Color ManagementTurning Art Into Science

Brand owners and major retailers are demanding measurable consistency in the printed image to add confidence to the print process and brand consistency across the shelf. FFP combine high manufacturing standards with a willingness to commit to the sort of agreements that include both the packer/filler and brand owner as fully engaged members of a long-term partnership.

The management of color is a critical part of the control of quality and brand standards. In any technical environment, people depend on measurement rather than eye. Every element is measured and checked and, in a technical industry such as packaging, we should expect no less. We have packaging specifications for structures, why not for color?

Ink behaves differently on the various film types, and whether they are applied to the surface of the film or within the laminate structure. Laminating adhesives can affect the print pigments.

So, how to move to a fully scientific, measured approach? How do we go about measuring color, and how do we ensure that we achieve the right color, every time a print run goes on press?

In a nutshell, we need to have accurate color profiles, we need to understand what affects color and we need to manage and control the process. There is no short cut to the profiling stage – each and every combination of substrate, surface and reverse print, in the four color process set (CMYK) singly and in combination, is printed using a color management test chart under standard print conditions on digital printing plates; producing a full gamut of shades, block colors, blends and solids. The resulting print is taken to a repro partner and measured, patch by patch, using a specially designed scanner, the result forming what is known as an ICC profile. A time-consuming process but critical to the quality of the final result. LAB* standards are recorded using a spectrophotometer, and a densitometer is used to establish printing parameters.

Based on the results of the fingerprinting process, a printer’s specification is produced that includes dot gain and densities. The latest generation of proofing systems incorporate spectrophotometers, and proofs are produced of the same fingerprint patterns, using the ICC profile and measured against the results achieved on-press. Repro partners produce files against the ICC profile and original fingerprint data and ONLY when they have proved that they can produce accurate proofs to match the measured data will they be added to an approval list. Every polymer type, surface and reverse print and substrate type, will go through the same process.

Only now, at the end of this exhaustive process, do we start actually printing new packaging. Based on the design, the converter selects the right ICC profile. The repro request is sent to an approved repro partner. Once the repro is supplied a color-matched proof (FFP use the latest Epson proofer with EFI Color Management software) is produced, which allows us to provide an accurate proof to the customer, and also check the ‘printer’s proof’ against the contract proof.

Out on the shop floor, the printing press is set up using the printer’s specification mentioned above. On-press spectrophotometers are used to measure the color against the proof, the printer being responsible for color control throughout the run. That said, the last check is always with the eye – but in a calibrated lightbox.

By following a properly measured and fully tested process, FFP provides major partners what they need – reliable, robust, provable color performance.

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