Progress in prepress

24 January 2014

Packaging converters looking to add and to and improve their prepress operations were not short of options in 2013. Product launches and upgrades, on the whole, offered improvements on already established technology but this still makes for an attractive proposition for those wanting to invest

Last year was arguably a period of evolution, not revolution, in the field of packaging prepress production. A successful tradeshow calendar bore witness to a wealth of new products entering the market and the majority had one goal in mind, to promote a more efficient, effective and productive prepress operation for the willing customer.

Like many facets of the print industry, customers are turning to new equipment investments and upgrades to gain a competitive edge over rival businesses operating in the same arena. Prices are constantly being squeezed, but just because a packaging converter is expected to deliver a job at potentially lower rates than they were several years ago, the quality is in no way expected to drop in the process.

Growing demands
If anything, demanding clients are in the driving seat and the quality of a print job, be it a short run of digitally printed leaflets or a long run of packaging cartons, must be there everytime. Why? It is no longer a secret that all corners of print are facing an uphill battle with other forms of media when it comes to a brand-owner committing to a marketing spend. Granted, packaging has been somewhat immune from a digital onslaught for obvious reasons that need not explaining but the role packaging plays in selling the product rather than housing it is very much in the midst of battle.

This is where the utilisation of a modern, effective and quality prepress operation comes to the fore. While the packaging printing and converting element of the sector is essential to production, so is prepress in all of its forms. A burgeoning percentage of the public are now relying on the power of the internet to fulfill their shopping requirements. This has a knock-on effect on in-store point-of-sale (POS), point-of-purchase (POP) and, of course, off the shelf packaging. If print is to do its job, it needs to do it quicker, and more effectively than before. An increasing percentage of the general public are using retail to get what they want, in the shortest time possible.

Packaging, as a result, has less time to make an impact.

One company that has been developing additions to the CTP element of the prepress equation is Xeikon, which introduced its latest flexo imager late in 2013. The ThermoFlexx 80 large format machine is designed to image plates for flexo press users, and is capable of outputting at resolutions of 2,400, 2,540, 4,000, 4,800 and 5,080dpi.

Productivity plans
While the ThermoFlexx 80 has a plate output of up to 4m²/hour in its current configuration, Xeikon was keen to confirm that it will update the machine over its life cycle, likely in mid-2014, by introducing a dual-head exposure system. This will ensure that the system is capable of reaching output speeds of treble the current 12m²/hour.

The ThermoFlexx 80 can accept plates up to 1,270 x 2,032mm in size and plate thicknesses ranging from 0.73 to 6.35mm, which is claimed to make the machine ideal for narrow web print operations. Xeikon's new machine can also achieve halftone screens up to 175lpi, achieved at the 2,540 resolution while this increases to 250lpi with the machine's 5,080 resolution.

Other features of the new machine are improved loading and unloading elements, which arrive in the form of Xeikon's FlexTray. Specific to the ThermoFlexx 80, this is claimed to make loading far simpler, especially when dealing with the thin, large plates commonly used in flexo print production. It is coupled with a height-adjustable table that enables this element to be aligned with any height of flexo processing peripherals used with the CTP.

Colour confidence
While Xeikon continues to impress in the development of new capital equipment, innovation within prepress has not been confined to the introduction of new machinery in recent months. For Packz Software, a newly-launched company, this innovation perhaps unsurprisingly falls firmly into the software side of prepress.

According to Guido Van der Schueren, chairman of the new company, the prepress industry has been "craving" innovation, an issue Packz is attempting to address. The new software has been designed to improve the accessibility of "high quality" editing of packaging and labels to small, medium and high production volume professionals alike.

"As the commonly used prepress products and solutions come to the natural end of their life cycle, there has been a stagnation of advances in productivity," explains Van der Schueren. "With Packz we have created a supreme editing tool that gives anyone - even those with limited design or production skills - the ability to easily and quickly manipulate native PDF content."

At its core, the software features a range of tools designed to simplify and improve packaging and label workflows. According to the company, the software offers a range of benefits over rival products when printing a 175mb PDF file containing linework, text and images, for example. It is claimed to be three times faster when trapping, four times faster when saving modifications to a PDF file and 10 times faster when previewing, zooming and moving content.

For Alwan Color Expertise software distributor Colour Engine, a burgeoning number of packaging companies are committing to significant annual outlays when it comes to building and creating ICC profiles. The company states that such profiles can be defined by data sets that can characterise a colour input, output device or colour space, according to recognised standards circulated by the International Color Consortium (ICC). Why? Because valuable ICC profiles hold currency and are globally accepted, which can be used as "common currency" throughout a packaging workflow.

Distributed by Colour Engine, Alwan CMYK Optimizer X has recently made the latest version of its PDF colour server available for upgrade. Version four of CMYK Optimizer X, which is a plug-in of AlwanColorHubX, standardises colour data, preflights and also optimises PDF files. It is also said to address a number of issues printers can frequently encounter in their production operation.

"In everyday jobs, the printer has to deal with situations where the client files do not print well enough or fast enough on press," the company says. "This causes delays on press to achieve the right rendering, which is not always possible, and generates considerable losses in machine time and waste - as well as client dissatisfaction. This is due to a mismatch between incoming files' colour separation profile and printing press profile, and in some situations where the ink values contained in the files are not appropriate for the destination press and paper, which in turn causes ink set-off and dirt."

Alwan CMYK Optimizer X version 4 is claimed to be up to 50 per cent faster than previous iterations, and offers improved colour accuracy and increased file support, as well as cross-platform support across both Mac OS X and Windows platforms.

Spot on
Finally, GMG Color continues to enjoy success in the packaging prepress and colour management arena thanks to its OpenColor proofing software, which is designed to represent pure spot colours while also simulating often-complex overprinting behaviour that can take place in the process. Now on version 1.1, the software offers new data import functionality that automatically averages data as well as providing the relevant tools to adjust both colour intensity and dot gain. The operator can define a target dot gain from a certain printing process or to adjust dot gain measurements in case they are required to compensate for "faulty" printing conditions.

In addition, version 1.1 also allows users to correct the substrate white point and add dot correction to the profile, without needing to recalculate the profile. At its core, OpenColor can create multicolour profiles that simulate the printing behaviour across a range of printing technologies and substrates. It can do this without the requirement for more traditional chart-based press fingerprinting. As a result, spot colour simulation is achieved by coupling ink measurements with spectral modelling algorithms to analyse the properties of each ink colour as well as that of the substrate.

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