Printweek, Me and My Alwan


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Printweek, Me and My Alwan

“Consistency was lacking from device to device, process to process, month to month, year to year,” says managing director Bill Hine. “We weren’t the only ones, other label printers were telling us that they also had issues with consistency with presses and front-ends similar to the ones we had.”
The biggest problem was that the two digital presses were from different suppliers and used different print processes, he says. “Everyone bundles colour management for their own machines and so off you go with it and it really works, but only for that machine. If you want to match one make of engine to another make, you don’t get a lot of help from the suppliers. So we went to an independent colour management supplier.”
Dantex Graphics, which supplied the Screen inkjet to Hine, recommended Colour Engine, a specialist technical consultancy and colour management integrator. Directors Mark Anderton and Malcolm McKenzie assessed Hine’s needs and recommended the Alwan Color Suite of software. The main elements used are ColorHub, the main colour server that transforms PDFs, and PrintVerifier, which checks that the printed output conforms to the desired standard.
Hine Labels is a trade-only label producer, offering flexo, digital and hot- and cold-foiling services. It has five flexo presses for conventional label work, encompassing a mix of Nilpeter and MPS presses of different specs and ink types, both water-based and UV.
Its Xeikon 3300 was originally a 3030 model installed in 2009, then field-upgraded to 3300 standard in 2014, which doubled its speed to 19.2m/min. Hine says the results remain good, but maintaining consistency has been tricky – temperature and humidity can alter print characteristics, but so can the different replacement cycles of the various consumables that age at different rates – developer, drums, corona wires and so on.
He says the Screen inkjet press is more consistent over time and is particularly impressed with the wide-gamut UV inks, but it was necessary to be able to match results with the Xeikon and with the flexo presses for short-run repeat orders, as well as to ensure consistency on different label stocks.
The first Screen inkjet has proved so successful that a second one is on order for installation in March. This will be a Truepress Jet L350 UV+ LM model with food-safe low-migration inks, nitrogen purge and five colours.

How does it work?

Alwan ColorHub is a colour management server that generates dynamic device link profiles and applies them to PDF job files. It can work with any print process to match results over time as well as between different printers. It’s compatible with ISO 12647 and the US G7 standards as well as the Fogra 39L standard used by Hine.

PDFs are dropped into a folder with a particular setting for each press, media and ink combination, triggering automatic colour conversion.

“ColorHub intelligently optimises files, resulting in a step-up in the quality of colour and the sharpness of images,” Hine says. “Spot colours, whether printed on digital or flexo presses, are excellent and substantially above commercial standard.”

While the spot colours are printed as individual inks on the flexo presses, they have to be achieved from the wide gamut CMYK of the digital presses. “Greys are also massively improved, saving us valuable production time,” Hine adds. “Before the ColorHub installation, printing greys was always particularly tricky and could result in last-minute fiddling on the press.”

ColorHub analyses the PDF to identify all elements, their colour description and colour spaces (including spot colours). Each object is optimised for area coverage and ink consumption, and separated to the target colour space. Then Dynamic DeviceLinks are generated individually for each PDF, using a press/ink/media output profile set up by Colour Engine.

The eight-level GCR and Dynamic Maximum Black technology can save up to 10% of ink used, according to Alwan. Hine says it’s certainly delivering savings: “UV ink is expensive and ColorHub has helped us to significantly reduce the amount we use,” he says.

The main pre-press workflow is an Esko Automation Engine system that processes customer PDF files for the flexo platesetter as well both the digital presses. Originally the operators would export PDFs manually to a target hot folder for the Alwan ColorHub depending on which digital press was being used. In recent weeks Hine Labels has installed a Cern MIS, which automatically directs files around the system. Colour Engine helped to integrate the ColorHub into this. The Cern system will now command the Esko to output automatically to the appropriate ColorHub hot folder, and afterwards the colour-managed PDF will be returned to the Esko workflow automatically.

Alwan PrintVerifier is also used daily to analyse test charts from the digital presses (read by a low cost X-Rite i1Pro 2 spectrophotometer). This checks that the print is within a pre-set spec range.

The Alwan technology can compare colours from flexo presses or customer samples and predict how accurate the spot-to-process conversion will be on the target digital press and media. Customer service reps can call this up on-screen and read off the predicted Delta E difference. The digital presses can also make their own proofs on real label media, rather than using a separate proofing inkjet on paper.

“Before Colour Engine came in we had limited knowledge of colour management and we needed training for concepts, process and hands-on work such as taking measurements,” says Hine. “Colour Engine training was a success – they were knowledgeable and tailored the training to each of our teams, addressing their questions one by one.

“It took some time for staff to become familiar with new ways of working, but knowledge of colour management has improved throughout the business. Now questions arising are handled by Ryan Grayson, our production engineer, supported by Colour Engine who can log in remotely if there is a problem.”

How has it been in practice?

Alwan makes life easier, Grayson says: “Sometimes trade clients are not clear how to define the colour they want, other than saying ‘the same colour as last time,’ or sometimes they don’t remember what colour they asked for,” he says. “We also experience jobs coming in with multiple definitions of the same colour. The Alwan software is handy for helping us sort out or work around colour issues, again giving us better consistency of colour.

“Colour Engine helped us set up a simple QA strategy. We run a test job on different substrates regularly to see if the colour matches in-house reference printed samples. If there is a visual match, all is good and if not, remedial action is taken.

“We’re currently running 30 to 50 jobs per day with each job having typically four to five sorts going through the ColorHub server. The re-prints from year to year are now bang-on for colour.”

So, would Hine go the same route again? Certainly for the next inkjet, he says: “When we purchase our next press we will not purchase the manufacturer’s own colour management. ColorHub already supports all the digital presses, RIPs and workflows we need.”

Grayson agree: “We would certainly recommend Alwan software and Colour Engine’s Services, without hesitation. It just sits there, does its job and we don’t have to worry about it.”