Ahead in the cloud: PantoneLIVE revolutionises brand colour management

28 April 2013 (Last Updated April 28th, 2013 18:30)

Standardising brand colour integrity on all substrates for all printing processes, across the entire workflow, from design concept to retail store shelves, has long been the Holy Grail for the packaging sector – now the PantoneLIVE programme may finally have made it a reality. Julian Turner talks to a trio of industry experts about the challenge of delivering and managing colour DNA in the cloud.

Ahead in the cloud: PantoneLIVE revolutionises brand colour management

PantoneLIVE

Sonia Megert is vice-president, Pantone Digital Business Unit, at X-Rite, where her responsibilities include transitioning Pantone to a digital business model. Paul Bates is UK and Ireland business manager for Esko, covering software and hardware sales, customer support and marketing. Dan Pulling is Esko's EMEA business development manager HD Flexo & Colour. He has more than 25 years' experience in packaging prepress, colour management and print quality.

Julian Turner: Please describe PantoneLIVE and the major benefits it offers to brand owners and other stakeholders in the packaging supply chain.

Sonia Megert: PantoneLIVE is a communication tool, a universal language that helps communicate the colour of a particular brand across the entire packaging supply chain. It works by storing spectral colour data in the cloud, information that is either related to a brand or an extension of the traditional analogue Pantone matching system (PMS) in a digital format.

One of the main problems we are trying to solve is that everyone has their own version of a colour standard. The main benefit of PantoneLIVE is that if everyone in the supply chain connects to the cloud, then everyone is going to speak the same colour language - and avoid inconsistency, misunderstandings and repeating jobs.

Paul Bates: Brand owners are looking for anything that can reduce disruption to new product releases. The closer you get to this delivery time, when the product turns up in the stores, the more expensive colour correction is; it's all about cost reduction.

One of the bugbears of the packaging supply chain is that colour perception is different all the way down the line. The beauty of PantoneLIVE is if the designer and the brand owner are on-board from the start, everyone's perception of what's going to be delivered at the end should be correct.

JT: How do brand colours vary at different points in the supply chain?

Dan Pulling: Frequently, when people talk about colour they don't really communicate exactly what they want. The process employed to produce a colour and the substrate that is used have a big effect on the colour that can be achieved.

The other challenge is that designers create graphics for a piece of packaging in many different ways. They might use an Adobe product and create that colour in RGB, but then there are many different ways of translating that into the actual printing ink. It leaves too much room for interpretation and that's what we want to do away with.

JT: Where did the impetus / inspiration first come from to develop PantoneLIVE?

"Brand owners are looking for anything that can reduce disruption to new product releases."

SM: Designers today use Swatch Books, such as the Pantone Matching System, and it was quite clear to X-Rite that as digital technology improved we needed to augment the system with a digital approach. We met with Esko and Sun Chemical, both of whom had a similar vision of where the market needed to go. It takes more than one company to pave the way for a better future - these powerful partnerships will really change the way that the industry is working.

PB: It really starts with the brand owners, they are the gatekeepers of the whole project. Take KitKat, for example. KitKat packaging is printed on different substrates using gravure, flexo, litho and digital presses, but that red has to be KitKat red on every material - unfortunately, today, it's probably not. The variation in the colour is too high.

We can get that colour closer and if there's a problem with a certain colour not being acceptable, we can red flag that sooner for designers and brand owners.

JT: What has been the reaction to PantoneLIVE from the packaging industry?

DP: Chesapeake, a UK pharmaceutical and healthcare packaging company, has had tremendous success using PantoneLIVE, achieving a huge decrease in colour variation of about 75% and a reduction in the make-ready time on prints of 33%.

"The process employed to produce a colour and the substrate that is used have a big effect on the colour that can be achieved."

PB: Chesapeake has also reduced its ink itinerary by more than half - that's a huge cost saving. The company used to stock a lot of inks, and would mix them to try and get certain colours. Now, by controlling the colour properly, it has reduced that phenomenally.

Colour is a science and we refer to PantoneLIVE as the DNA of colour; that is the best description of it. Now it's a case of rolling it out to the brand owners. It is a dream and it takes a while, but it is gradually coming true.

SM: The reaction to the brand has been overwhelmingly positive. In addition to publicised clients Tetrapak and Heinz, Windmoeller & Hoelscher, the world's largest manufacturer of flexographic printing machines, will support PantoneLIVE within their new system, which is due to go live in September. You will hear some very interesting announcements over the next few months, many of them impacting the UK market.

JT: How does PantoneLIVE address cloud security concerns such as counterfeiting?

SM: We were very much aware that security and protecting brand integrity had to be a part of this cloud-based solution. Firstly, each data record is protected using digital rights management (DRM). Unless you have an appropriate key in your software, you will not be able to use the data for the entirety of the record.

Second, if a supplier subscribes to PantoneLIVE, he / she will automatically be granted access to what we call the generic Pantone data, but they will not be able to access the brand-specific information unless authorised by that brand. There is a complex authorisation mechanism running in the background that dictates who can or cannot have access, and how.

JT: What benefits does PantoneLIVE offer specific packaging stakeholders, such as designers, prepress professionals, printers and converters?

"We were very much aware that security and protecting brand integrity had to be a part of this cloud-based solution."

SM: What PantoneLIVE offers designers is predictability and repeatability of colour results, faster colour approval and that the original design intent is carried through the entire supply chain.

However, the biggest savings come for converters. Chesapeake used to produce ink-on-paper proofs; PantoneLIVE has completely removed the need to do this. The company now uses digital proofs and the customer is guaranteed that what will be printed is exactly aligned with those proofs.

DP: One of the biggest challenges for prepress companies is that when a file is delivered they have to try and determine how those colours will look when they are printed by different printers using a certain process and on a certain substrate. With PantoneLIVE, already embedded in that file is a reference to the exact colour information they need. They can then download the right information, make the proof and show their customer how it's going to look. It takes away a lot of the guesswork.

JT: How does PantoneLIVE help brand owners predict how corporate colour spots will reproduce on different substrates?

DP: In PantoneLIVE, we have a master colour standard - for example, Heinz blue - and then next to that we have what are known as dependent standards, since Heinz blue is going to be used on many different types of materials.

"Chesapeake, a UK pharmaceutical and healthcare packaging company, has had tremendous success using PantoneLIVE."

First, it must be reproduced on a can label and those six cans are bound together in shrink film, some films being produced using gravure, others flexo. Then, you have the carton board that holds the cans. What we want to make visible to everyone involved is how that master colour is going to look on all these different substrates with different print processes.

The idea is always to match the dependent standard as close as possible to the master, but there are cases where the specific requirements for a piece of packaging make that virtually impossible. Imagine you are creating a bag for frozen food and that bag needs to be stored at -15°C. That requires a special kind of ink, so maybe that might introduce a little more variation between a certain dependent standard and the master standard.

Typically, the variation is very small, but what we see with PantoneLIVE is that people at least up front have an idea what they can expect at the end of the process - and that's critical.


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