By Doug Jones – VP Global Marketing Apex International
Recent studies and trials aimed at optimizing Pantone simulation suggest that the fixed palette approach is ready to revolutionize the flexography and label industries. The change is due specifically to advancements allowing for unprecedented process control and consistency as well as the development of new tools designed to pinpoint which process parameters are failing so they may be addressed before problems arise.
A recent trial by Soma Engineering in partnership with Apex International has provided hard data supporting the idea that process variable elimination and optimization of remaining processes is the key to maximizing the number of Pantone simulation possibilities using 4 color fixed palette. The study also produced data comparing the 4 color fixed palette to 7 color. The trial was conducted on a Soma 8 color gearless press OPTIMA.
“Using CMYK plus Orange, Green and Reflex Blue, we were able to hit 1,412 Pantones within a ΔE of 2 or approximately 81% of Pantones. Comparatively, we were able to hit 1,184 Pantones using just CMYK within the same ΔE. However, when we included silver we hit an additional 1,184 in metallic Pantones bring the total Pantone simulation to 2,604.” said Nick Harvey, Technical Advisor at Apex International. “We also hit a total of 1,519 Pantones using 7 color and 1,302 using 4 color within a ΔE of 3. Including metallics, we hit 2,604 Pantones. I don’t believe any other CMYK trial has gotten close to these targets.”
According to Harvey, 4 color fixed palette has two distinct advantages over 7 color. The first is a matter of variable elimination. Printers need to determine if the additional 228 Pantones are worth the inclusion of three additional variables. The second advantage relates to flexibility. Harvey states that estimated 95% of printers only have 8 unit presses. 4 color fixed pallet allows for inclusion of metallics, various lacquers, double white and other options that create value and subsequently command a higher price point.
The demand for optimized fixed palette is only expected to grow as brand owners demand better color consistency with shorter run lengths and just-in-time production. Chief among these concerns is the ability to create color consistency across multiple markets ensuring that the same values and same Pantones can be printed on labels just as they can on films.
“Achieving color consistency is probably the most difficult component of transitioning to a fixed palette process.” said Bas van der Poel, Technical Sales Manager at Apex International. “Fixed palette is about control: control over variables, control over ink flow and so on. It is this control that has allowed us to hit the number of Pantones we have with this trial and do so while not having to make any changes to plate inventory. It requires a level of control that simply is not possible with conventional anilox rolls.”
Apex International holds globally recognized patents on an award-winning technology that uses continuous lasers to engrave a slalom pattern onto the anilox. The continuous laser is responsible for creating an anilox product capable of the smooth, consistent and controlled laydown necessary to optimize fixed palette.
“What these trials have shown us is that specific attributes of our GTT engraving perform exceptionally well with fixed palette. It has a tolerance of 2% on volume and ink transfer. GTT engraved rolls are 90% opening while maintaining wall stability. Ink flow is more consistent and unobstructed, subsequently solving spitting issues and producing a controlled, smooth laydown. All these things contribute to the results we’ve seen with Soma.” said Harvey.
“This project was part of our annual Flexo Challenges Conference, where we address the latest trends in the flexo industry. The result was beyond expectations with significant benefits for the printers as well as the brand owners. Combination of HQ short run press, HQ anilox technology and pre-press knowledge positions flexo technology in much better shape in relation to competitive gravure printing.” said Petr Blaško, Marketing Manager at Soma Engineering.
Apex has also developed a closed loop process that is designed to aid in the implementation of fixed palette. The process involves the use of a calibration roll that guarantees full production control by identifying which parameters are failing so that they may be addressed.
“In many respects the calibration process is just as critical as the use of GTT in fixed palette optimization.” concludes Nick Harvey.
About the Author:
Doug Jones is Vice President of Global Marketing at Apex International, the world’s largest manufacturer of anilox and meter products with 7 locations on 4 continents and sales offices covering over 80 countries. He holds a bachelors degree in Communications from Penn State and a Masters of Business Administration. He lives in Sewickely, Pennsylvania USA