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FLEXO Magazine : May 2013
Industry Indicators 100 Major Milestones the Evolution of Flexo Prepress By Jennifer Navin Tighter resolution, predictable performance, sharper color—together, they result in dramatically improved productivity—and afford modern-day flexographers the opportunity to build better packaging and bring it to market as expeditiously as possible. Continuously advancing technology has been embraced by packaging, printing and converting as an industry for de- cades. Nowhere is its impact more readily notable than in the area of premedia production. Progress has been notable and its impact monumental. What follows is a list of 100 major milestones that have charted our destiny and shaped the global package printing and converting industry. From Bibby ’s Folly and Gummidruck printing, flexography has forged forward. Our process, origi- nally known as aniline printing, could have been renamed “ rotopake,” or even “permatone,” had flexo not prevailed. In recent decades, molder rubber and magnesium engrav- ing evolved into digital photopolymer plates and in-the-round image carriers (sleeves). Along the way, these essential print- ing consumables benefited from technical innovations that are nearly too numerous to mention. All have had a notice- able impact on prepress and production. The list includes: drum scanners, mask cutting systems, color separations, electronic pagination systems, color retouching applications, stripping and imposition tools, step and repeat machines, conventional cameras, typesetting equipment, distortion devices, electronic imaging devices and sleeve systems. And, we can’t forget or omit: YAG lasers, computer-to-plate systems, press profiles, proof to press matches, color man- agement, thermal platemaking digital asset management and expanded gamut printing...and whatever innovation(s) may be next. Recently, on the occasion of OEC Graphics 100th Anniver- sary in business, its prepress experts compiled an impressive list of significant shapers of the trade. It begins, as flexogra- phers say all print jobs do, with ink. 1890s—1960s 1. Flexography was originally called aniline printing due to the oil-based aniline ink dyes used in the process 2. In 1890, the first aniline press was built in Liverpool, England by Bibby, Baron and Sons. It became known as “Bibby ’s Folly ” 3. Aniline presses, mostly from Germany, were prevalent in the early 1900s, utilizing rubber plates and aniline inks 4. In Germany, aniline printing was called “Gummidruck, ” which meant rubber printing 5. Aniline inks were banned by the U.S . Food and Drug Adminis- tration in 1942—”toxic” 6. In 1948, safer inks are used, but food manufacturers are slow to return to aniline printing 7. Franklin Moss, president of Mosstype, a future Flexographic Technical Association (established in 1958) chairman and Flexo Hall of Fame member inducted in 1964, decided aniline printing needed a new name and image 8. Flexography was born 9. Flexo plate was made of molded rubber from a magnesium engraving 10. In 1957, the first photopolymer letterpress plate was developed 11. OEC Graphics was developing “Presto-Etch” large format flexographic plates. 1970s 12. In 1972, the first sheet photopolymer plate was developed 13. OEC was one of the first prepress companies to adopt sheet photopolymer platemaking technology 14. Despite the introduction of liquid photopolymer, molded rubber plates were still the preferred choice for flexographic printing 15. Rubber plates remained the dominant image carrier until the 1990s, with the widespread adoption of photopolymer 16. Conventional prepress consisted of typography, camera shots, stripping, stepping and distorting film negatives to produce plates 1980s 17. DS Screen and Crosfield & Hell introduced high resolution drum scanners 18. The drum scanner allowed prepress companies to provide high quality process images for flexographic packaging 19. Scans could now be incorporated into production of films and plates, and developed into an exclusive market for color separations 20. In 1982, Cadograph, a computer driven mask cutting system, was introduced as a tool for cutting precise masks for place- ment of stripping images 21. The Cadograph was used extensively for creating precise lay- outs and other elements for the construction of analog artwork 22. In 1982, Scitex introduced one of the first electronic pagination systems. Similar systems were also introduced by Crosfield & Hell, all with six and seven figure price tags 23. In 1985, the Screen Sigmagraph 6000, a single task computer, was introduced. With it, four-color scanned images could be electronically passed to the computer, for extensive color retouching and other image reconstructive tasks 24. The Screen Sigmagraph 6000 could output consistent color across a complete product line, regardless of when the original photographs were taken. This was a major advantage 25. At OEC Graphics, the hardware of the Screen Sigmagraph 6000 required a climate-controlled room the size of a master bedroom, complete with a raised floor! 26. External disk packs, the size of small filing cabinets, were stored in this “high-tech” room 27. The Sigmagraph 3000 was introduced in 1988. This piece of equipment was used as a stripping and imposition station 28. The Sigmagraph 3000 and 6000 last less than a decade 54 FLEXO may 2013 www.flexography.org