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​Five Tips to Help Package Printers and Converters Achieve Bold Colors and Finishes

Posted June 04, 2020 by Ray Cheydleur

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. Digital solutions allow more variation in packaging and the ability to address shorter runs and faster cycle times.


While vibrant colors and finishes help packages stand out on the shelf, this trend presents a number of challenges for packaging converters. The same physics of light that make vibrant colors and finishes appealing to consumers also make them a challenge to measure. When light is reflected and refracted in ways that create sparkle for the viewer, it also creates a specular component that is difficult for a spectrophotometer to capture. 

Here are five tips package printers and converters can follow to produce packaging with high coverage intense solids and special finishes that lives up to design intent. For those who are successful, there are significant business growth opportunities. 

Tips to Produce Packaging with Intense Solid Colors and Embellishments 

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. 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.

eXact Xp

3 - Leverage Physical & Digital References

Physical references have been a critical component of color workflows for many years. Designers like to use physical references they can touch and feel, and 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. That's because the printing technology, ink system, and substrate 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 designers to become 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 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.

PantoneLIVE Design

5 - Standards

Standards bodies are trying to achieve better communication. CxF developed by X-Rite as a way to communicate color and other metadata is now fully embraced by the standards community and has four standards relating to its use in the ISO 17972 CxF/X series.  Other standards are focused on communication as well, this time specifically for Brand to Printer and Printer to Brands; Print Requirements Exchange (PRX) and Print Quality Exchange (PQX) for effective bi-directional communication are making their way through the standards process. X-Rite has also launched the Open Ecosystem for Brand Packaging Quality Control and Supply Chain Management for those who want to leverage the work that has been honed by the world's largest CPG companies.

These are trends that should be carefully watched and adopted as appropriate into packaging workflows.

Learn More

Want to stay current with standards in print and packaging? This blog offers insight into what's new in the world of graphic arts standards and technical specifications so you can take advantage of them in your print and packaging workflow.

Curious how to achieve bold, vibrant colors? This blog explores the options, including Spot, process, and the rapidly growing alternative – Extended Color Gamut (ECG) printing.

To speak with a Color Expert about your specific print and packaging needs, get in touch.