Owners and operators are often very excited to speak of their latest acquisition. Whether it's their new anilox roll, diecutting or inspection system, converters are often chomping at the bit to discuss how their new gadget increases efficiency and performance. One part of the printing process that is sometimes overlooked, but is of utmost importance, takes place during the prepress stage: the production of the contract proof. A successful proof's significance lies in its role as being the final stage before the bulk of the job begins.
A proofing system's objective is to produce, as accurately as possible, an image that will represent what the actual output of the printing machine will be. The key word in the previous statement is represent. A proof is what it is. It's a representation of what is believed will be printed and affixed to the product that will eventually wind up in a consumer's hands. As is most often the case, customers are going to forgo the substantial added expense attached to the creation of a press proof. Therefore, all they have to go on is the proof. And if customers are looking at something produced with different inks, on different substrates, without adhesive, then some may argue that they're throwing caution to the wind and putting a lot of faith in the converter's ability to deliver the goods.
What happened to analog plate proofing?
Digital printing, over the last several years, has improved exponentially. One of results of entering the Digital Age, is the apparent exiling of analog proofing systems from the industry.
Mike Heaford of JM Heaford, a UK based manufacturer of narrow web proofing and mounting systems, talks of the dwindling analog proofing market. "Demand is now quite limited as its really a niche portion of the printing market." He cites the economics involved as perhaps a reason why digital is so much more prevalent in prepress proofing. "The price is putting people off. You just hope you get a big enough order to offset the costs of the substrates being used. Entry level costs for the systems are too large. Label converters are usually on a limited budget, and they often run the idea by their accountant to work out the numbers before making such a purchase. The reality is that the prepress proof is likely such a small portion of the converter's budget." Heaford approximates that his company's sales have become 95 percent mounting systems and just 5 percent proofing systems.
With all that said, the question must be asked: Who's buying the 5 percent? According to Heaford, those who are having problems with the platemaking process. He says companies that are most fearful of generating downtime on press are more willing to spend money on prepress production.
Ray Bodwell, marketing manager for DuPont Packaging Graphics, Wilmington, DE, USA, says, "For years, DuPont was one of the leaders in 'off press' proofing. However, in recent years, the industry has moved to the use of low-cost drop-on-demand (DOD) inkjet proofers to satisfy the bulk of its proofing needs. These new systems have the advantage of being relatively good and very low priced, as opposed to the offerings from the traditional suppliers (DuPont, Kodak, 3M, etc.,) which were very good quality and relatively high priced. Consequently, DuPont has begun the process of exiting the off-press proofing consumables market."
So companies are paying less for proofs. But are they sacrificing quality for a proofing machine that costs less? Not necessarily, according to Bodwell: "I think that the low cost DOD proofers from companies like HP, Epson and others are capable of remarkably high quality at a very low cost to produce. Still, there may be challenges in ensuring color accuracy through to press. High end proprietary solutions used to provide that fingerprint and calibration capability as part of the offering. The DOD proofers are still capable of similar accuracy, but now it's generally up to the users themselves to do the 'system integration' that they used to get as part of the package."
Obviously, a customer must have something to look at to sign off on. Some companies insist on a press-OK in person. For the rest, however, today's Digital Age allows there to be a "virtual handshake," so to speak. A converter can simply email a PDF file to the customer for them to view and sign off on. But for those customers who require a high-end, tangible proof, there are options.
The vast majority of narrow web label converters are offering their customers digital proofs. A narrow web converter has the opportunity to break down just what's available and decide which types of proofing machines would serve their customers best, at the same time staying within the company's budget.
Anderson & Vreeland
Offering flexographers a "systems approach" to prepress, with a broad range of equipment, materials and software options from a variety of manufacturers is Anderson & Vreeland, Bryan, OH, USA. A & V acknowledges the narrow web converters' trend of adopting new proofing technologies to their workflow. With this in mind, they have developed a particular approach toward servicing its narrow web clients.
Darin Lyon, VP of sales for A & V, explains: "As far as proofing goes, hardly anyone is engaging in analog these days. The majority of narrow web converters are using inkjet proofing systems." With the existence of such a wide...