“Soaring” Growth for Flexographic PrintingPhotos Courtesy Carey Color Inc.
GCR Image Conversions, Laser Engraved
Elastomer Sleeves & ECG Printing Achieve
Heights Once Reserved for Gravure
The rotogravure process has been known for its ability
to deftly print fine art and photography, and for its
unmatched durability in long printruns. But rotogravure
continues to be among the most expensive printing processes
in our industry today; requiring hundreds of thousands of
impressions to be profitable. There is an alternative. You can
now achieve the quality and nearly equal the run length of
rotogravure for a fraction of the cost by using laser ablated
For shorter printruns that didn’t require quite the quality of
rotogravure, flexographic plates became an alternative, but
until recently, there was no clear cut alternative that rivaled
high-end rotogravure for print quality and longevity. Flat top
dot and high definition (HD) screening have helped bridge the
gap for flat plates; but flat plates still fall short when it comes
to longevity, registration ability, and razor sharp text. Now,
flexographic printing using laser engraved elastomer sleeves
offers all of these abilities.
Laser engraved elastomer sleeves can be leveraged along
with technologies like gray component replacement and
expanded gamut to offer a high quality, reproducible printing
product that is only rivaled by rotogravure.
Elastomer sleeves approach the run lengths of rotogravure
cylinders at a fraction of the cost. They are also extremely
efficient for short runs because of ease of mounting and
impeccable registration – leading to faster makereadies.
For a printer, they can make the difference between profit
and loss. For designers, this means you can change printing
processes, but do not have to change your designs to convert
them from rotogravure to flexography.
Subsurface imaging allows control of graphics and text.
Printers can now combine halftoning and line work into one
print unit. Engraved flexographic sleeves can hold below 1
percent minimum dot: allowing fuller range throughout the
highlight dot for vivid artwork and photorealistic images. This
is done with minimal size highlight dots, microns below the
surface. Only laser engraving allows control of the imaging
of the dot—from the floor, to the shoulder, to the surface, to
reduce surface tension and to control dot gain.
The traditional CMYK process limits today’s “jump offthe-
shelf” graphics intended to attract consumers in a few seconds. Most high-end packaging is now designed for
8-to-10 colors, utilizing CMYK and an ever changing variety of
Pantone colors, specific to design families, brands, and logos.
Expanded Gamut standardizes the printing process to
CMYK + 3 Pantone colors, such as orange, green, and violet,
to achieve difficult colors not in the CMYK printing color
gamut. This eliminates the need to constantly swap Pantone
color ink formulations on press. By standardizing the same
seven colors, printers can purchase ink in bulk and produce
the majority of the color spectrum needed. This drastically
reduces press setup times, which will, in turn, reduce costs.
Software like Esko’s Equinox has extremely simplified the
conversion process for trade houses and printers to achieve
consistent great results. This lessens the need for graphic
designers to change how they are currently working. Experienced
separators can convert most existing designs on the
fly. Utilizing the proper ink set and quality conversion software
is the key to increasing the color spectrum, maintaining consistency,
and reducing makeready costs.
When using expanded gamut, reverse copy that was once
a single spot color may now be made up of two-to-three
colors to achieve the same PMS match. There’s now the issue
of holding reverse copy registration in these areas that wasn’t
an issue with a one color PMS spot. This is a challenge for flat
plates, especially when talking about press widths averaging
50-in. and more. Tight tolerances in registration with elastomer
sleeves allow printers to hold offset like traps as low as
.003-in., which has become critically important for these multicolor
GRAY COMPONENT REPLACEMENT
One of the best ways to maximize the effectiveness of
expanded gamut is to partner it with advanced separation
technologies, like gray component replacement (GCR).
GCR is the conversions of full range colors, limited to hue
and saturation, as opposed to creating hue, saturation and
lightness. The lightening and darkening aspect of the color is
removed from the range and added into the black for neutrality,
consistency, and control.
Think of colors as white and black colors. White colors are
lighter printing and are only adding neutrality and shading,
like the cyan in a red apple. Black colors are the heavy printing
color, adding saturation and hue richness, like the magenta
and yellow in the red apple. In another color example, like
a green tree, the magenta would be the white color adding
only neutrality and shading and the yellow and cyan would be
the black colors, printing heavy and creating the saturation
and hue richness.
GCR is the removal of most, if not all of this white/gray color,
from each color and then seamlessly adding it back into a full range black, maintaining the shape and depth of the original.
This process opens the window of latitude immensely for the
press operator to achieve color without compromise.
Because of the advantages and complexity of GCR, it is
important to partner with a company that is experienced in
By using techniques like GCR, cost savings and quality
improvements are achieved simultaneously. Also, with files
converted to GCR; pressmen now have fewer issues with neutrals
varying on press. Neutrals that were once three colors,
are now mostly black. With less ink behind grays, you’ll experience
much less variation in color overall as environments
change throughout your pressrun. Hue changing neutrals are
a thing of the past.
In the current “just in time” marketplace – longer pressruns
with large inventories are becoming less practical. Because
there is now an alternative to rotogravure with a substantial
cost savings, designers have more opportunity to change
their graphics as customer tastes change.
The decreased cost and increased flexibility of laser engraved
elastomer sleeves allows designers to match printed
designs to ever-changing marketing needs. Designers can
keep the look of their product fresh and original, and more
easily incorporate seasonal, promotional, and specialty run
instead of having to re-use last year’s designs.
Because of the high cost of rotogravure, many have
outsourced their printing to Asia. The advantages and cost
savings of flexo when using laser engraved elastomer sleeves
are allowing North American printers to reclaim work they
once thought lost. Moving work back to North America helps
customers speed up print cycles and have more control over
how their jobs are printed.
Sleeves are also leading the way toward a greener printing
process. Rotogravure often uses very corrosive and environmentally
unfriendly etching chemicals and solvent inks. The
ability to customize the elastomer compound means that more
environmentally friendly inks can be used. Additionally, the laser
ablation of elastomer sleeves avoids the pollution involved
with the corrosive rotogravure etching process. Standardizing
ink sets with expanded gamut also reduces ink waste.
The most exciting changes in the printing industry are happening
in flexography. Laser engraved elastomer sleeves apply
the newest and most cutting edge technologies to achieve
print quality once reserved only for rotogravure. Flexography
can do it for less. Flexography can do it sustainably. And, as
an alternative to out-sourced rotogravure, flexography can
help keep North American printers in business.
About the Author: Girard Moravcik has been owner, CEO
and president of Carey Color Inc. since 1995. In that time,
Gary, who started out as a color manager in 1980, has been
at the forefront of innovation in color and printing. In 2008
he developed and patented “Stealth Screening” for the dry
offset industry to revolutionize “in-the-round” printing. He now
brings his expertise to the world of flexography where he is
consulted by printers and manufacturers around the world.
Gary has shepherded Carey Color from a small trade shop to
a fully diversified digital imaging company. Headquartered
in Sharon Center, OH, with locations in Illinois, Wisconsin, and
the UK; Carey employs more than 70 experienced prepress
craftsmen, and specializes in premedia, catalogs, commercial
photography, offset platemaking,
and manufacturing laser engraved
plates and sleeves for dry offset, flexo,
emboss, and Intaglio printing. For
more information regarding elastomer
sleeves; please contact Carey Color
Inc. at 800-555-3142 or visit www.