia and New Zealand with Schawk. Schawk produces brand assets and protects brand equities to drive brand profitability.

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Filed under Branding, Packaging