Every industry has its breakthrough technology, a solution that changes the way people think about a certain process or product. For a long time, flexographic printing was simply an acceptable approach for creating flexible packages, labels and other end products. It hadn’t changed much over the years.
In 2008, Kodak introduced the Kodak Flexcel NX System and it was immediately recognized as a game changer in the industry.
The Flexcel NX System won both the PIA/GATF InterTech Technology Award and the Flexographic Pre-Press Platemakers Association (FPPA) Technical Innovator of the Year Award in 2008. In 2009, it was named as the sole recipient of a technical innovation award, and over the years, its users have captured dozens of industry awards for work produced on the system.
For five years now, the solution has helped transform the digital flexo market by offering new levels of production efficiency, image quality and stability, repeatability, and sustainability. And since the introduction five years ago, the solution continues to grow and includes narrow, mid, and wide systems.
Color and Quality Dominate Demands
Competition among brands remains a constant around the globe. Impulse buying comprises nearly 75 percent of consumer spending; however the sellers and producers of packaged goods, and those who produce the packaging, face a daily dilemma. In short, package printers are always under pressure to reduce production costs while delivering packaging that drives consumer sales.
Color may be the most critical element for generating shelf appeal, insofar as it is perceptible from greater distances than other key visual elements such as size, shape, typography and design. Increasing the use of process color in package printing, and placing less reliance on the use of spot or special colors, can be the answer to leveraging the power of color cost-effectively; but getting all the way there with flexo printing has long been a challenge.
Slow Progress, Until Now
In general, flexo technology has been producing steady quality gains versus gravure and offset. The introduction of high-definition flexo plate technology has dramatically increased image quality capabilities, putting offset and flexo on a much more level playing field when it comes to graphic reproduction.
Splash Graphics is a packaging prepress provider outside of Chicago, offering flexo platemaking services. “It’s important to note that this product is different. There are three primary benefits to the Flexcel NX Plates,” says Dhiren Sanghani, partner. “First is the ability to produce minimum dots as low as the 0.4-0.8 percent range without any manipulation on the desktop or integration of hybrid dots. The competition can’t do that. Second is a resolution so high on the imaging laser that we can image a surface pattern on every dot which allows us to get fantastic ink release in the pressroom, resulting in better ink densities. The result is packaging that has more pop while using less ink in the process. And third is that the flat top dot produces plates capable of much longer run lengths. These are a few of the key benefits that have helped us stand out.”
Another flexo production concern is potential color drift in process color builds, which previously forced printers to avoid large areas of process builds and revert instead to the use of a dedicated spot color for the troublesome area. Registration constituted a challenge as well, particularly with reverses and multiple color builds. Package printers have long grappled with these challenges in applying the four-color model to flexo. Many have experimented with the use of Extended Color Gamut (ECG) printing as a possible solution, using more than four process colors. While this technique can expand the gamut, it does nothing to solve the remaining obstacles.
A Welcomed Change
The innovative system changed the landscape for flexo production. Kodak customers are removing the barriers to a four-color workflow implementation with the combination of the Flexcel NX System and its Spotless Flexographic Solution. The unique capabilities of the Flexcel NX System enable flexo printing with not only high-definition reproduction, but also deliver the print stability, wider color gamut, and predictability required to master the four-color challenge.
Users cite the outstanding ink transfer capabilities of the plate, a direct result of the imaging technology in the Kodak solution, as the major game changer. Higher densities, without the use of more ink, drive the color gamut expansion that’s required, and serve to bring greater control and stability to the printing process itself. Tests in both narrow web and wide web printing on film have demonstrated significant gamut improvements over traditional digital flexo plates.
“When the Flexcel NX System was launched five years ago, we watched it in its infancy,” explains Andrew Hewitson, joint managing director of Reproflex3 in the U.K. “We then did some trials and pounced on it as the technology that we knew would help us achieve our goals for growth and success. Just a few years later, and the Flexcel NX System is the mainstay of our business because it brings quality, stability, and repeatability to every job. We specialize in the tricky and challenging jobs that in-house prepress departments cannot handle, and we have thrived the whole time on delivering high-end print quality. I don’t think there is any other plate technology that can do the same thing that Kodak does.”
The results are increasingly impressive as four-color printing in flexo takes on a more and more significant role in package printing. Industry leaders now recognize that four-color flexo printing can increase production efficiency, reduce costs, and meet stringent quality requirements. Thanks to the Flexcel NX System, package printers are able to do more with less.
Schlotthauer is the global marketing manager of packaging solutions at Eastman
Kodak and has over 25 years experience in the printing industry. She is a
regular contributor to publications and a frequent presenter at industry
events. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This issue of Flexible Packaging spotlights today’s flexible films; packaging line automation along with a case study; coverage on COVID-19 medical mask material, hand sanitizer packaged in single-use sachets; and sanitizing wipes, along with a brand renew of a popular jerky snack brand.