Flesh tones why attention to detail in engravings for preprint matters to you

In case you missed it, the printing industry has undergone a major evolution. Over the last twenty years or so, the billboards have crept in from the highways and byways to the aisles of the local store. These days, instead of having a salesperson greet you during your shopping experience, you’re met with a charming display at each turn. Every aisle from diapers to cosmetics has a fresh face on the box, inviting you to try the product inside. To rival this display evolution, color technology has had to become much more sophisticated, especially when it comes to flesh tones.

While critically important in point-of-purchase sales, flesh tones are also notoriously difficult to perfect for many printers. There are various reasons for this, but I think that two of them stand flesh tones out above the crowd: expectations and expectations. I say that as a bit of a joke, but it’s true because there are two different angles here: the expectations of the printer and those of the customer.

On the customer side, the expectations are higher than those of many other printed images. When compared to more abstract depictions, flesh tones can be extremely unforgiving. I think it’s because the first thing we notice on this type of packaging is the face, and we all know what a human face should look like. In other words, it’s going to be painfully obvious when these colors aren’t perfect.

For the printer, on the other hand, the expectation is that this will be a difficult process because there is no possibility for dirty print or bridging dots to hide in a flesh tone. For example, if you have magenta dots bridging, it’s going to look like the model on the box has acne; not so great for cosmetics. If you have a yellow variation, suddenly the healthy baby on the diaper box looks jaundiced.

It’s intimidating for printers to know there is such a tiny window of latitude in color deviation. The subtle shifts in color from the highlights to the shadows must be very clean and precise for any flesh tone. To put it another way, colors must be in perfect harmony to achieve the skin tone that the customer needs on their product packaging.

With that said, it doesn’t have to be an impossible task to consistently achieve flesh tones in print. Expectations on both ends can be met in a positive way when the printing process is set up for success.

But what does that look like in regards to engraving? The first thing to look at is the anilox roll and ink film thickness (IFT). Any changes or deviations of the IFT between the process colors will change the gray balance and shift the skin tone. Because the anilox roll plays such a critical part in delivering a consistent IFT, it is in your best interest to treat your anilox with great attention and care.

Here’s a good way to think about your anilox: it is essentially like the tone adjustment on your television. The more ink that your anilox is delivering shifts your color one direction or another. As printers, our job is to keep that tone adjustment right in the center – every day, all the time. That’s what the anilox does. It’s the tone bar on your television setting, if it’s more green or red, our eyes pick up on that immediately. Consistency in maintenance and cleaning mean that your anilox can do its job. Without these things, your IFT will be off. It’s a fact, and the biggest problem we see.

The first step in making sure that your anilox is up to par for your engravings actually has little to do with the anilox itself: you need to know what you’re printing on. Understanding the printing characteristics of your substrate is very important when it comes to selecting the right anilox for your print needs. The next undertaking is to access the graphic parameters, or process the line count separation. Running a banded roll test should be the third course of action. This determines the cell count and volume level that provides the best combination of solid ink density and minimum dot reproduction; it also helps to develop dot gain curves. The final step is to run a four color (or seven for E.G.) haracterization to distinguish the color space.

After these four steps have been put into motion, my final suggestion is to get your suppliers involved in this process. I would recommend having the plate and pre-press supplier, anilox supplier, and your ink supplier heavily engaged. Set up a planning meeting to establish expectations, run conditions, and variables. Ideally everyone would also be available during the initial press run to answer any of the questions regarding product performance and press run variables that will undoubtedly arise.

By following the steps outlined here, perfecting flesh tones in print will become a much more achievable task for any printer. Customer expectations will be met consistently – with the proper maintenance and guidance from experienced sources. Color has evolved in our industry, but we have the choice to evolve with it. If you’d like more information regarding the process outlined here, I can be reached at shane.weber@binghamflexoservices.com.

Author :Shane Weber

Questions or comments?
404.691.1700 ext 105 or Email: katie.graham@pamarco.com


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If you’d like to find out more about Pamarco, how to properly maintain and extend the life of your anilox roll, or to learn more about any of the topics covered here, you can contact me at katie.graham@pamarco.com.