Accurate color management is one of the most difficult aspects of packaging production and also one of the most important. On a crowded store shelf, the visual appeal of the packaging, its overall image quality and the integrity of the brand message together can make or break the success of that product. 
However, getting color right can be an expensive and painstaking process that starts in the pre-press stages. In fact, each time a shop has to take a flexo or gravure press offline to print a proof or prototype, significant productivity and profits are lost. Flexo printing even a single proof or comp requires creating plates, adding labor and material costs to the job. In today's economy, keeping your larger presses online for production as much as possible is critical to your business.
To curb costs and expedite the pre-press process, many shops rely on water-based inkjet proofing devices. These platforms provide a cost effective and efficient alternative to proofing on press, but don't always support for the types of films and other substrates used to produce flexible packaging. Prototypes produced on substrates that differ from those used in the final product can have subtle differences. These differences are easy to overlook and can cause problems down the line when the job goes to production. 
In the end, media matters. And in recent years, a new generation of UV-LED inkjet printers has emerged for the packaging market to address this dynamic. These devices deliver both the precise color imaging of popular water-based inkjets and the broad media support needed to simulate on-press results, all at a fraction of the time and costs involved. 
UV inkjet printing has been around for a while, but until recently, has been limited by the nature of its curing technology. Conventional UV lamps can reach temperatures as high as 1500°F (800°C), virtually eliminating the possibility of printing on any heat sensitive material. By contrast, today's UV-LED lamps generate very little heat, which allows them to print on a wide variety of films used in flexible packaging, including clear, metallic, colored and shrink films. And with so many flexo presses today UV-based, it only makes sense to use a UV proofing device.
Software plays a role as well. When investing in a UV-LED inkjet, consider how it integrates into your production workflow, including whether or not it is supported by the production-level color management software you use. Printers that offer full integration with solutions from CGS, EFI and GMG offer the broadest reach and ensure the most accurate results. With them, you can get the consistency required across pre-press and production platforms, mapping the color of your proofing device to the press for a complete design-to finished-print solution.
Another benefit of UV-LED technology is its low operating costs. In fact, the cost of producing a sample on a capable UV-LED device can be as low as a few cents per sample. Compare that to an estimated dollar-per-sample cost basis for the same proof generated on a water-based inkjet or $50 to $500 per sample when outsourced. Running press proofs is even more expensive. Plus, UV-LED inkjet proofs can be produced on demand, in one to two hours if needed, which allows for design and production changes to be implemented in real time.
As an added benefit, some UV-LED inkjet devices offer support for specialty inks, including both white and clear. White ink frequently plays a dominant role in flexible package design and clear ink is used for varnishing and embossing effects. Having these capabilities allows you to get the greatest degree of accuracy in the proof and further assures the success of your final press run. In fact, prototypes produced with some UV-LED printers are so realistic they can be used for photo shoots and TV ads, further reducing the cost of launching a new product.
While not part of the color management process, finishing plays a role in package production, including folding, die cutting, scoring and kiss cutting of the materials. Integrated printer/cutters both print and cut graphics, so the proof you review is truly representative of the final product. 
Today's packaging industry is rapidly trending toward shorter, more frequent production runs. Brand owners are switching up their packaging more often than ever. With your UV-LED device, you can accommodate these changes easily, accurately and cost effectively. You can also capture revenues at the earliest design stages, producing package prototypes that reflect multiple designs and a myriad of color schemes. Having this versatility only increases the value proposition you give your clients.
As in any industry, having the most advanced technology can be a distinct competitive advantage. UV-LED inkjet printers and printer/cutters are revolutionizing the flexible packaging industry, allowing pre-press houses and commercial printers to better serve their clients while operating more profitably. Having the right proofing device will ensure color accuracy while positioning you as a trusted partner and the go-to shop for your clients, especially when the stakes are high. With this technology, your clients can put their best face forward as they compete in even the toughest retail environments. 
Roland DGA Corp
About the Author
Steven Tu is product manager at Roland DGA Corp.