Miamisburg, OH (USA), June 30, 2010 – Created in 2001 and based in Salem, NH, U.S. Product Labels, Inc. (USPL) creates labels for a few customers, including a major consumer goods company, whose products are found on shelves throughout the world. The company’s five employees operate 7- and 10- inch, six-color Mark Andy presses. Most jobs are 4-color, with a spot logo and overall varnish.
U.S. Product Labels typically receives files supplied from their clients’ art departments, created in Illustrator and Photoshop. But, USPL often finesses the files, working with DeskPack Preflight for Illustrator® to preflight them visually on the Mac before sending the files for plating. DeskPack Instant Trapper for Illustrator® also speeds the process and enhances quality when a label is designed with challenges—for instance, 4-point reverses out of a three-color background.
USPL had been outsourcing their plates to one primary resource, and a couple other tradeshops when they were overloaded. “While our primary plate supplier did a decent job, the plain fact is that we were one of many customers,” remembers Barbara Guzman, President. “When they weren’t busy, our plates got lots of attention. But, when they were busy, we had to wait. We receive orders on Friday or Monday and deliver within two weeks. While we run existing plates when we can, if we need new plates, we can’t wait.”
There were little things that were not checked when the platemaker was busy. As USPL’s primary customer became more interested in their labels as marketing tools, the quality of the labels became more demanding. There was more importantance to brand uniformity on every label. When problems occurred on press, USPL could lose an entire makeready, plus the time and expense to put a new job on the press. It was a real annoyance, and costly, that the plate could not be fixed immediately, and a driving force to look in-house and purchase their own platemaking capability.
USPL knew they needed to improve, and believed a digital system was what they needed. Their supplier was still producing plates traditionally, and Bruce Menzies, one of USPL’s principals, noticed problems. “When you’re printing a five-color job, it doesn’t help if the plates have imperfections due to films that have scratches and dust. We’d lose an entire day correcting the problem. Our Pitman representative happened to visit 7 or 8 years ago and sparked my interest at the time, but we weren’t ready. He reminded me a couple years later. When we decided to do it, we knew whom to call.”
While looking for a flexo digital imager, the Cyrel Digital Imager (CDI) Spark1712 was introduced to the market. It can image plates and ablative film up to 16.5” x 11.8”, ideal for the label printer who doesn’t need a large machine. Its small footprint that makes the most effective use of available space in a facility. It has the same laser optics technology as all the other imagers in the CDI family. At its highest image resolution of 2540 ppi, it can image a full size plate in 9 minutes 30 seconds with effective screen rulings up to 175 lpi. It provides these printers all of the EskoArtwork imaging expertise—and tremendous flexibility—in a small design perfect for narrow web.
CDI Spark 1712: Perfect size for a small label printer
The CDI Spark 1712 was much less expensive than the next smallest CDI, but the size was ideal for USPL. With the next largest CDI, they would have lost a lot of plate material imaging the 7” and 10” plates they needed. With the CDI Spark 1712, they were able to use almost all of the plate, which was far more economical. USPL became one of the first CDI Spark 1712 installations worldwide. “While we could only produce two plates up on the CDI 1712, the workflow was just fine,” says Menzies. “We could be imaging plates while printing something else.”
From USPL’s perspective, the installation was excellent. They were up and running halfway through the training and, once the EskoArtwork trainers left, they were on their own. “The imager is easy to use,” says Menzies. “Our plate suppliers led us to believe that the front end would be horrendous, and we would need to get the right person to operate it. Maybe we’re fortunate that our pressman is so talented, but he was the one to jump right in and run it.”
USPL has been using the CDI Spark 1712 for about four months. The first thing Menzies noticed was that fixing design problems on the plate is no longer a problem. “It takes me longer to get a cup of coffee than to get a plate. Most of the problems occur when we’re on press. Rather than driving to a tradeshop, if we have an error to be fixed I don’t break the press down. We can have a new plate on press in 45 minutes.“
“We’re competing with suppliers who are larger than us. And, we’re often asked for quick turnarounds. Our customer doesn’t want to make a product, and put it back on the assembly line to stick a label on it. They want their labels on time,” remarks Menzies. When I had to wait 2-3 days for plates, it was tough. Now, they can call this morning, and we can create a set a plates and print and deliver the same day.” And, the quality of the plate makes makeready easier.
A typical USPL press run might be 24,000 to 150,000 units on a weekly basis. Plates from the CDI Spark 1712 may be mounted on or off 15 times before they deteriorate to the point that they cannot use the plates again. Highlight dots don’t break down. “I call it the wiggle factor of the tiny highlight dots,” explains Menzies. “EskoArtwork’s PerfectHighlights screening raises the floor so there’s no collapsing until the plate has been reused many times.”
A plan for better quality
In the long run, USPL wants to increase quality, and the CDI Spark 1712 gives them a better handle on it. “The tradeshops told us that with vignettes and shadows ‘you get what you get’ and ‘that’s the best we can do’,” recalls Menzies. “I didn’t believe it. When our plates were outsourced, we could blame the press, the ink or the plates. It was hard to finger point. Now, if there’s a problem we look at ourselves. We can trace back the error or imperfection and solve it ourselves.”
While USPL was printing at 133 lpi before, they’re now at 150lpi or better because they believe they can control the process. Now, they are looking to make their customer product better. “Repeatability is great. Right from the file, we send a PDF for approval, make plates, and go to press. We don’t have to make a proof to show anyone, and we’re satisfied with repeatability and consistency of going to press without a press proof,” adds Menzies.
Since they installed the system, USPL is producing 15-20 sets of plates a week, more than double from the previous year. It is already paying for itself. “Comparing the costs of when had to send out 10-15 sets of plates each week, the CDI is more than paying for itself,” comments Menzies. “We’re obviously getting great turnaround, quality, and cost savings.”
“The CDI 1712 is perfect for someone our size. It gives the quality and the flexibility of correcting jobs on press, while we’re still on press. The predictability of the plates is great, because we know what a job will look like when it gets on press,” concludes Menzies. “Would I do it over again? Yes—rushing instead of dragging our feet. We’ve been wondering why we didn’t do this four or five years ago. Then again, the new 12x17 size made it an easy decision.”