It's a Color Thing

And a speed thing, too. If you're a package printer, you know what I'm talking about — and so do your proofing suppliers. “The pressure on time to market for new packages is significant,” says Derek Case, Kodak Polychrome's worldwide market segment manager — packaging. “The innovation process constantly is being pushed from the brands to the printers and, now, from the printers to the prepress suppliers. Being able to produce color quickly and enable package-printing converters to go through the various iterations of approvals much more quickly and accurately is absolutely critical today.”

Because of this ever-reducing package development cycle time, the industry is coming up with a multitude of ways to accommodate customers. Heiner Müller, director of sales and marketing at GMG Weihing GmbH, a color-proof software manufacturer based in Tuebingen, Germany, points to one of them: the recent appearance of Internet-based package design programs. “What I see lately from the States is web offerings in which the customer can ‘build’ the packaging on-line. Then they can send it down to production, and with digital proofing, within a very short period of time, a customer actually can have an impression of how his or her packaging will look.”

Obviously, on-line programs can help with the design speed factor; they could really up the cycle-time ante, particularly if a converter produces proofs in-house. But there's still the color thing, and color is key for some brand owners.

According to the supplier experts, the best predictive color still is generated in halftone proofs. All three proofing suppliers interviewed for this article — Kodak (kpgraphics.com), GMG (colorproof.de), and Creo (creo.com) — offer high-end halftone proofing products that can deliver accurate color representation, i.e., can predict what's actually going to come off the press.

But halftone proofing systems require substantial capital investment that smaller converting operations, especially in these tough economic times, may not be able to make. So it's back to the prepress house (which can affect the speed factor)… Or is it?

Mark Vanover, marketing director of packaging at Creo Inc., says over the last couple of years he's seen a very rapid adoption and wider acceptance of lower-cost, and in some instances, lower-quality, drop-on-demand proofing technology. But he's quick to point out that investment in these types of proofing systems must go hand in hand with education. “It's crucial to educate the buyer. Whether it's the trade shop doing the proofing or the converter, it comes down to this fact: There has to be the [knowledge] that some of the digital technologies are not going to be the exact replicas of what the final product will be.”

Other ways to gain some momentum on the speed side of proofing lie in desktop color proofing systems and remote proofing.

In terms of the desktop proofers, these small and affordable systems — at this point — can't deliver the color, but they can help speed design and actually produce “comp” (or “dummy”) mock-up packages that give brand owners a truly 3-D example of their package design.

On the remote, or virtual, proofing side, all three suppliers agree, in packaging this method is still developing and may have a difficult time gaining acceptance among brand owners and consumer products companies, due mainly to “the color thing.” But time — literally — will tell if the speed thing and the color thing will gel.

Restrictions of time and space limit the number of companies, products, and trends that we can discuss in these reports. For additional information, see PFFC's features and departments each month, consult the June Buyers Guide, and check pffc-online.com.


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