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FLEXO Magazine : September 2009
38 FLEXO SEPTEMBER 2009 www.flexography.org PLANTS & PROCESSES ciency by managing color in a way that allowed us to confidently, sometimes courageously, move projects across print methods. We chose to dramatically consolidate our workflow and build our potential for automation. The Esko and HP technical staffs continue to work with us tirelessly on resolving the implementa- tion challenges. It is not perfect yet, but it will be." DIGITAL QUALITY There is no doubt that the printers enjoy a process that is devoid of the typical flexo headaches. They believe the quality is exceptional, defined as the ability to import files and print with perfect screens with no undesirable gain, perfect regis- tration, and no worries about traps and makereadies. Hebert notes that, "For cus- tomers, design agencies and printers alike, it is extremely comforting to know that the proofs are exact replicas of the printed job. There are no color communication prob- lems. With the digital press, the proof is the production sample." Fillmore commented, "We love the ability to print ac- curately. We know what we're going to get, just by looking at our art files. There's just a consistency between the two and no more worries about dot gain. Once we got past the learning curve about the technology, we've been able to match about 70 percent of the Pantone book very accu- rately. We'll evaluate the job first and, if needed, we'll do some ink mixing." CHANGES IN WORKFLOW "We had to divide the art department because of the tim- ing of jobs and deadlines. Digital jobs have to go through a lot quicker than the others. It doesn't make sense to put a digital job behind a flexo job if the customer expects same day service," said Home. "Sometimes, depending upon the workload, we pick up other people to help. While we use the same technologies up front, the workflow goes in different directions. Files do have subtle changes. While we use spot colors on our digital press, we use our color management system to convert them." "The big deal for us is that if we are on press and need to re-plate for something on the job itself, that takes a lot of time," observed Rankin. "With digital, we go to the graphics area, make the adjustment and we're back in business with no plates." Dion developed a color coding and press code system. The target print method can be quickly identified, ensuring appro- priate production workflow procedures are followed. Sales, estimating, and customer service were also challenged with quickly learning about this new technology in order to edu- cate customers and devise new methods of supporting the process changes. PREPRESS, PRESS AND POSTPRESS In digital, files are prepared differently, with no trap, dot gain, or distortion. With the correct color management sys- tem, printers can automatically change spot colors to CMYK process mixes that match 70 percent of the Pantone colors within 2 ΔE. Many times, these presses are creating stochas- tic screens, so there is not a problem with moirés---although one printer did report that in rare circumstances a Pantone equivalent would produce an odd pattern. Or, as Hebert reported, "Our digital press comes with an embedded angle set that can only be swapped on press, not changed. There is no screen angle control in the prepress phase." Postpress work for digital jobs is all done offline. If there is laminating, varnishing or diecutting, all work has to be finished on something other than the press. This means that a timing mark must also be added to the job. Most substrates can be printed on a digital press, from clear film to vinyl---even propylene or semi gloss and foils to dull silver foil---al- though some printers have to go through a learning curve. Coating seems to be difficult, but works better when a job is coated first. One of the frustrations with digital is that everything will be working fine, but then a snag can occur, such as print quality and picking. While experienced printers can work through these problems in flexo, it's a bit more complicated with digital presses. WHICH PRESS TO USE? What fits a digital press, as Rankin observed, is the conven- tional flexo short-run jobs that require a long makeready. And, as Ashworth noted, most of the time digital is more expen- sive, figuring that 4,000ft. to 6,000ft. of substrate or longer is a break-even point. "When we originally got the press, because it was new we were overselling it and not doing our homework. We did a lot to push it, and then looked at the numbers afterwards," recalled Ashworth. "Our initial hiccup was that the customer had unreal expectations. What is important is determining what a good job for the press is and what the customer ex- pects. We can make sure the customer is aware what the final outcome will be, simply, with a hard proof, and we know we can consistently hit that. "It's usually all about pricing. We developed a system to quote either flexo or digital. That is the ultimate deciding factor. Is it cost-effective for a certain job?" added Ashworth. "Some- times a nine-color job is more cost effective for flexo than digi- tal. Many times we can preflight the file and make a decision based on the difficulty of the art, or perhaps special effects. We know that the customer will be able to see that the print quality might be better digitally, but we let the job go through quoting. Although, sometimes we'd rather run a job on the digital press just to provide more capacity for our flexo presses." "Sometimes a nine-color job is more cost effective for flexo than digital. Many times we can preflight the file and make a decision based on the difficulty of the art, or perhaps special effects." ---Shaun Ashworth, COO, Associated Labels