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Rising to the challenge

09/11/20

We’re building up towards our judging panel starting to review entries for the Global Flexo Innovation Awards. Here judge Laurel Brunner, of graphic arts research company Digital Dots, explains why she’s looking for something more in the award entries…

The Miraclon Global Flexo Innovation Awards are one of the few truly global graphics industry prizes. It’s a considerable honor to be involved, but it’s a bigger ask too because these awards are also one of the most difficult to judge.

Unlike so many prizes, the Miraclon Global Flexo Innovation Awards assume top quality production values for all entries. Submissions are expected to hit very high standards, so images will be perfect in terms of sharpness, color rendering, lightness and contrast. Tonal transitions will be smooth, text sharp, colors consistent, and there will be absolutely no ghosting. The judges must therefore look for something more when considering the entries.

Showing the impact

Fortunately, you have guidance for submissions. In one way, the awards are simple, in that there are no separate subcategories for different packaging or print formats. But this also means there’s a challenge to standout because prizes are given according to how well an entry meets each of these categories.

And these are not mutually exclusive categories, so evaluations of each entry will have to take into account other factors, mostly related to how the project was run and how the business operates.”

The criteria include showstopping creativity in graphic design; wholesale conversion from other print processes, such as gravure or offset litho; print production workflow efficiency, and a commitment to sustainable print. And these are not mutually exclusive categories, so evaluations of each entry will have to take into account other factors, mostly related to how the project was run and how the business operates. Besides the print samples, judges will consider operations such as customer engagement, budgets, turnaround times and so on.

These awards recognize excellence, but they also demonstrate the impact of innovation on established practices. In the case of flexography, thanks to material advances flexo is expanding its market share. The combination of flexibility, production quality, speed, economics and reduced complexity is helping flexo printers capture business from gravure printing and offset printing competitors.

Flexo is finding favor for a growing range of printing applications such as newspaper printing and commercial projects, many of which tread on the toes of offset and gravure. This is thanks in no small part to new production systems in prepress such as Kodak Flexcel NX.

Searching for sustainability gains

The Miraclon Global Flexo Innovation Awards judges will be looking beyond quality when considering each submission. I am especially interested in what makes each entry unique, what creative insights we can gain to improve appreciation of what works or doesn’t work in production. I am also interested in how companies are working with new substrates. The overall sustainability of a project and of the print, will be high on my agenda.

These awards celebrate flexo’s strengths, such as speed of throughput and the considerable cost reductions. However, for any printing method these key benefits can only be achieved with tight process control, from ink and substrates management through to machine set-up and control.

“If a project has challenged customer expectations with new ideas, new approaches to process management and creative use of technologies, so much the better.”

Project and workflow management should ideally be fully automated and reach deep into customer workflows for absolute quality assurance. Minimizing errors cuts waste, and an efficient production workflow keeps energy requirements to a minimum.

If a project has challenged customer expectations with new ideas, new approaches to process management and creative use of technologies, so much the better. The project’s impact on end users and the planet, including waste control and recycling, are all part of this.

Pushing boundaries

The Global Flexo Innovation Awards provide a snapshot of global excellence in flexo printing. This is immensely valuable for entrants, judges and industry peers, for print buyers and for consumers.

By showcasing the best in flexography and its diverse applications, these awards demonstrate how technology pushes the boundaries for print. They show what can be achieved and how to add value. And through this, they help to keep print viable and relevant.

Journalist and consultant, Laurel Brunner is managing director of Digital Dots. Part of the independent judging panel for the awards, she regularly contributes to independent graphic arts journal Spindrift and the Verdigris print sustainability project.