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FLEXO Magazine : November 2012
Once the structure has been created, graphics must still be placed. While most designers still work within Adobe Illustra- tor, plug-in tools are available to make the process much easier. For example, one tool will allow Adobe Illustrator to im- port the structural file and add graphics to the package—all in 3-D. This allows the designer to be assured that graphics are placed correctly on a package (correct orientation) and that certain elements, like flaps, are protected, so that they accept glue more easily, for example. Design drafts can be stored as 3-D PDF files, so that brand owners can spin them virtually and look at all sides—even with ink reflections. Some systems even go to the extreme of showing what the package would look like competing on a store shelf. The 3-D files can ultimately be translated quickly into 2-D flats that, of course, are what most trade shops see from the designer or client. PREP FOR PRINT Once a concept is approved, the file goes through the typi- cal prepress workflow that most of us use every day. We are no longer looking at one- or two-color work on corrugated, but process color jobs. Files start by going through the process of preflighting—and assuring that type and images are correct. Trapping is still an important facet of image preparation as well, particularly with more challenging graphics. And, color management must be conducted, assuring that compensa- tions have been made for the printing process, particularly if it is to be printed on a kraft substrate. Color proofs, in softproof- ing or hard copy form, will be required. Once a one-up of the package is approved, and depend- ing on the size of the project, the package could go through a step-and-repeat routine to save as much substrate—and press time—as possible. Two files are made: one for the plate imager, and one for the die or finishing table. If a job is very short, it could be sent to a digital press. A workflow does not really care. It can easily alter the parame- ters of the file preparation to distinguish between flexo, digital and, in some cases, offset. CuTTINg sOmE slaCk ON ThE PlaTE Let’s assume that the job is going to a flexo press. In most cases, much of what exists on a polymer plate’s substrate is not printed. Thus, it makes little sense to image an entire plate for the sake of a few graphic elements. It not only wastes polymer plate materials, it takes more time to produce a plate when most of the plate material won’t be imaged or utilized. Many platemaking facilities try to optimize as many graph- ics as possible onto one plate. Then, they cut the plates into a number of pieces that are reassembled in position on a polyester carrier mounting material. Trade shops create a plate with graphic pieces—typically with Illustrator—and then manually cut and position the plate material. There are two problems: • It takes a good deal of time to manually cut and mount the pieces onto the carrier, which are positioned with an optical mirror, or camera mounting system • One has to make sure that the correct “slug” is mounted onto the carrier in the correct position, since an incorrect slug, mounted in the wrong position, could be very costly. Software systems tied to the imaging system and digital cutting tables offer an interesting solution. Operators are not required to manually gang up graphics for plate making. The front-end software guides the operator in patching the design and sends a file ready for imaging to the digital flexo plate imager and concurrently sends instructions to the table for cutting, drilling and mounting coordinates for each plate patch, thereby identifying what the resulting mount is going to look like. The software automatically, or under operator control, al- locates as many small patches from as many jobs as possible to economically image onto a plate. It labels each piece, tells the table how to cut each piece—including beveled cuts to offer better adhesion—and where the punches are. This results in making unique drilling patterns for each piece of artwork within a job, so there is no way an operator can put the wrong patch in the wrong job or position. This also ensures the patches are placed in the right direction. Once a carrier is prepared, it is ready for the press. Along with getting the design ready to print, the convert- ing form-cutting of the final structure is an equally important consideration. Either a die is made from the instructions generated by the structural design application, reflecting the step and repeat, or, if it is a short-run job, the same cutting file is sent to a cutting table for digital converting. What is rewarding is to see how much more productive an automated workflow can be for a corrugated trade shop. A good example is the Sun Graphics division of Sun Chemical Corp. NEW uNDER ThE suN Sun Graphics, with operations in Maumee, OH and Antioch, CA, is known as a graphic management solutions provider for consumer packaged goods companies and print- ers, delivering narrow and wide web, tag and label, as well as corrugated packaging printing plates. Currently, Antioch, which has 19 production employees, is the company ’s Digital Plate/Color Tech Center, while Mau- Loading a plate on an Esko CDI flexo plate imager. www.flexography.org novEmbEr 2012 FLEXO 45