Color management matters

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ColorTrack’s Operator Control Station

Over-used terms like ‘innovation’ often conjure images of a new feature-laden smartphone, or some other type of gadget that doesn’t exist today. Besides hardware and software innovations, the packaging and converting market is crying out for more effective processes that ensure color precision—and connect workflows between presses, work shifts, and even different facilities.

The solutions will be technology-driven. Strong inter-instrument agreement and a complete, connected workflow also allow printers to prove their color quality to their customers. This will have a huge impact on profitability by decreasing liability exposure and rebates.

Increasingly, brand owners are using multiple print processes, substrates, packaging solutions, and print production locations — and expect absolute fidelity to brand colors across all platforms. Yet the demand for color perfection is not limited to brand colors alone. Very slight color shifts or inconsistencies in product imagery have a significant impact on consumers’ perception of the product.

Color variations can lead consumers to believe that a package’s contents are compromised, the product is expired, or the product is counterfeit. It is now essential that print production grows beyond color management as an art form practiced by a few experts, to a more exact science managed by every single part of a print operation.

A great deal of research has been done on the importance of color in influencing buyer behavior. Jill Morton of Colorcom gathered some interesting study results in a piece entitled Why Color Matters. According to a study conducted by Loyola University Maryland, “color increases brand recognition by over 80%.” University of Winnipeg’s Satyendra Singh, in Impact of Color on Marketing shows that color has a significant impact on sales since “people make a subconscious judgment about a product within 90 seconds of initial viewing, and between 62% and 90% of that assessment is based on color alone.” Research by the Henley Centre suggests 73% of purchasing decisions are now made in-store. Consequently, catching the shopper’s eye and conveying information effectively are critical to successful sales. Brand owners are certainly aware of these facts, and this is driving their high interest in precise, consistent color management.

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Define both pre- and post-laminate color targets, and use both to manage the difference on-press

For printers and converters, it is becoming increasingly complicated to meet these quality and consistency challenges. In addition to rising brand owner demands, printers are faced with an increased pace and complexity of required technological innovation — at a time when profit margins are very tight. Add to that increasing requirements to meet new industry standards, an aging workforce, and the scarcity of true color experts . . . and the challenges can be extremely daunting.

For that reason, amongst several other companies, QuadTech has introduced and continues to develop new color management tools that directly address these challenges. Among the innovations are complete workflow solutions that are software-based (requiring no investment in hardware or press modifications), automation that greatly simplifies the science of color production (reducing reliance on a handful of color experts who can’t be on every press for every shift at every plant), and inline color measurement technology that is affordable and adaptable for even small printing and converting operations.

There is a clear and growing trend to move from periodic color measurement with handheld spectrophotometers, to the more thorough and consistent inline spectral measurement. There is certainly a place for sampled handheld measurement. But continuous inline measurement catches problems through the entire print run, preventing you from throwing out product that is within color tolerances, and ensuring that no out-of-tolerance product is passed on to your customers.

Inline measurement systems are in the main perceived to be expensive and to address the key issue of investment cost, QuadTech’s DeltaCam, launched at last year’s drupa  makes advanced inline spectral measurement affordable to individual packaging print houses. For about half the cost of other inline systems, package printers can utilize accurate, automated L*a*b* measurement on film, paper or board—ensuring that all printed product is within their customers’ color specifications. The M1, M0, ISO compliant technology enables printers to reduce time and waste while confidently maintaining color throughout the roll—without the need to wait for a roll change to measure with a handheld device.

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ColorTrack’s complete, simplified workflow

Adaptive and automated color expert
QuadTech’s ColorTrack, a unique new color management software for flexo and gravure packaging applications, is an industry first highly adaptive ‘color expert in a box’ solution that automates the process of delivering absolute consistency from press-to-press, shift-to-shift, and plant-to-plant. With a variety of options for hand-held and inline configurations, the software facilitates fast, accurate press-side correction of ink formulations.

Without any hardware modifications to the press, ColorTrack software seamlessly integrates with ink recipe software to not only simplify workflow, but also dramatically reduce the number of ink corrections needed to achieve accurate, optimal color. With human color experts, three to five color corrections on start-up are typical for a new job—or even six to eight for difficult colors. ColorTrack can achieve more accurate color in just one or two corrections.
Traditionally, color measurement data had to be sent to the ink kitchen to correct the ink recipe, but this can now be done press-side, using software and ‘virtual scales’ that can accurately determine the amount of ink remaining in each ink unit. Printers can therefore track their ink quantities so that they know exactly the right quantity needed to bring the color back within tolerances, and can make the correction on the fly.

With QuadTech’s InkWeigh, press operators can view and weigh ink recipes received from the formulation software to easily make press-side corrections. Hugely significant savings in time and ink can be realized in this way, which can in turn be passed on to clients. In addition, InkWeigh enables printers to create in-tolerance colors by making adjustments to other inks in their inventory—rather than starting from scratch—dramatically reducing ink inventory and storage needs.

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DeltaCam delivers inline spectral measurement for about half the cost of other inline systems.

Over-used terms like “innovation” often conjure images of a new feature-laden smartphone, or some other type of gadget that doesn’t exist today. Besides hardware and software innovations, the packaging and converting market is crying out for more effective processes that ensure color precision—and connect workflows between presses, work shifts, and even different facilities. Those solutions will be technology-driven.

Here’s why this is so critical to future success: More than 25% of brand owners indicate that they frequently encounter color inconsistency or inaccuracy, according to Sara Tornetta in Color Sells. Patrice Aurenty, business leader for color management at Sun Chemical, says that brand owners experience anywhere from 40% to 70% rework costs added to each new product launch due to color issues.

There is an enormous opportunity for printers and converters who can adopt complete, simplified workflow solutions that increase press productivity, significantly reduce color makeready and setup time, and reduce ink inventory and storage needs. Strong inter-instrument agreement and a complete, connected workflow also allow printers to prove their color quality to their customers. This will have a huge impact on profitability by decreasing liability exposure and rebates.

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QuadTech Brand Manager Craig Du Mez has more than 35 years of print industry experience

Printers who fail to make this a priority will have difficulty surviving against competitors who do. Workflow innovations may not seem as splashy as the latest feature-laden smartphone, but there is some serious money to be made for printers who solve brand owners’ very costly color quality and consistency issues.

Sources:
Morton, J., Why Color Matters. https://www.colorcom.com/research/why-color-matters
Tornetta, S., Fox, T., & Blackbird, J. (n.d.). Color Sells: How the psychology of color influences consumers (pp. 1-8, Rep.).
Aurenty, P. (2013, November). From Chaos To Control—Transforming The Packaging Industry With Color Management. FLEXO Magazine.
Craig Du Mez is the Brand Manager at QuadTech

The 7 color management breakthroughs
The ColorTrack software, InkWeigh, and DeltaCam inline color measurement technology were first introduced at drupa 2016. Since then, new features have been developed to deliver what QuadTech refers to as ‘seven color management breakthroughs’—because these capabilities are new to the packaging and converting industry:

1. Pre-Laminate/Post-Laminate Color Support. Users can define both pre- and post-laminate color targets within the job, measure color inline, and use both targets to manage the difference on-press. This first and only automated workflow solution replaces cumbersome ‘trial and error’ methods of achieving post-laminate color that is within your customers’ specifications.

2. ColorTrack Press-Side Recipe Correction Module. For the first time, it is possible to track ink quality and manage corrections when needed at the printing press—with one product. The new ColorTrack Correction Module streamlines the correction process, allowing for fast, accurate color correction at the press to dramatically reduce waste caused by color problems.

3. Ink Strength/Anilox Color Correction. Press operators can manage ink color at the press without correcting ink. They can avoid the cost and time involved with recipe corrections by instead managing print conditions. ColorTrack makes it possible to accurately predict the impact an ink concentration change or anilox change will have on color. Advanced ‘Perifarbe’ math formulas tell you if and how the best-match can be achieved.

4. Spot Color Tone Value Calculation to ISO 20654. Designed specifically with packaging print in mind, the spot color tone value calculation allows you to conform to the new ISO 20654 standard by showing how well your spot color mid-tones match your targets.

5. Enhanced Color Measurement through Strip Scanning. Gather a full set of color targets for solids, tones, and substrate in one sweep with a hand-held spectro. Users can measure and average multiple color strips.

6. Simplified Ink Quantity Tracking via Patented ‘Virtual Scales.’ Actively track ink consumption without the use of costly scales on each ink unit. Because it is software-based, this precise tracking solution can be retrofit to any flexo or gravure press, allowing you to standardize on a single color management solution across any range of press types and models.

7. Complete, Simplified Workflow. Increase press productivity 25% or more. Reduce color makeready and setup time up to 75%. Print houses can keep records of which ink batches are used, and dramatically reduce ink inventory and storage needs.