In a highly competitive marketplace, brands and packaging designers are looking for ways to differentiate their products on the shelf. This increasingly goes beyond color to include embellishment options such as foils, special varnishes, soft touch finishes and more. Designers are also using more intense solid colors, fluorescents and iridescents. And not just with conventional print – embellishment options and special colors and finishes are also available in digital solutions that allow more variation in packaging and the ability to address shorter runs and faster cycle times.
Using vibrant colors and finishes help packages stand out on the shelf, drawing the consumer’s eye and influencing buying decisions. A good example is PANTONE® 18-3838 Ultra Violet, the Pantone Color of the Year 2018. Forward-looking brands in the CPG, luxury, and cosmetics are increasingly using shades of Ultra Violet in packaging and graphic design, like this Tocca Voyage Marrakesh Candle.
But this trend presents a number of challenges that packaging converters will need to address in 2018 and beyond, if they are not already. Getting color right can often be enough of a challenge, but add to that high coverage intense solids and special finishes, and producing packaging that lives up to design intent can be difficult. For those who are successful, there are significant business growth opportunities. Here are five tips package printers and converters can follow to meet the trend of bold colors and finishes in 2018.
1 - Process Control is Key
Process control is important in any packaging operation, but even more so when dealing with special colors and finishes. Implementing process control software is an important step that can speed job setup, provide near-real-time assessment of color performance, and generate reporting that will help production managers address issues. Reporting can also give brands more confidence that their expectations will be met. Often, this can minimize the need for on-site press checks and reduce time spent in meetings evaluating color performance.
2 - You Can’t Manage What You Don’t Measure
This statement, attributed to management expert Peter Drucker, certainly applies in any packaging operation. Packaging converters have typically used 45:0 spectrophotometers to measure color at various stages of the production process. But special finishes and embellishments will require different measurement techniques. This is especially true of reflective, mirrored, metallic, pearlescent and textured surfaces – which are all gaining popularity in packaging.
When measuring a glossy surface, a 45:0 instrument can miss portions of the reflected light, resulting in glossy surfaces appearing darker and more saturated than the same colored sample in a matte finish. Sphere instruments on the other hand, are potentially more versatile since they allow for the measurement of a color with or without the impact of its substrate’s associated surface effects. The third type of spectrophotometer, a multi-angle spectrophotometer, popular in the auto industry where special effect finishes are common, may be required to accurately measure packaging with finishes that change color based on viewing angle. We don’t expect to see those types of finishes on packaging becoming common in the near term, but over time we believe they will become more popular, especially for luxury or high-end products.
Choosing the right spectrophotometer for the job is a critical element of a color managed workflow in a packaging operation.
3 - Leverage Physical & Digital References
Physical references have been a critical component of color workflows for many years. Especially in the design phase, designers like to use physical references they can touch and feel, and they often use physical items for inspiration. In print and packaging, physical references help designers, brand owners, and printers communicate expectations and manage results. However, age, fading, and improper care can cause physical references to change over time, leading to ambiguity and incorrect color.
While physical references remain a critical component of a color workflow, digital references offer a more sophisticated level of connectivity. They are traceable, precise, and repeatable, and the values will not change over time like their physical counterparts. An additional benefit of a managed digital workflow is that the colors can always be verified and updated, if needed.
Digital color references can open the door to consistent color across different substrates, inks, and printing technologies. They can also align multiple print facilities and join components of a larger project much more effectively than working from multiple physical references. Digital references, when expressed as spectral values, or the DNA of color, ensure everyone is on the same page with respect to color expectations. Savvy converters use both physical and digital references within their operations, and we will see this approach becoming more ubiquitous in the near term.
4 - Translate Color Intent into Color Achievability
As strange as it sounds, it’s one thing to specify color with spectral values, but quite another to actually achieve it. Why? Because in print, the printing technology, ink system, and substrate being used all affect the final appearance of the color – as do some of the advanced finishing techniques mentioned earlier. When a store display is comprised of multiple components – such as the corrugated display, offset or wide format printed signage, the product and the packaging – all of the components need to match. We expect to see designers becoming more skilled at specifying both the master color and dependent colors – that is, the color that appears on their screen during design, and dependent references that take into account the substrate and printing process. There are now cloud-based tools available, such as PantoneLIVE Design, an Adobe® plug-in, that display how Pantone colors will change when applied to the most common print and packaging materials.
5 - Standards
We are also seeing standards bodies paying more attention to better communication. Emerging standards, such as Print Requirements Exchange (PRX) and Print Quality Exchange (PQX) for effective bi-directional communication, are making their way through the standards process. More brands and printers are embracing CxF/X-based communication of data for exchange of color information. These are trends that should be carefully watched and adopted as appropriate into packaging workflows.
You’ll also see activity from the standards bodies that will help get us aligned on process, helping streamline those complex supply chains for brands.
An Exciting 2018 Ahead
All of this adds up to an exciting year ahead of us!
Stay tuned. Next week's blog takes this topic one step further by sharing the best way to achieve vibrant colors in print. I’ll also be speaking at the Color Conference in San Diego in January about the latest news in standards. Hope to see you there!