The flexible packaging industry long has employed conventional color reproduction using the restricted gamut of conventional CMYK inks. Because that process is limited in the range of colors and vibrancy it can produce, packaging printers often had to add spot colors to meet customers’ specific brand requirements.
In the past five years or so, capabilities have improved dramatically as many printers began to adopt extended gamut printing, a technology that expands the available range of color far beyond traditional four-color process. For most printers, this means using CMYK plus the three base colors of red, green and blue (RGB).
There isn’t just one way to approach extended gamut printing, however. Many printers develop their own processes, such as running purple instead of blue or orange instead of red, so there’s a wide variance in the way printers use extended gamut printing techniques across the industry.
Testing Extended Gamut Printing
The flexible packaging print industry is highly competitive, and companies that want to thrive must find ways to provide both economical pricing and superior quality. As extended gamut printing began gaining a foothold in the industry, Kansas City-based Packaging Products Corp. saw an opportunity to advance the leading edge of technology and set ourselves apart from competitors.
PPC began exploring extended gamut printing in April 2007 using Opaltone, another extended gamut process. While this method did not fit all of PPC’s needs, it did enhance the quality of our printing, ramp up our level of technological sophistication and provide a platform that led to our use of Kodak NX plates, the unique, extended gamut printing practice we use today.
We began experimenting with extended gamut printing using Kodak NX plates in the first quarter of 2013. As one of the first companies in the flexible packaging industry to exclusively use Kodak NX plates to achieve extended gamut print quality, we completed comprehensive testing and fingerprinting to make sure this system would give us superior results.
We initially separated jobs based on the industry’s first 4.0 standards, but we discovered the Kodak plates allowed us to achieve extended gamut print quality and much higher densities with four-color process alone. Although we can still call out a spot color or add RGB, we rarely need to. The Kodak NX plates enable PPC to increase our color space, capturing a larger range of available colors and achieving the same density and space with four-color process, rather than having to use all seven colors (CMYK plus RGB) to achieve the same results.
Our pre-press partner, Jim Toles of Fine Line Graphics, puts it this way: “For many years, flexographic wide web press manufacturers have delivered presses that exceeded the capabilities of LAMS layer digital photopolymer plates. The Kodak NX plate imaging technology provides an increased tonal range, larger color gamut and sharper details in the final print result.”
For PPC, extended gamut printing using Kodak NX plates has become a best practice.
Greater Quality and Cost Savings for Customers
Using our previous processes, we printed with 120- or 133-line screens. With Kodak NX plates, PPC prints with 150-line screens, which provide much richer detail. That means products depicted on packaging look realistic and appealing, consistent with the product inside.
For instance, the print quality is so crisp that consumers now can see crumb flakes on cookies or salt crystals on potato chips. It’s like giving consumers a look inside the bag to see the actual product, but without the product degradation that comes from a window that lets light into the package. PPC now uses Kodak NX plates for extended gamut printing in 75 percent of our new designs.
Another reason PPC adopted this process is that it allows us to load an ink set and not have to change out inks, thus reducing customer cost. The process also permits the use of fewer plates. Even a nine- or 10-color job can be completed with only five plates.
The greater efficiency and reduced setup time required for fewer plates lowers costs, yielding a 40 percent reduction in plate costs alone – a tremendous advantage for customers, who rarely see the value of paying for plates. In some cases, plate costs can drop even further. Clancy's Caramel Puffs is one customer for whom PPC’s approach yielded vibrant colors and cut plate costs by half.
By incurring lower plate costs, our customers have greater flexibility to introduce new products to the marketplace. Say, for example, that a food company wants to go to market with a new potato chip. Having to spend $5,000 in plate costs to produce packaging for a test product could be cost-prohibitive enough to force the company into delaying or foregoing the chip’s introduction.
The lower plate costs coupled with reducing the cost further by gang printing with another product package, would give the food manufacturer more financial wiggle room in introducing and marketing the new chip – a benefit to both the company and consumers.
One of our customers, a major cookie manufacturer, experienced this savings firsthand. The company moved its product out of gravure-printed packaging into extended gamut-printed packaging without experiencing any quality loss. And, because of the savings realized from PPC’s use of Kodak NX plates, the manufacturer was able to add an anniversary promotional graphic on some of its cookie product packages for a limited time.
Best Practice Recommendations
PPC moved into extended gamut printing with Kodak NX plates with minimal capital investment. We trained our pressroom workers to run higher densities and worked with our separator and our designers to determine the best way to separate jobs using the new process.
For others in our industry who are not yet using extended gamut printing or who may be considering a move to Kodak NX plates, we recommend not skimping on trials. At PPC, we ran lots of them to perfect our process. As a result, our pressroom workers know how to deliver an extended gamut printing job expertly – matching the target and hitting the desired densities inside a quick turnaround schedule.
Once implemented, using Kodak NX plates for extended gamut printing will allow printers to deliver excellent quality and print quickly to meet deadlines – at a lower cost to customers. By doing so, printers will attain the goals we all share: land more jobs with established customers, attract new customers and continue to grow in this dynamic industry of ours.
Packaging Products Corp.