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Defining details

01/10/20

The Global Flexo Innovation Awards recognize and reward flexo print that breaks new ground. For awards judge Kai Lankinen, that means work that’s kind to the environment. Here Kai shares how a PhD study in flexo taught him what to look out for...

The Global Flexo Innovation Awards are the perfect place to witness, and even influence, the current state of the art in flexo printing. This is my first involvement in a competition as a judge, and I’m excited.

Over the last 15-20 years, together with our team and clients, we have entered – and won – many awards, and that experience has taught me something important: that the devil lies in the details. The details are what makes the difference to a print job. So as a judge it will be really important for me to understand the finer points of each entry, and why things were done the way they were.

“Every time I see someone talking sustainability, and producing more with less in flexo, it warms my heart.”

The first thing I’ll be looking for is the registration. Anyone dealing with excellent multicolour registration, with smaller and more challenging text and lines, gets extra credit from me. I’ll be looking closely at horizontal fades, which can be a challenge in flexo, and for detailed and realistic photoshopping. Having worked in prepress for 20 years, I need to see that sharpness, that the work has been done well, and that the different parts of the images lay perfectly together.

Doing more with less

The other big thing I’ll be looking for is sustainability. I’d like to see jobs being executed in process printing, to avoid the use of spot colors. The ideal is to reduce the number of colors and still produce the maximum gamut, color vibrancy and contrast in the packaging.

Every time I see someone talking sustainability, and producing more with less in flexo, it warms my heart. I did my doctoral thesis on Expanded Gamut Printing recently, and found that it offers serious ecological benefits. But I can remember running Google searches three years ago and still not finding anything connecting flexo print and sustainability. So, it makes me very happy now to see the industry has started raising this issue.

Anyone who can avoid using spot colors, and get the same results from process printing, will get my backing. It’s the same if they’re using gang print runs to make the printing more effective and flexible. I’m very interested in the story behind the innovation – especially when it pertains to sustainability like this.

An industry of change

Flexo has come so far since I joined the industry. I’ve seen important advancements in anilox, inks, new presses, colour separation and plate-making. And together these developments have created a new standard of quality, efficiency and ecology.

“If the printers and brand owners collaborate closely together, they can make all printing more sustainable and ecological.”

I’d say I am an expert in evaluating print quality. But these days it’s difficult to see the difference in print quality between flexo and gravure quality, even for an expert. That is, as long as the printer in question has invested in the latest technology – because any chain will only be as strong as its weakest link.

Flexo’s future is full of possibility. There are challenges, with ever-decreasing run lengths and the increasing number of SKUs, but with innovations such as process printing and gang-run printing, it becomes easier and more economical to produce these shorter lengths, with greater flexibility. It just requires will, and if the printers and brand owners collaborate closely together, they can make all printing more sustainable and ecological.

Whenever someone brings something new to the market it’s good—because it keeps raising the quality of flexo overall. That’s what drives me: discovering, seeing and making new improvements to flexo. I’ve always said I’ll be leaving the industry when this stops and it gets boring. But I know that it won’t.

Kai Lankinen is executive partner and co-owner of prepress house Marvaco. Find out more about the awards’ independent judging panel