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FLEXO Magazine : July 2011
PROCESS IMPROVEMENT The prepress provider acts as the link between the de- signer ’s vision, the customer’s approved design, and the converter’s capabilities and standard specifications. Just as design options will vary for the different flexographic packag- ing substrates, so too will prepress requirements. With the wide variety of substrates--from film to paper, to corrugated board--and the various types of presses used in the industry, a prepress provider must understand how to interpret the various specifications for each project and also be able to communicate these to the designer. This type of teamwork can help limit any last second surprises and ulti- mately avoid “crunch time.” There are several stages within the production cycle where the prepress provider can play a valuable role. The first is early on in the design development. Quite possibly, as early as when the initial concepts are reviewed. At this stage, open communication between the brand manager, the creative de- signer, the prepress provider, and the converter can identify any major production challenges, prior to any design being approved. In some cases, this stage is where the differences in substrates and capabilities need to be discussed. For example, a project may have flexible film components and point-of -purchase components that both require compli- cated graphic elements. These designs will take very different paths through prepress and converting. In the end, consisten- cy and uniformity will be expected. The prepress provider can work with the designer to ensure that he or she understands the differences and addresses them early in the process. This early collaboration can help set realistic expectations and deliver an end-result that exceeds them. This is a good time to determine if an updated press char- acterization will be required for any of the converters involved in the project. Press characterizations are very important in establishing the converter’s specifications. Scheduling this early on in the process allows time for the data to be analyzed and made available at the onset of the project. SPEC IT OUT During the design development and approval, a prepress provider can offer technical support and assistance for the designer. By this stage, it is important that the proper struc- tural templates are in place. Other assistance can include the converter’s basic specifications, such as: available print sta- tions, anilox roll configurations, print repeat, and print width. Specifications related to creating the electronic file includ- ing copy size, line widths, distance from scores and die lines, as well as color builds are also very important during this stage. This information is usually available from each converter. FTA’s Flexographic Image Reproduction Specifica- tions and Tolerances--FIRST 4.0 --manual can also be used as a resource for generic design standards. In most cases a combination of customized converter-unique and FIRST specifications are used. Ideally, any information from the updated press characterization will be available at this time, so it can be incorporated into the design. The primary goal of a prepress provider’s communication during the design stage is to end up with a clean design file ready for the prepress stage of the production cycle. Ensur- ing that these basic specifications are in place before the final design is approved, will make a tremendous difference in executing the prepress and producing image carriers in a timely manner. Once the final design is approved and files are released to the prepress provider, they are now on an often-rigorous schedule. In many cases, a tentative press date has already been set and target dates for completed product to be in the market are nearing. It is critical that the prepress provider and the converter work closely to ensure the production schedules are met. Typically, there is little or no margin for error at this point and specifications continue to play an important role. PREFLIGHT CHECKLIST Files are generally double checked during a “preflight” stage at the prepress provider. Preflight operations can be done with stand-alone software or extensions to graphics software that are designed to automatically locate potential problems, based on specifications that can be set within the software. These preflight specific software packages have continued to improve over the years and they can do a really good job if they are used properly. It is still important to also manually execute a preflight checklist, based on the specifications for each project. In addition to analyzing the electronic files and links, there are other critical items to be reviewed in preflight. These include checking art templates and die lines, verifying stepping, print orientation, and print repeats. Mechanically, the prepress operator will ensure the proper layering of the file and color break. Generally, prepress provid- ers have a set of internal specifications and standards that they use to ensure that electronic files are created consistently for www.flexography.org July 2011 FLEXO 53 Manipulation Creation Mass produCtion William Fox Munroe EFI M. Beuscher/C-P Flexible Packaging