And the winner is…

18 February 2020

30 judges, 11 committee members and a handful of FTA staff were present for the judging of the 2019 FTA Excellence in Flexography Awards. They saw hundreds of pieces of flexographically printed packaging: from labels to boxes; line, screen and process; the OK and the great, all kinds of substrate.

Judges at the 2019 FTA Excellence in Flexography Awards were divided into two groups, each focused on a specific set of criteria when evaluating a print: degree of difficulty and level of execution:

First, the degree of difficulty group judges the overall complexity of each print, grading attributes on a scale from one to 10. Those attributes are substrate printability/ink compatibility, registration tolerances, plate-printing complexity/fineness of print, screen (lpi or stochastic spot size), tonal range (on screen and process jobs) and defect detectability.

Second, the level of execution group judges how well each print’s various elements were printed, also grading on a scale from one to 10. Those elements are image sharpness, ink coverage, registration, dot/screen/vignette (again, on screen and process jobs) and consistency.

after each print has been evaluated by the degree of difficulty judges and then the level of execution judges, the points are totaled and all the category’s entries are sorted from highest to lowest cumulative score. All the category judges then convene together to debate each print’s worthiness of a gold, silver or bronze award—if any. Finally, when the debate is over, the gold award winners are collected and, from them, a Best of Show is chosen.



Wide Web

Everything from confectionary products, to chips; frozen vegetables to pet foods. There’s a wide range of packaging types in the wide web category.

Equally as wide as those packaging types is the range of concerns facing wide web printers, top of which is unsupported substrates.

By a wide margin, the two most dominant package types in the category were wrappers and bags—formats designed to hold things. Whether those things are smaller wrappers or the end product itself the contact between them requires a printer to plan accordingly. Surface or reverse print? Water- or solvent-based inks? What are the end use requirements and how do they affect the job’s printability? Regardless of the answers to those questions, all wide web printers have to grapple with the unique set of characteristics that comes with the category. Their thin, unsupported films and plastics stand in stark contrast to the support a narrow web printer sees when running label stock. A litany of other concerns presents itself when a wide web printer gets its press up to high speed. Among them: registration and press bounce, along with the quality of ink film laydown.

The Fresh Gourmet Focaccia Ranch/Garlic Toast Crumbles Wrappers, printed by Transcontinental Robbie, took Best of Show honours in the wide web category.


Narrow Web

The narrow web category is by and large the label category. While its name may give the impression that entries vary in the same way the mid web and wide web categories do, the reality is the narrow web category’s makeup is a label hegemony, on par with the preprinted linerboard and combined corrugated categories.

Narrow web printers are almost always the first to pioneer new technologies, like new screening techniques or ink chemistries; following their repeatable success, they then trickle into different flexographic market segments.

Quality is, generally speaking, much higher on a narrow web press, but that isn’t because the jobs running on one are simple. Printers are implementing hot and cold foil, embellishments, and even entirely different processes like digital or rotary screen. They are also typically finishing and converting inline. A lot more than just printing happens between the infeed and outfeed on a narrow web press.

Common traits among award-winners in the category included superb tonal ranges . Front-end innovations have greatly improved the ability to reproduce graphics that, in years past, converters would have not been happy with.  Innovations in prepress, consumables and equipment, as well new screening technologies, have all helped improve quality.

The Vicious Styling Boost XTS Series Shampoo Tube, printed by Berry Global, took Best of Show honors in the narrow web category.


Preprinted Linerboard

Destined to be adhered to a medium with some type of fluting, preprinted linerboard is by its very nature linked to corrugated printing. Removing the medium from the actual print process means removing some of the concerns that come with direct print corrugated.

The biggest of those concerns is fluting. Their integrity is the No. 1 priority of corrugated board; a printer that does not have to worry about crushing fluting is one that can worry a little less about impression, ink laydown and registration. The printer also does not have to worry about fluting that is already crushed or in some way defective.

Preprinted linerboard shares with direct print corrugated its enormous size, not only with large web widths but also with large repeats. Dwell time is still an issue facing preprinted linerboard printers, as the format also makes use of large-diameter cylinders and anilox rolls. While the absence of fluting during printing removes one set of concerns, the addition of it in postprint—the corrugating process itself—introduces unique obstacles. Ink properties have to be carefully considered in order to withstand linerboard being attached to the medium.

The KitchenAid Artisan Series Stand Mixer Box, printed by International Paper Hillsboro, took Best of Show honours in the preprinted linerboard category.


 Combined Corrugated

A substrate that can not be wound into a roll, be twisted bent curved around a roller or folded and parallel to the ground when fed into a press and does not rotate a single degree while being printed?

Corrugated printers  deal with this reality daily.  It stands alone as the only sheetfed flexo process out there, and that is the biggest challenge facing its printers. Large sheets of board are run through a press and, whether that press is a top or bottom printer, those boards can be neither bent nor folded.

Massive sheets of board require large-diameter cylinders and anilox rolls to be printed. Because of their sheer size and resulting long dwell time, they introduce another entirely new element and additional challenges to ink laydown.

Registration tolerances are of vital importance when printing sheetfed corrugated, for a few reasons. First, the means of moving boards through the press, whether suction cups or another transfer mechanism, introduce an opportunity for misregistration. Second, the board’s large size. Third, the fact that the printing is being done on corrugated sheets and having to worry about the flutes between its two linerboards. Whether the inside of that sandwich is on the thicker side—an A-flute or C-flute—or thinner side—an E-flute or F-flute—printers have to constantly be concerned with crushing.

The Nestlé Pumpkin Candy Variety Carton, printed by Westrock Adams, took Best of Show honors in the combined corrugated category.



When we talk about a print’s subjective appeal, we often bring up “The Moment of Truth,” , however, unlike entries in the other categories for envelopes, “The Moment of Truth” is significantly different, and the concern is not so much with shelf appeal as it is with mailbox appeal.

There is no “moment” when a consumer comes face to face with an envelope and has to decide whether or not to grab it. An envelope’s battle is not with other envelopes. Is that an easier battle, because a consumer is not lining up six envelopes and choosing only the one which is the most eye catching? Or is that a harder battle, because there is no comparison being made and an envelope is therefore judged solely on its own appearance?

Uncoated paper is a common choice for envelope printing and was the dominant substrate used on both the entrants and winners of the category. With that choice comes attractive cost savings, but it also introduces a number of other hurdles. Color can vary in the substrate itself, not only roll to roll but also from one end of a roll to the other. Fibers can be coarser, making the actual printing process more difficult. And it brings increased wicking during ink laydown, making sharp edges even harder to hit.

About as common a substrate choice as uncoated paper is, water-based ink is equally as common an ink choice. Its relatively slower drying time (when compared to alcohol-based inks) can present a challenge on the converting side.

All these obstacles are pieces to the puzzle of how to print an envelope. But the fact is, that printing is a small piece of the “envelope printing and converting” puzzle. Said another way: Envelope printing/converting is a lot of converting and not a lot of printing, and that converting is done at a high speed. In the midst of cutting a window, laminating a film, laying down glue, cutting and folding, somewhere in there, flexography is taking place.

The Midvalley Museum of Science the Universe Has Never Been Closer Envelope, printed by Mac Papers Envelope Converters Inc, took Best of Show honors in the envelope category.


 Mid Web

Are you too wide to be narrow and too narrow to be wide? Too big to fit on a wine bottle and too small to hold more than one or two servings? Then welcome to the mid web category.

For this award, mid web is defined as web widths wider than 24-in. and narrower than 44-in. But different printers would give wildly different answers, part of what makes this such an open category.  Mid web presses are designed to handle that in-between segment of web widths that is too wide to fit on a narrow web press and too narrow to run well on a wide web press. Combined, print quality and productivity yield another “p” word—profitability. If a mid web press is zeroed in on that sweet spot of web widths, the opposite is true of the substrates and formats that can run on one. Flexible packaging, folding cartons and shrink sleeves; wrappers, cartons, bags, packets and napkins—and that’s just among the group of award winners in this year’s competition.

The Mediterranean Influenced Sweet Pepper Farcí Wrapper, printed by Sunshine FPC, took Best of Show honours in the mid web category.

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