Prototypes & Comps

It’s a Virtual Certainty

Posted: May 5, 2014 by
Noel Jeffrey

Every pressure point in the packaging world, from shorter time to market to gaining a competitive edge at a lower cost, argues for eliminating some, if not all, hard copy proofing for graphics—from development through production. Today’s powerhouse soft/virtual monitor-based proofing systems from companies like Paxonix, ICS, and others go a long way toward doing just that. From e-mailed PDFs to elaborate color-managed collaborative systems, these relatively new offerings are catching on and proving effective.

“Online approval is not a fad,” says Steve Carter, director of technology at Alcoa’s Southern Graphics facilities. “It’s going to continue to be more dominant in our industry. People will have to get on the bus or be run over by it. As part of a workflow, it drives out cost and time to market. The biggest savings is in shipping charges for hard copy proofs. Even if it’s just a two-way exchange at $20 apiece for each proof, with multiple changes and over a range of products, it adds up to a lot of money.”
 

Robert Ziegler, president/ CEO of Brandimation in Morrisville, PA, points out that in package design, structure and graphics are usually separate processes that come together in the end. That’s an important concept to hold onto when discussing online proofing because packaging comp houses and prepress services use both 3D virtual reality tools to visualize structure and graphics and distinctly separate online 2D proofing tools to approve graphics for printing.

“The amount of changes to labels versus those to a structure are at least seven or eight to one,” Ziegler says. “Changing tool and manufacturing systems is a big deal compared to changing a plate on press. Graphics are the icing on a cake. They are essential to the communication of brand identity, downstream messaging, conveyance of ingredients, and the overall look and feel of the product. Structure, however, can be used as a competitive edge that is long term and sustainable.”

Therefore, his company offers clients a service called ImmersaView, which is essentially product or object visualization using 3D virtual reality tools. Depending on the client’s need, Brandimation will put a product animation on the Internet or produce a video or DVD to use in market research with focus groups. “You can do virtual object visualization with and without graphics,” Ziegler says. “For one company launching a new soup jar, we put a lot of empty jars in front of consumer focus groups. Later we filled the virtual jar with virtual soup and put a label on it as if it was the final product.

“You can’t create a rapid prototype in glass,” he continues, “and you’d be spending a fortune to do a traditional model in actual glass. Virtual reality is the best alternative. After viewing renderings, you can leverage the 3D data to create a clear stereolithography prototype. Then, the final step may be a Lucite model prior to molding the hot glass.”

Maria Hagin, director of sales and marketing at Atlanta’s AdProps, whose company also offers virtual reality product visualization, points out, “Physical prototypes are very much a part of the workflow. You have to touch and feel and test functionality. Virtual reality is great for websites and focus groups but ultimately you want to touch the actual package and graphics and samples.”

AdProps president Randy Perkinson adds, however, that virtual structural proofing can avert mistakes down the road. “A designer may come up with a great shape and great graphics but the bottle has to hold 12 ounces,” Perkinson says. “We can take the shape into virtual and see how much it will hold.”

Going beyond structure
Perkinson also says that for the final graphics approval prior to platemaking, their clients typically use hard copy digital proofs. However, for graphic adaptation proofing, which simply means adjusting an already approved graphic across a packaging line to different sizes and shapes, AdProps will email a PDF for discussion and corrections.

At Southern, Steve Carter is in charge of online approval and collaboration. Southern uses workflow tools from Esko Graphics that are compatible with a privatelabeled online RealTimeProof solution from Kodak Polychrome Graphics (soon to be fully acquired by Kodak). “How it’s used runs the gamut. Some customers use it for simple content/design approval only, while others keep it digital until it hits the press,” Carter says. “We adapt the tool to fit their processes. However, they don’t have to pay to have specialized monitors or calibration tools because we haven’t dived into critical color yet. The real issue in the packaging world is to get approvals through all the people who have to touch the package. It takes a lot of time. Typically only one person approves the color. The others don’t need to but have to check type style and size, content of the ingredients panel and more.”

For graphics, Brandimation’s Ziegler points out that “flat” proofing is essential, particularly to check for legal and regulatory content and color intent. “Color proofs may become redundant with hard copy phased out because of color management that applies colorimetric intent through the prepress process to plating making and beyond. But, I don’t think press checks will disappear. With virtual proofing, however, you may not have to go to the press check in person as long as when you see the color you can understand that it’s in the range of tolerances that are acceptable,” he says.

Online pioneer: Paxonix
Paxonix, a MeadWestvaco company, offers services that make Ziegler’s vision closer to reality. Bailey Caldwell, vice president, Technology, says that the company, which was started in 2000, rolled out its first commercial relationship in March 2003. Paxonix offers software as a service (applications service provider/ASP) and acts as a third party integrator for applications like KPG’s RealTimeProof by licensing the technology and fully integrating it with their own code. Clients are offered monthly, quarterly or yearly contracts or can choose to pay a base fee plus a per user charge.

The company offers services in three different areas: brand and marketing product launch activities; digital asset management; and specification management on a global basis. When proofing is required, RealTimeProof is the method of choice although Paxonix can also offer KPG’s Matchprint Virtual if the client requires it.

“Artwork approval is the objective,” Caldwell says. “RealTimeProof offers a visually accurate representation of images. Packaging companies want to get rid of hard copy proofs in use.”

“Eliminating the shipping costs actually allows customers to integrate proofing earlier in the workflow,” adds John Horton, Paxonix director of R&D. “That way if designers start using out of gamut color or excessive spot colors, it’s caught earlier. It means getting to ‘color accurate’ earlier.”

Both men assert that it’s been well demonstrated that if a monitor is calibrated, it’s possible to do “contract quality” proofing without hard copy output. In addition, Horton says that contract level monitor proofing is much less complicated to manage than inkjet-based remote digital proofing.

“With inkjet, you have to make sure the printer is calibrated and in good mechanical condition. It’s easier to calibrate a monitor. You also have to consider the inks, varying substrates, and the environment. It takes a solid craftsman,” he says.

 

Additional Soft and Hard Solutions
DiALOGUE v3.0 from DALiM Software (www.dalim.com) is a standalone application running on the Macintosh OS X operating system that enables remote and collaborative viewing and soft proofing of high-resolution files in real time via the Internet. It is designed to be compatible with a number of automated workflows (including a number from DALiM) and uses data-streaming technology to standard Web browsers.There is no need for client software or browser plug-ins and it will run under all current client operating systems.

Matchprint Virtual Proofing System is a contract proofing solution from KPG (www.kpgraphics.com). Unlike the standalone KPG RealTimeProof solutions, this offering includes approved LCD monitors, a calibrator and calibration application, the RealTimeProof suite of Web-based collaborative proofing tools, custom ICC profiles, and more.

GMG (www.gmgcolor.com) offers FlexoProof, which generates contract-quality halftone proofs from the same 1-bit data used by the film or platesetter RIP. Introduced in May of last year, the application is specifically designed to proof packaging jobs digitally. While technically not a virtual proofer, it is a unique remote solution in that it is directed to packaging, and includes the useful GMG SpotColor and the Pantone Library.With GMG FlexoProof, color opacity and print sequences can be specified as needed, and substrate color and structure can be reproduced with the “substrate simulation” capacity.

 

Online pioneer: ICS
New York’s Integrated Color Solutions has passed its second anniversary and recently released Remote Director 3.0, a PC/MAC monitor-based remote proofing application designed for contract proofing. John Sweeney, ICS vice president sales & marketing, notes that earliest adopters have been in the publishing industry but that packagers are the next logical vertical market. “It’s all about cycle time reduction,” Sweeney says. “With the widespread adoption of ICC color management and the low cost and quality of monitors, the file can be the proof. Remote Director is a real breakthrough in remote proofing. Customers can use any off the shelf SWOP-certified monitor and a Gretag or X-RITE color-measuring device and put together a system for under $2,500. You can’t put an inkjet system together for that, and then you still have to consider consumables. A paper proof is the last analog step in an otherwise all digital process.”

Like Paxonix, ICS uses an ASP model. Customers download the software for free and are charged a transaction fee per proof that includes archiving. The number of users is unlimited. Sweeney notes that the software can also color manage and drive output devices so that people can still “have the best of both worlds.” In addition, Remote Director is enabled to work with ICS’s PressOK scanner option. The PressOK scanner digitizes press sheets up to 27" x 38" and transmits them over the Internet to designated monitors in a Remote Director proofing session. That means Brandimation’s Ziegler’s vision of remote press proofing has become reality.
 

In addition, ICS is about to go into beta testing with Remote Director Flash Proof, a software plug-in that enables users to manipulate an online proof to view the interaction between substrate, coatings, and light onscreen. It allows users to tilt images back and forth on screen, in the same way one physically tilts a hard proof to view its gloss or sheen. That, Sweeney says, will let viewers accurately see how light reacts or reflects off specialty varnishes, inks, and metallic surfaces. The product is scheduled to be commercially available late this year.

“Contract monitor-based proofing acceptance is not a technology issue,” Sweeney concludes. “Its widespread adoption is held up by cultural and personal preferences.” Says Paxonix’s Caldwell: “The challenge is getting people comfortable and believing that they can count on the monitor. Time is taking care of it, and early adopters are benefiting today.”

Note that while some proofing vendors break monitor-based proofing into two categories—soft and virtual—this article uses those words interchangeably. Soft: Meaning a representation of the file for comment, collaboration, color intent, and content approval but not a contract proof Virtual: Monitor-based contract proof If a system is not intended as a contract proof, that will be indicated.