Ink Companies Ally with Equipment, Software Suppliers on Color Systems

By Sean Milmo, European Editor | 11.15.12

More high powered branding, changes in shopping patterns and new regulations in sectors like pharmaceuticals are accelerating the need for even more effective color management in packaging in Europe

More high powered branding, changes in shopping patterns and new regulations in sectors like pharmaceuticals are accelerating the need for even more effective color management in packaging in Europe.

The region’s printing industry is still striving to draw up standards that help achieve more color consistency and quality. Instead, much of the initiative is coming from equipment and software providers with whom ink producers are forming alliances, so that printers and end-users identify them with specific color management systems.

There are two main parallel trends. One is slowly establishing uniform standards on color in the European printing industry through bodies like the International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO). With the other, the impetus is coming from hardware and software companies marketing color management systems to help printers, their customers and suppliers like ink producers ensure greater color consistency and quality.

Some ink makers have become closely linked with the latest of these systems. Sun Chemical transferred earlier this year the technology rights of its own SmartColour color matching system to X-Rite and Pantone so that it could become the foundation for the new PantoneLive scheme, using an online cloud resource for making digitized color palette accessible to brand owners and packaging converters. SunChemical has as a result been selected as the preferred ink supplier for the system.

“We’re now at a stage where color standardization in printing segments like packaging are operating on three levels,” explained Andreas Kraushar, head of prepress technology at Graphic Technology Research Association (FOGRA), which helps draw up sector standards through ISO.

“There are ISO standards which are drawn up by a cross-section of industry experts and which enable people to check against a standard the quality and consistency of their color printing,” he continued. “Then there are the de facto standards applied by equipment manufacturers and software companies. These help raise the efficiency of existing working practices. Finally, there are the technical certification schemes, which set operating efficiency levels for equipment and processes.”

Most ink producers follow a strategy aimed at helping printers to comply with all of these levels of standards in line with the preferences of their customers. This can mean trying to reconcile data from measuring equipment like spectrophotometers with data from measuring equipment for color reproduction systems such as RGB and CMYK.

One growing problem for ink producers is that despite the trend to standardization, organizations developing standards can still differ on definitions of basic colors.

“Two leading standardization organizations have, for example, created two different definitions of cyan,” said Jan de Roeck, marketing director at Esko, a software and measuring equipment company which, through its parent company Danaher Corp., recently took over X-Rite/Pantone. “It is then a matter for the converters and ink suppliers to adjust their processes and formulations to comply with each of these standards according to which one the customers prefers.”

Drivers for Color Standards

Among the major drivers behind more uniformity in color printing in packaging is a desire by brand owners to ensure that the colors in the packaging of their products have a consistent appearance in supermarkets and other retail outlets around the world.

Another influence is the impact of regulations, particularly in Europe, aimed at combating counterfeiting of products such as pharmaceuticals. These are laying down standards along supply chains, including packaging converters and their material suppliers.

In both cases, the desire and push for higher quality standards in printing and its materials, such as inks, comes from globalization and a greater use of the Internet to communicate designs, specifications and information down the packaging supply chain.

Different color management systems, centered on color measurement hardware and software, have been introduced to try to minimize the differences in color reproduction between the various workflow stages in packaging. These stretch from the client providing general color and material specifications, the graphic designers supplying image and artwork with more specific printing and digitalized color specifications, the prepress service provider of color separations and even more detailed breakdowns of color information, the ink producers and other material suppliers and finally the packaging converter.

The ink makers’ task is to formulate inks which gives the converter or printer the flexibility to meet as closely as possible the color values of specific packaging designs, taking into account the effects on colors of different substrates and printing processes.

Sun Chemical says that the advantages of the color definition system of PantoneLIVE, based on Sun Chemical’s ink formulations, is that it is derived from “real ink on real substrates with real printing processes.” Consequently, brand owners can predict how their brand colors will reproduce on a wide variety of substrates – from recycled carbon board to clear film or white polypropylene, it added.

The ink company cites Heinz Beanz – a UK-based international food brand of Heinz of the U.S. – as an example of its work on global brand color control, using PantoneLive and its own Sun Branding Solutions. With Sun Chemica;’s help, Heinz has created color standards for all packaging substrates and production processes for the brand. These include limits on color deviations, with a six-fold reduction in the range of tolerated color differences and a system for accurate communication of color through the supply chain.

PantoneLIVE is one of a number of recently introduced cloud color data systems based on spectral data. GMG Color, launched earlier this year its GMG CoZone, a cloud-based color management system with spectral data being channeled to users through the web.

In addition to systems based on spectral or spectrophotometric data, there are schemes with data derived from the other main color measuring technologies of densitometrics, which gauges light reflected from or through an object, and colorimetrics, which breaks the light down into its RGB components in a way similar to the perception of the human eye. Some color management systems rely mainly on densitometers or colorimeters or combine both or relate one or both to data from spectrophotometers.

Claas Bickeboeller of Konica Minolta Sensing Europe stressed at a recent FOGRA conference the importance of standard based on colorimetrics. “We must measure as we see,” he said.

Color management schemes based on spectral data tend to streamline printing processes, with the ultimate result that fewer inks are used. The UK branch of Chesapeake of the U.S., a global producer of consumer packaging, has reduced its inventory of inks after adopting the PantoneLIVE digitized color palette. Instead of stocking as many as 3,000 different inks, it now stores only 537.

“The digital color target means that only one ink is needed for a given color reference,” said Jon Drennan, operations manager at Chesapeake’s plant at Leicester, England.

Current internationally recognized color management systems also tend to be focused on standards for exchange of prepress data, data for characterization of printed colors and workflow document file formats. ISO standards in the printed industry also tend to cover mainly offset printing, and to a lesser extent flexographic, gravure and screen printing, particularly in the packaging sector.

There have been moves to draw up an ISO standard series for digital printing, especially for color management in packaging. But it is proving to be a slow process, which typifies the difficulties of gaining international agreement on standards for many segments of the printing sector.

FOGRA first set up a digital printing working group four years ago. In its latest newsletter, it reports that much of the standard series is still in the concept stage, although it has been numbered ISO 15311. One part of the standard series – ISO 15311-1 – has been designated a Technical Specification, indicating that it is a prospective standard for provisional application.

But the two other parts of the standard series are still in “stage 0.” The last plenary meeting of the working group ended in deadlock on pertinent issues, with six countries voting against, six for and one (Switzerland) abstained. “There were concerns that some of the used print image quality measures are not mature enough,” FOGRA said.

Looming on the horizon is the prospect that for some key sections of the packaging sector Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP) standards will be applied with legal backing to supplement ISO standards. They have already been introduced into the food packaging segment in the European Union to combat the problem of migration of chemicals in packaging inks into the packaged food product.

Now the EU is introducing legislation to combat counterfeiting and use of sub-standards materials in pharmaceuticals, including packaging. This includes a stipulation that GMP standards be applied throughout the medicine’s supply chain from the production of pharmaceutical chemicals through to packaging.

“There are no GMP standards at the moment which relate specifically to pharmaceutical packaging,” said Mr. de Roeck. “It would be different to ISO standards because GMP applies more specifically to working processes within the printing workflow to prevent things going wrong, or if something does go wrong, to correct it.”

Hence, ink producers may have to worry much more about not only the voluntary standards introduced by commercial companies and organization for consensus standards like the ISO, but also regulatory standards imposed by governments.

European Editor Sean Milmo is an Essex, UK-based writer specializing in coverage of the chemical industry.

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