Making Pre-Production Innovation Pay Off
A number of popular pre-production topics have taken front stage over the past few years. One is automation, another is high definition flexo platemaking, and the third is extended gamut printing. Taken together, a printer or converter can realize considerable time savings and cost savings, while producing work that is noticeably better than what they were doing before.
Automation serves as the heart of any prepress production operation, offering better quality control. Some workflows also come with extensive business system integration capabilities, eliminating duplicate operator data entry. It is a good answer to the daily challenges of print professionals who need to increase quality, reduce errors and drive cost out of the process.
High definition flexo has gained a lot of publicity as a new process for producing digital flexographic plates. The improved plates print more consistently with higher quality than standard digital flexo plates. It adds exceptional ink laydown with solid density, vibrant brand colors, and exceptional platemaking consistency – some with fully digitally-controlled platemaking. Flexo printers are finding they can compete with offset for quality labels and with gravure printing for flexible packaging.
Demand for shorter packaging production runs for targeted campaigns and product variations is increasing. With extended gamut printing, a printer can standardize its printing presses on any set of inks; typically CMYK plus 2 or 3 extra inks (e.g. orange/green/violet), achieving more and better color. Printers don’t have to change spot color inks for every job, so they are able to increase productivity of their presses. At the same time, quality and consistency improve, helping brand owners reduce costs without compromising quality printing.
All Three Technologies in One Place
Baltimore-based Gamse Lithographing Co. has been in business since 1896. As the company’s 175 employees describe it, “We Label America’s Famous Names.” They specialize in the prep and printing of labels, sleeves and lids for leading food, beverage, spirits, cosmetics and tobacco companies. Their particular expertise is in metallized papers, cut-and-stack labels, pressure sensitive/die-cut labels, shrink sleeves and gold stamping. Gamse understands how to create and print high-quality labels, and also how to work with label manufacturers to ensure flawless application of their products. Gamse boasts a state-of-the-art prepress department and is one of the few printers with litho, flexo, rotogravure – and digital – capabilities all under one roof.
Gamse was using a capable workflow, but wanted to automate and streamline to save work and time. “In any workflow, there are many repeated functions—trapping for example,” says Alan Roe, prepress manager at Gamse. “We normalize files so that whether we send a file to a flexo, litho or digital press, it will print the same way. We had a lot of individual setups with our previous workflow. After a job was prepared and finally received client approval, it was sent for step & repeat, and output for plates – all individual processes.”
They decided on a complete workflow solution, based on Esko Automation Engine. It was easy to implement, although building a workflow is always time-consuming. “When you open a blank box of workflow software, from any vendor, you have to learn what it can do,” advises Roe. “We started building a simple workflow, then added one function, and then another. In reality you continually add to it. It’s an ever-going process.”
Gamse asked themselves if they wanted one all-encompassing workflow, or a number of workflows that branched off. “In our minds, if we had one giant workflow and a problem arose, it could threaten to halt all our work,” explains Roe. “If there are workflow branches, you can fix one while running the others. Smaller workflows are easier to fix.”
The workflow removed many manual steps, and streamlined the process. It queries the server for job specifications, prepares the step and repeat, and adds printers’ marks. The prepress operator intervenes to pick the substrate and color strategies, as needed. Gamse now relies on the operator for these steps only, not twenty steps. Before, it could take nearly a half shift to build the step & repeat.
Automation has also brought consistency. “Now, each operator will process a file the same way as the next person, pretty much all of the time,” says Roe.
Gamse also has greater throughput. One function yields many results. They can produce a proof at the same time as the PDF. “We no longer have to touch a file to prepare the step and repeat layout. It makes us much more efficient, especially when you consider the volume of the work we do. While some jobs might be duplicates or reorders, right now we have more than 10,000 pieces of art running through Automation Engine,” adds Roe.
Roe really likes his comparison feature. No longer must a proofreader physically read to “see” changes. They simply place the original Illustrator file in a viewer on top of the final normalized PDF file to check for changes. Of course, proofreading for grammatical issues must still be done. They produce a backup that displays and compares the new file, showing what has been altered. “Our proofreader has been with us for twenty years. She fought the new system,” says Roe. “I showed it to her and she said that it was amazing. We do a lot of Mandarin Chinese and have to check the symbols. Literally, if someone makes a change I can check job in a matter of minutes.”
CSRs used to ask prepress to provide PDF files on a daily basis, taking hours of time. Now, the CSRs have access to their own PDF files in the workflow, without requesting assistance from the prepress department.
More Consistent, High Definition Flexo Plates
Gamse had been working with an older light frame that needed to be replaced. They were trying to decide whether to invest in a new frame or just keep replacing UV bulbs. Both options were very costly.
“We‘re always concerned with quality. Unfortunately, there is always an inconsistency in a light frame. There’s a sweet spot—usually close to the middle of the table, and considerable falloff areas at the corners. We were getting inconsistent exposures and dots,” explains Roe. “When we installed new UV bulbs, the exposure was often only 17, rather than 22, nanometers. After a few months it was usually 15 or 16 nanometers. We can adjust the exposure time, but were pretty much assured of some inconsistencies between jobs.”
They decided that a main UV exposure unit within the CDI flexo plate imager made the most sense. They retrofitted their existing CDI and obtained Full HD Flexo certification.
“Full HD Flexo quality is better than what we were imaging before. We look at the work we do with Full HD Flexo plates and ask ourselves, ‘This is flexo?’ It is that much better,” remarks Roe. “A couple of companies we work with run on white plastic film. We can print vignettes to zero with great results, and that’s with water-based inks. You would swear that the job was printed on paper. The results with UV inks look even better.”
Recently, Gamse implemented extended gamut printing for their litho press, using it extensively for one specific customer, which orders hundreds of very different product labels. “It had been difficult for us to combine jobs because of a lack of ink units on press,” recalls Roe. “We installed an Esko Equinox extended gamut color management system.
Gamse is now experiencing both work and cost savings. They are able to print a large variety of labels with many PMS colors converted to CMYK plus orange, green and violet. They can combine virtually any labels on the press sheet and get a more vibrant image and better press match—and better production efficiencies. There are no dedicated runs, and they are not limited to the eight colors of their press. “The client absolutely loves it,” exclaims Roe.
Gamse’s willingness to explore new technologies has paid off very well for the company. “Our owners are very involved in reinvesting in our company,” summarizes Roe. “It has helped reduce manual prepress steps and increase capacity. It has eliminated the inconsistency of plate exposure from a light table and expanded the available gamut on a plate. It is allowing us to be more efficient by combining different jobs on press using extended gamut. In a few short years, we have implemented world-class proficiencies. And, we know there’s more to come.”
Gamse Lithographing Co.