Suppliers Unveil First-Ever Flexograph at InfoFlex; Flexo at Litho-Quality Standards

Printing has evolved from an artistic endeavor to a science-based profession. This evolution, particularly in flexographic printing, is yielding productivity and print quality results that are generating powerful results. — FTA Wave Project

ANN ARBOR, MI, USA—At the Flexographic Technical Association's 2003 meeting earlier this month, a group of printing industry leaders introduced a first-of-its-kind litho-like flexograph artistic print. The flexograph "elegantly reproduces the fine lines, detail, and color of Keith Matz's photograph of the 200-million year old "Wave" rock formation in the Utah/Arizona region," says the suppliers' press release.

(Click here to see the full flexograph reproduction.)

The idea for the project began as an outgrowth of Flint Ink's Total Printing System (TPS), says the release, to demonstrate the quality of state-of-the-art flexographic printing using a team approach to push the perceived limits of flexo printing capabilities. "It was obvious, after dicussions with other industry leaders, that few projects exist that depict the true capabilities of flexographic printing," says Jim Allen, marketing manager at Flint Ink. "As a group, we made the decision to assemble resources, technology, and people to reproduce the 'Wave' flexograph and prove the technology."

The flexograph was produced by a team that included: Flint Ink (flintink.com); Praxair Surface Technologies (praxair.com); MacDermid Printing Solutions (macdermid.com); Schawk Inc. (schawk.com); Fox Valley Technical College (fvtc.edu); MeadWestvaco (meadwestvaco.com); Stora Enso (storaenso.com); and Alpha Prime (alphaprimeinc.com.

According to the project participants'/suppliers' release, Praxair's "state-of-the-art," 800-line laser-engraved anilox rolls were selected for the project. Says Lloyd Field, corporate account manager at Praxair, "The Magenta series anilox rolls producer sharper, high-quality images that are comparable to lithography."

The chain of relationships extended to MacDermid—which provided its Epic digital plates— as well as to Schawk, the project's prepress provider, which included GCR color separations, image retouching, digital-plate processing, and digital-proofing services. In turn, Schawk worked with Fox Valley Technical College (FVTC) to produce the print.

Catching a "Wave" in Michigan
According to the project suppliers, the only problem during the three-month project was that of image selection—until Jim Allen happened on an edition of the Ann Arbor News in late January and saw Keith Matz's "Wave" photograph featured on behalf of the Ann Arbor Camera Club. "With the FTA 2003 conference [to be] held in Utah, the link between idea and opportunity was complete."

But the project participants acknowledge the "Wave" reproduction presented a challenge. "The area is a formation of sandstone domes, fins, and canyons carved in colorful swirling patterns," reports the project's participants. "Fine, distinct lines and flowing curves of redish earth actually create the appearance of being on Mars."

Adds Flint Ink's Allen, "Even though it was challenging to replicate, the intricate detail in the photograph was important to fully demonstrate the capabilities of state-of-the-art flexographic technologies."

Project producers say, once the image was in place, FVTC agreed to use its new PCMC Avanti gearless flexo press for the project. Dan Muthig and Mark Keller, flexo instructors at FVTC, used a high-strength ink from Flint Ink on C1S stock from both MeadWestvaco and Stora Enso. The print was then sheeted and shipped to the FTA Conference in Salt Lake City, Utah, by Alpha Prime, say the producers.

Litho-Quality with Flexography
While the flexograph may not replace lithographs as the preferred printing method for fine art, say "Wave" project participants, the limited edition "Wave" print showcases the advance of flexographic printing. "Oddly enough, the complexity of the project should also give flexographic printers confidence. Assembling eight industry leaders for a unique, time-sensitive project creates many real-world challenges faced by printers every day. Most of all, flexographic printers should have confidence that premium results will be achieved when scientific processes and state-of-the-art technologies are utilized."

A complimentary copy of the limited-edition flexograph is available by calling Jim Allen at 734/622-6219. For a high-resolution version of the image go to http://216.75.81.1/archive/PressRoom/Flintink/FTAWaveproject.jpg. Visit the FTA flexography.org.



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