Did you know?
According to recent research conducted by the Pantone Colour Institute, 60 per cent of shoppers make their selection in-store. And more than 65 per cent of all purchasing decisions involve colour. Does this resonate with you?
One thing is clear: packaging is an increasingly important component – not just for product protection but as a marketing tool and influencer at the final point at which consumers make their buying decisions at the shelf. And the process of designing, producing and distributing packaged products that meet this requirement, especially across a global supply chain, is complicated.
Today’s packaging is more than labels and cartons. Brands are using a wide variety of substrates such as plastics, metal, glass paperboard and corrugated to differentiate products on the shelf, to convey the brand identity, and get the attention of the consumer. To create all these varied types of packaging, a number of different printing technologies are used, including offset, flexo, gravure, screen, and increasingly, digital.
Achieving the right colour with the combination of different substrates and printing technologies can be challenging to manage for brand owners, especially when it comes to colour consistency. Even when the same printing technologies and inks are used, results can vary from plant to plant, or even across shifts within the same plant.
These factors can all add up to a lack of colour consistency at the shelf that can adversely affect brand image. Consumers will reach past a product whose packaging looks faded, believing it is damaged or old. Worse yet, they will turn instead to a competitor’s package whose colours are more engaging.
In this white paper, we introduce Five Keys to Brand Colour Consistency that will help you overcome these challenges and ensure colour consistency through even the most complex global supply chain. We have real-world examples where leveraging these principles has made a dramatic difference in color consistency at the shelf.
We will explain in detail the challenges associated with each and how to overcome them, to achieve Colour As You Imagined It.
The challenge of brand colour consistency
Colour is an integral element of the brand, and has been forever. Most printing technologies are mature, or in the case of digital, entering the maturity phase. Why, then, is maintaining brand colour consistency such a challenge, and often so expensive to achieve?
There are five factors that influence the ability to achieve colour consistency in packaging:
1. The need to print on a wide variety of substrates. Brands are using plastic, metal, glass and corrugated in increasingly innovative ways.
But each of these substrates has different characteristics causing colour to appear differently than first identified. Paperboard and corrugated will absorb ink while metal and glass do not absorb ink at all. Plus, substrate colours can vary widely, causing colours to appear differently, if colour is not specified properly.
2. The use of different printing processes and inks. Each printing process uses different types of ink. Some inks are water-based; others petroleum based. Even within the same printing technology—for example, offset—one producer in the supply chain may be using soy-based inks while another is using petroleum-based inks. And some digital presses don’t use ink at all, but toner instead, with a completely different colour gamut than offset or flexo printing. That can be a challenge in terms of colour consistency. Each of these can have an impact on how the final output will look. Even if all the variables are properly managed for one component – for example, a folding carton – there is more to the brand than just that one component. The challenge lies in integrating all of the colour packaging components of the brand – cartons, pouches retail-ready shelf trays, displays, signs, shipping containers – to deliver a cohesive brand experience when they come together at the point of sale.
3. Managing multiple suppliers required to meet demand. Multiple suppliers, and multiple plants within a single supplier, are two models typically used to print the large volumes of packaging that are required in a global market. Even though the plants are using the same substrates, inks, and even printing technologies, the plants of a single packaging converter or converting companies in different parts of the world struggle to deliver the level of consistency that brand owners require.
4. Using a common language to specify colour. Colour can be quite subjective. Often times colour on packaging is evaluated on press by a single individual. There are many environmental and subjective factors that come into play in this situation: lighting, the surrounding colors, the personal opinion of this one individual that’s on press that day, and ultimately everyone sees colour differently. The only way to ensure consistent color across the entire supply chain is to have clear communication of colour values at the point of specification, and in premedia, production and quality control. By using a common colour language and communicating values that are stored in a cloud-based library, everyone has access to accurate specifications that can be measured and controlled by everyone who touches colour throughout the packaging process.
5. Balancing the use of physical and digital colour standards. Physical standards, whether it is a Pantone fan deck, ink drawdown or contract proof, has an important role to play, but in most cases, digital standards (spectral values that take into account printing technology and target substrate) provide a better option for consistently communicating colour across the entire packaging supply chain. Understanding how to use each of these standards to optimise your workflow provides an efficient way to deliver consistent colour.
Solving the problem of brand colour inconsistency: bringing digital standards into the mix
Now that we know a little more about what is causing the inconsistency of brand colours, what are the next steps that you should take to help you gain better control over the process? Many leading brands are addressing these challenges by turning to digital standards and compliance programs.
As we mentioned earlier, Pantone books and guides, often referred to as physical standards are widely used in the packaging supply chain, but are most valuable in the ideation phase of development. They can serve as a visual guideline to help designers see how colour, can be utilised in the design process. These guides have also been produced to the XRGA standard, meaning they are aligned with the X-Rite Pantone eXact spectrophotometer as part of the colour workflow ecosystem. You will see in the diagram below that utilisng this physical standard process takes you midway through the colour specification continuum.
So, how do you take your organisation to the next level with digital standards? X-Rite Pantone has worked hard to make it easy for brands to adopt digital standards across a global supply chain, and further, to enable real-time monitoring and process control to ensure those digital standards are available to all of your authorised stakeholders within the color workflow. The core element to this strategy is PantoneLive, a cloud-based solution designed to digitally communicate brand colour standards.
PantoneLive eliminates the potential variability of relying solely on physical standards, reducing the reducing the possibility for subjective colour management. It enables the optimisation and consolidation of brand colours, which can then be digitised for use by everyone in your packaging supply chain.
Because PantoneLive standards are defined by you, the brand owner, these digital standards effectively communicate your expectations. PantoneLive supports a packaging workflow that meets the five keys to brand colour consistency.
Key 1: Define and digitise your colour standards
To better understand the impact of colour variability throughout the packaging supply chain, let’s take a look at something that we refer to as the error stack. The common practice for matching colours is based on an approved physical proof. Approval is done by visual evaluation, leaving it prone to inaccuracy from the start. As you can see in the diagram, while each step is within standards, the variance of the total process can result in a less than desirable result. Each step in the production line creates another copy of a copy for the next person to work with, and the colour becomes incrementally less accurate each time.
This is where the power of digital standards come in. Instead of giving each process a new copy to work with, they all need access to the original
colour data. Digital standards allow exactly that. Every member of the production line, from ink matching to printing, can reference the exact colour specified by the designer. This results in the best possible colour matching, all the way down the line.
Within PantoneLive, brand colours – and in fact, all Pantone colours – are defined as Master Standards, spectral values that are the DNA of the colour.
Using spectral data is critically important since this is the only way to communicate the individual identity of each colour. Custom colours can also be developed for inclusion in your brand’s PantoneLive library.
When any supplier in the packaging supply chain needs to use one of your brand colours, they all reference the same digital standard. Because each player is referring to the same original source for colour definitions, the error stack is greatly reduced.
Key 2: Ensure achievability by setting the right expectation
Once your master brand standards are defined and digitised, it is critical to consider how those master colours will look on the particular substrates to which it will be applied. As discussed earlier, packaging is produced on a wide variety of substrates with many different print processes.
Sometimes the Master Standard cannot be matched on a specific combination of substrate and printing process. For example, a brand colour printed on an ultra white folding carton board will not look the same when it is printed on brown corrugated, even using the same ink and printing process.
To help you overcome differences in substrate and printing process, PantoneLive also defines and communicates Dependent Standards.Dependent Standards are a representation of the Master Standard, taking into account the substrate being printed on and the printing technology that is used to print it—digital, flexo, gravure, offset..
To print on white folding carton board using an offset press, the Dependent Standard for that substrate and printing process defines the closest possible match to the Master Standard. By using agreed-upon Dependent Standards, your expectations are clear and also known to be achievable.
Now everyone can meet your requested brand colour target, regardless of substrate or printing technology that is being used to produce your packaging.
PantoneLive has 28 dependent libraries which cover about 80 per cent of packaging production needs and continues to grow. Custom dependent standards can be developed as necessary.
In addition, X-Rite Pantone colour experts are available to work with brands to rationalise existing colour libraries, including converting paper-based colour systems to an easily accessible digital library.
When transitioning to digital colour standards, one large brand we worked with was able to map its proprietary colours to Pantone colours using digital values with the result of reducing the number of colours in its library by 33 per cent. A spokesperson for the brand said, “We came to realise that with our proprietary colour library, we were essentially reinventing the work that Pantone has been doing for more than 50 years to standardise the specification and communication of colour. It seemed that every time we had a new project, we were inventing a new colour, and that was creating uncertainty across the global supply chain.”
In working with X-Rite Pantone to map custom colours to Pantone colours, this brand found three possible outcomes:
1. The custom colour and Pantone colour were a good match; substitution of the Pantone colour was approved.
2. There was no Pantone colour that matched the custom colour within the allowable Delta E and the brand manager did not want to change an equity colour. In those cases, of which there were 100, a new Pantone colour was created; 60 of these were imported into the Pantone Library to become standard Pantone colours, while 40 remained proprietary to the company.
3. The custom colour and Pantone colour did not match, but decision makers preferred the Pantone colour, and substitution of the Pantone colour was approved.
Colours were evaluated by comparing printed samples for all colours, the company’s colour books and the Pantone guides, under controlled lighting conditions.
Designers were given access to PantoneLive Visualizer, an app that allows them to virtually see how a chosen colour will appear on different substrates and under different lighting conditions, helping determine early in the process whether the design intent could be achieved on the target substrate and with the desired printing process before a single drop of ink even hits the substrate.
Key 3: Communicate Effectively
Now that you have implemented a digital library, and all suppliers in the packaging supply chain are working to the same digital standard, you have removed subjectivity as to what the desired brand colour should be.
Everyone is aligned to the same expectations, no matter how many suppliers are involved, where they are located or what they are producing.
Changes or additions to your brand colour palette are communicated instantly to everyone. There is no need to reproduce and send new physical standards to packaging suppliers – they receive updates automatically. New substrate and printing process combinations can be added to PantoneLive as needed. The use of Dependent Standards allows you to communicate the best possible match to your brand colours, on a specific substrate and with a specific printing process.
A large consumer products company that was an early adopter of PantoneLive has been able to reap its benefits, which the company
describes in the following manner:
“PantoneLive is an efficient, effective and seamless technology that saves time and money, and helps ensure design intent makes it to shelf, whether we are creating a new package design, proofing a label, mixing ink for packaging print or assessing the quality of packaging quality on press. PantoneLive is an excellent solution for simplifying how we access digital colour palettes for design, proofing and print. When fully implemented, the productivity benefits will be significant – both internally for ourselves and for our suppliers.”
Key 4: Standardisation
With PantoneLive, brand colour palettes are optimised and consolidated into a digital set of brand colour standards that everyone can meet. It provides instant access to easily identifiable areas of print quality improvement and reduces the need for costly and time-consuming press visits and approvals, as well as other aspects of a physical sample and proofing process.
PantoneLive makes it easy to check and manage compliance of suppliers across your packaging supply chain and around the world. You achieve consistent results regardless of when, where, and how your packaging is produced.
Key 5: Obtain feedback
and monitor results
Once the digital colour standards have been established, you will need a reliable way to verify that these standards are being consistently achieved.
The ColorCert Suite enables digital communication of exact colour and print requirements, producing near real-time data for each and every press run in an easy-to-understand dashboard. Job quality data is displayed as a reporting scorecard, which awards a grade or score to the job based on tolerances.
Score-carding allows brands to set clear expectations, monitor print quality on press, and see data reports instantly. As a result, both brands and converters can leverage ColorCert for a more strategic and holistic approach to colour management.
Asda, a subsidiary of WalMart, undertook such a program with a pilot project in the UK. In addition to using PantoneLive specifications, the company introduced the ColorCert Suite into its supply chain so its converter partners could monitor their own production in real time, which also gave Asda insight into production quality across suppliers.
Gaining timely and consistent information to remotely monitor the colour performance of your suppliers during the production process is another important key to success. Brands and converters are increasingly leveraging ColorCert’s ScoreCard approach for a more strategic approach to colour management, viewing colour performance holistically rather than based on
a single press sheet.
Welcome to the new world
of packaging production
While we introduced you to the value that adopting digital standards brings to the colour workflow, there are additional benefits that you can experience because of this new streamlined process.
The first and maybe most important is the reduction in time that it takes to get a concept through the approval process, and ultimately enhance your ability to get to market faster. The digital workflow enables a much faster turn-around of concepts enabling product to get on the shelf up to four times faster.
There are cost savings that can be achieved as well by instituting this new workflow. With digital colour standards, there are far less review cycles and a lower demand for the production of physical proofs. Additionally because you have confidence in the fact that the right colour is being produced, it minimises the need for travel to inspect or oversee press runs, and minimises waste.
It is an exciting time to integrate technology for process improvement over your entire packaging ecosystem.