12 February 2021

THE HIGH-TECH PACK FRONT: HOW DIGITALLY DRIVEN PROCESSES IMPROVE COLOUR CONSISTENCY AND CUSTOMER EXPERIENCES

Gary Moore, Group Colour Manager looks at the importance of colour consistency and the technology Equator is using to ensure quality

Colour is a cornerstone of any brand. That’s why brands will go to great lengths to determine the exact right shade to represent their company’s ethos and personality, knowing it will factor in every product across its line. Brands conduct extensive research into colour trends and colour perception. Entire marketing strategies can be hinged on a particular shade. But imagine putting all of that investment into colour only to see the wrong shade mistakenly appear on the pack front…

Colour consistency is critical. But delivering consistent colour means making the exact right match every time – no matter the number of players involved in the branding, design and production process, or the substrate used in the packaging.

Pantone is a leading colour system still used to specify and manage colour across print and digital media. Effective colour management takes Pantone colours and delivers consistency across printers and systems.

As the number of players, printers and systems has steadily increased, companies have invested much time and energy in developing solutions which streamline the colour correction process and help brands to nail colour consistency on every package, every time. In our digitally-driven world, it should come as no surprise that the ways people communicate and manage colour are becoming more digitally driven.

Pre-print and on press are where most of this heavy lifting in colour management takes place. Photographers, designers, retouchers, printers, each using a monitor calibrated differently, could be a contributor in creating an inconsistent colour outcome. But human error aside, monitors and printers have their own colour idiosyncrasies, making it impossible to achieve a perfect match.

However, with the use of converted colour data on each device, accessed via a common colour space, it is possible to ensure that colours match very, very closely. To accomplish this, Equator uses a colour plugin called the GMG ColorPlugin to colour manage image content on its packaging along with GMG ColorServer for the colour management of artwork, both working hand in hand with supplied printer colour profiles and final proof output. Both solutions have wide-ranging advantages, such as showing harmonious colour gradients and neutral grey areas, as well as bringing greater detail to shadows.

High-tech colour management solutions such as these ensure that the communication between front-end and back-end processes runs smoothly, in turn helping to reduce the costs and time associated with reprints. Ultimately these programs help us to achieve our overall aim of exceeding client expectations in terms of quality and speed.

We’ve worked as a trusted partner with big-box retailers and sub-brands for years. These brands know us and trust us to deliver consistent outcomes at scale. All customers are continually looking for faster time to market, and since the onset of the pandemic this need for speed has only increased. Rapid shifts in consumer demand and behaviour are putting brands’ responsiveness to the test, and high-tech colour management is one way that we ensure new product launches are free of hindrances, and products make it to shelf as quickly as possible.

In fact, technology isn’t just delivering on the packaging consumers can see, it’s also delivering a smoother checkout experience and more efficient post-consumer recycling thanks to packaging they can’t see. With 88% of U.S. adults wanting a faster checkout experience and nearly half avoiding self-checkout due to barcode scanning difficulties, adding an invisible digital watermark as an additional step in the pre-print process makes perfect sense for retailers.

The digital barcode, being invisible, is extended over the entire label surface in a way that does not interfere with design. Our agency has partnered with Digimarc, an Oregon-based leader in digital watermarking. The company is intent on revolutionising plastics recycling through its HolyGrail 2.0 project and is working closely with major players in private brand retail to help them prepare for a future of faster checkout times and recycling eased by “smart sorting”.

The integration of digital watermarking into our existing end-to-end service is seamless. This step is simply added to the post-print process handled by our bespoke Print Quality Management program, LivePrint2.

Equator uses LivePrint2 to coordinate between all players, so that Equator designers and any external players can upload designs and metadata. This program ensures printers offer clear and consistent results for their retail and national brand partners and most importantly, Equator’s designs get the best results on shelf.

But this isn’t the end of the digital story. Since lighting, freezer doors and other environmental POS components can alter the look and feel of packaging, we’ve also developed a PQM tool that works post-production. Our LivePrint2 app is used onsite to measure colour, varnish, resolution and overall quality of the packaging – and is simple to download and use, meaning there’s no training involved and anyone from Equator or from the retailer’s local supermarket staff can become front-line colour-checkers.

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