Pressroom Color Management
PolyFirst Packaging is one of the largest producers of specialty plastic bags, pouches and plastic packaging in the country. In 1998, PolyFirst Packaging started with a mission to produce the highest quality plastic film and bags, on time and at a fair price. They stuck to their guns and are now produce a breadth of products that rivals anyone in the county. Running multiple facilities in Wisconsin and Illinois, they extrude their own films and convert a wide variety of plastic packaging running state of the art printing and laminating equipment.
In 2014, the company wanted to take a more objective approach to color matching and at the same time simplify the data that the press operators use, so they began to look for a tool to help their press operators make better decisions about color adjustments on press. (We wanted to take a more objective approach to color matching and yet simplify the data that the press operators use.)
Choosing a Software Product
Ryan Fischer, Printing & Prepress Team Lead at PolyFirst Packaging, first heard about SpotOn! Flexo in early 2014 while talking with a representative from All Printing Resources (APR). He observed a demonstration of the software at the FTA InfoFlex 2014 and then witnessed firsthand its application during a live press run in early September 2014 when APR’s Richard Black attended a press characterization at PolyFirst Packaging. Black had SpotOn! Flexo loaded onto his laptop, and after watching the press operators struggle to get color he opened his laptop and started taking some measurements.
“My initial reaction was mixed because of its simplicity,” Fischer explained. “I’m used to complicated color management tools that throw a lot of data at you, but after reading John (John the Math Guy) Seymour’s article titled ‘Where are my CIELAB knobs?’ I had a paradigm-shift. In terms of processes, it made sense to me that CIELAB-centric color-management software belonged in the ink LAB (no pun intended), and density-centric software belonged press side.”
Fischer and the pressroom manager, Mitch Wieczorek, discussed the software and decided to purchase the SpotOn! Flexo for their press operators because of its simplicity as compared to conventional color management software.
“Once we saw this unique software in action, we knew it was what we wanted,” said Fischer. “It focuses on color density, which we stress as being the primary step for ink toning on press, and it has the ability to predict what affect pressroom adjustments will have.”
Working with the Software
APR sent the PolyFirst IT team a link for downloading that included a “Read Me” file with installation instructions. The installation went smoothly, and very quickly the pressroom team, with no training, was setting up jobs with the easy-to-follow instructions.
PolyFirst trialed the software for 30 days before purchasing it, and the feedback is that press operators would have been unhappy if it had been removed the software from their computers after the 30-day trial.
“We saw close to a 50 percent reduction in what I would call ‘ink-toning time’ during the 30-day trial,” stated Fischer, “mainly due to the usefulness of the software in preventing the press operator from making incorrect adjustments. In the past, we may have added a base color to change the hue or chroma of toned ink because of his perception. With the new software, those potentially unnecessary steps are removed if the software shows, for example, that he the operator can achieve color by just adding extender.” Today, five PolyFirst press operators and four from management/administration are using SpotOn! Flexo the software.
The Benefits Realized
In addition to gains mentioned previously, the new software provides PolyFirst with a well-organized database for a digital color library. Other software programs required searches of the full library, color-by-color. When a job is pulled up in SpotOn! Flexo, only the colors applicable to that job are shown without having to dig through an expansive full library.
Communication between prepress and press is clearer and more concise. In the past, prepress communicated a color on a spec sheet, and it was up to the press operator to find the color. Typically, the specification was in the form of a simple Pantone number, and the problem with that is that "Pantone colors" have a tendency to multiply when they become mixed inks. One customer's approved color that may be designated with a specific Pantone number may not match another customer's approved color in terms of L*a*b*, even though the Pantone numbers are identical.
Now, prepress assigns colors through SpotOn! Flexo. Prepress sets up a job in the software, and the press operator simply pulls up the job, and the specific color targets applicable for the job are right there. The software removes ambiguity and reduces the amount of time a press operator previously spent searching PolyFirst's color libraries for the appropriate colors to apply to a job.
According to Fischer, “SpotOn! Flexo establishes standards and tolerance sets differently than other software programs I have worked with. Not only do jobs have specific color sets, but each color set can also have standards and tolerances applied. So, if a customer has required standards that may differ from our own standards, those standards can be applied to the job.”
“For example, if our standards are delta-E00<3.0 (D50/2), and our customer requires delta-E76<2.0 (D65/2), we can apply those standards to the colors in that customer's job. Instead of communicating the customer's requirements through a specification and relying on the press operator to change his settings where the potential for error exists, those settings can be automatically applied along with the color targets.”
“I've worked with software programs that require those settings to be set manually. If there are multiple presses running and using a single workstation, the operator from press A may switch the setting specific to his job, not reset them when finished, and when the operator from press B takes his measurements, if he doesn't notice the change it could result in an inaccurate measurement without operator B ever noticing. This is not a problem with SpotOn! Flexo because each color-set and each job can have independent settings.”
Customer Satisfaction Benefits
Quality benefits go hand-in-hand with customer satisfaction. Many customers today have sophisticated expectations in terms of color management. Those expectations may include color management software requirements, tolerance requirements, digital library requirements or a host of other things that SpotOn! Flexo accomplishes.
“It's an exciting display piece to have press-side,” Fisher said. “We've had customers press-side for press checks who have been impressed with the use of the software while their jobs were being set up.”
About PolyFirst Packaging
PolyFirst has become the preferred choice for custom packaging and custom design printing. Their state-of-the-art printing presses print up to eight colors, both process and spot colors allowing for greater flexibility when designing a package. In addition to printed bags, they also print rollstock for vertical and horizontal form fill and seal (V/F/F/S) applications. PolyFirst offers one-stop shopping by working with existing art files or creating new art; they can work with practically any art file you provide. Their design team will work with you to create the ideal package for your product. Visit www.polyfirst.com for more information.
Editor's Note - Since this story was written, PolyFirst Packaging has become part of the ProAmpac brand.