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FLEXO Magazine : June 2008
TECHNOLOGIES & TECHNIQUES FIRST 4.0 For Designers: What's New? By Bill Pope S ince its inception more than 10 years ago, FIRST (Flexographic Image Reproduction Specifications and Tolerances) has sought to inform the entire value chain of flexographically produced printing and packaging about the process dynamics that need to be monitored, documented, and controlled to yield consistent results. While this may seem like something just the prepress and printing operations should be concerned with, there's actually quite a large role the designer plays in the final outcome of the process, and it's not just the obvious aesthetic impact of the design. Much of what is in the design can have a significant impact on the final quality and the consistency of the product. The more the designer knows about the process to be used to print and convert the design into the final piece, the better he/she can be at creating designs that print well and do so efficiently. FIRST 4.0 is about to be released, and there are significant up- dates and upgrades to the information for all parts of the value chain from design to prepress to the pressroom. Below are some of the more significant changes in the design section of FIRST 4.0: RESPONSIBILITIES In past editions, FIRST has been somewhat general in its de- scription of responsibilities. The new version gets much more specific as to the responsibilities of everyone in the value chain: the consumer products company (CPC), the designer, the prepress provider, and the printer. Designers often find themselves in a balancing act of trying to convey as best as possible the wishes or intent of the CPC and providing something the printer can repro- duce consistently that meets the customer's expectations. The best way to accomplish this balance is to understand the capabili- ties of the printing system and design within them. A winning design is not one that can be produced and look great on an ink- jet printer, which then falls short when it's reproduced on press. It's always best to get the prepress provider and printer involved as early as possible. - COLOR MANAGEMENT AND PROOFING This section has been greatly expanded upon. Since the 3rd Edition came out, there has been a great deal of work done through the FTA's FQC project team in identifying what current, typical flexographic printing looks like. The goal is to have sev- eral ICC profiles freely available that anyone can use to simulate the final printed piece at any stage in the reproduction process. This includes early-on concept proofs, be it hard copy (inkjet, for example) or soft proofing (on calibrated displays) all the way through to final contract proof. Oftentimes, designs are proofed on an inkjet printer that has a very large gamut with colors outside the capability of the printing press. If allowed to go through, that proof is then often used as the color target to which the printed piece is compared. Disappointment sets in, gymnastics are performed on the press (changes in inks, plates, etc.), and ultimately expectations are not met leading to upset customers-nobody wins. Instead, if a profile that represents "typical" flexographic printing is utilized up front, limiting the gamut of the inkjet proof (or display for soft proofing), thereby preventing colors the printing press can't reproduce from being imaged; then all the parties have a much more realistic representation of the final printed piece and can make design adjustments for that reality. It's not smart to ignore the cold hard fact that the printing press typically has the smallest color gamut in the reproduction process. Acknowledging it and dealing with it appropriately will help to minimize or eliminate any surprises at the printing press. JUNE 2008 www.flexography.org FLEXO