Color plays an essential role in brand strategy and recognition and is an intrinsic part of any brand’s “personality.” It tells consumers what a brand stands for, what people can expect from it and can become one of the most recognizable aspects of any brand’s identity.

According to a study in Entrepreneur Magazine, 84.7 percent of consumers said that color is their main reason to buy a particular product. Additionally, 80 percent of respondents believe that color increases brand recognition.

Because color plays such a critical role, it is essential that consumers see the same, consistent color on every version of every product, no matter how it is packaged or where it is sold. Failure to produce consistent color can reduce brand impact, confuse customers and damage sales.

Digital color management is becoming the standard way to achieve consistent color, improve process efficiency and adaptability to new materials and constraints, reduce waste and energy consumption, and accelerate speed to market.

Converters and printers are faced with the challenge of printing consistent color on a wide range of different substrates. From pouches and bottles to cartons and labels, each substrate uses a different printing process and responds differently to certain inks, lighting and other variables. Ensuring that color is consistent across all substrates can be a complex process that requires precise planning and execution.

Digital technology has played an integral role in the way brand owners learn more about their customers’ buying habits. Because brand owners now know more than ever about what their customers want, there is an increased desire to customize products that precisely target audiences and markets. Today’s brand owners now need to manage an increasing number of product versions to meet demand.

Gaining the ability to identify new trends using digital technology has allowed brand owners to react to changes quickly, especially when new initiatives from competitors emerge. Supply chains must be agile and flexible, optimized to get new products on the shelves as quickly as possible — even when brand owners, designers and converters are spread around the globe.

If brands are always changing and creating new variations of a single theme, then the environment they work in also needs to adapt. Tighter regulations which lead to the reduction of artificial colors and preservatives, for example, may mean new substrates or pigments. Switching a printing process, from offset to gravure, or flexo to digital, changes the game. These new materials and technologies pose fresh challenges.

From these challenges, it is clear that brand owners, converters and printers are under constant pressure to streamline processes, introduce efficiencies, manage costs by eliminating waste and accelerate time to market. Because color consistency is considered to be the foundation of any brand’s image, proper execution across multiple regions and substrates is essential for success. 

Achieving consistent color across all substrates, print processes and all printers across the globe is essential to the efficiency of the whole packaging workflow. However, there are two major obstacles. The first is the number of variables that make true color consistency elusive, such as packaging types, substrates, inks and so on. The second is the number of parties with input to the production and approval of color.

Overcoming the Obstacles to Consistency

While software and hardware tools for color management are available, they are often deployed inconsistently. The universe of brand owners, designers and converters is vast and geographically widespread, and the result is a chain of disconnected solutions, rather than a community working alongside an industry-standard reference.

The process of mapping the color management workflow in many packaging supply chains can be chaotic. Communication between different parties often goes around in loops of approval. For brand owners, this can be a recipe for error, inefficiency and unnecessary cost. Color that fails to meet brand owner expectations is the primary reason for rejects and rework, which in turn costs brand owners, printers and converters time and money.

Recognizing the difficulties brand owners face while attempting to achieve consistent color across all substrates, Sun Chemical developed the SunColorBox, a set of tools and services that enables consistent and accurate digital color communication throughout the entire packaging supply chain.

Digital color management is remodeling the historical “linear” color management model into a “centric” model, where the digital color standards are becoming the real and consistent target for everyone in the workflow, from design to print. The net effect of this move is a much tighter control of color of the final product.

For printers or converters who may have handled color management in a particular way for the past 20 years or more, it is not always easy to accept the level of change required to implement a digital color management project.

To make that transition easier, a centrally managed but locally supported model was adopted. While the central color management team manages digital color management projects globally, the implementation and support are provided by local technical support personnel, in the local languages.

One of the services provided from this toolkit includes the option for printers to receive a site assessment which investigates how color is communicated and managed. The assessment plays a key role in ensuring that a printer’s digital color management is fully compliant with international standards.

Audits Help Manage Portfolio

There is also an option for a full color audit. It is very easy for converters to have thousands of colors in their portfolio, many of which are very similar. And increasing ink inventories and manual handling are the normal side effects caused by having such a large portfolio of colors. Harmonization and rationalization color audits build the foundation for a complete color management workflow.

Harmonization could be done toward global color standards like PantoneLIVE colors.

PantoneLIVE is a live environment where new libraries corresponding to new substrates and printing processes are being developed constantly. The color data are best harmonized across libraries to ensure better consistency.

The result from the converter audit features a set of PantoneLIVE standards and customized, rationalized and substrate-specific digital colors that can be hosted on a cloud-based solution and communicated throughout the supply chain. This can build a foundation for a complete color management workflow and decrease the chance for work to be rejected due to color inconsistencies.

One tool helps converters who face repeated requests to create multiple color swatches to send to brand owner customers for approval. To accelerate the process, save time and cut out the manual handling, low-cost and easy-to-use applications have been developed to enable converters to produce color-accurate inkjet swatches, printed onsite and on demand, for the flexible packaging market.

Digitally printed books can also be created to help converters accurately communicate to their customers the full range of spot colors they already have at their disposal.

By using a web-enabled, color-matching platform to provide objective and consistently accurate ink formulation capability to a printer’s individual production specification, converters can predict and confirm that an ink formulation is correct before sending it to the press. This minimizes any downtime on press for color correction, which, in turn, greatly improves productivity and reduces waste and approval time for new jobs.

Another software platform in the toolkit helps to move color approval from a subjective to an objective process by connecting a spectrophotometer to measure the quality of output on the press and validating it against the customized digital color library.

While some converters may not have a digital color standards library at all, those that do have the challenge of keeping data up to date, managing any changes and communicating the data to the other sites within a group and back through the supply chain.

myColorCloud by Sun Chemical, a private cloud-based system that uses the PantoneLIVE infrastructure can be an ideal host for a customer’s customized digital library of spot colors. By communicating upfront which production spot colors are achievable, converters can set clear expectations with customers, resulting in less rework for colors and speeding up the costly, time-consuming color approval process from design to print.

Traditionally the supply chain’s reference point for spot color specification in the packaging industry has been the physical Pantone book, containing printed reproductions of spot colors. However, while the book has always been marketed as a guide to colors, over time it has become viewed as the de facto industry standard when communicating colors.

Cloud-based architecture that enables digital specification and communication of Pantone standards to all stakeholders in the global supply chain can help printers and converters save a considerable amount of time and effort, shortening the color approval process and helping them meet customers’ expectations.