The Label Making Process – Color Separation

So far in our label making process series, we’ve given an overview of the first three stages in the label making process. Each part of the process has many steps to ensure a perfect final product. In this post, we are going to explore the next step – Color Separation. Or as Art calls it… the place where the magic happen!

Step 1: Prepping the Job

Once your Graphic Designer has Proof approval for the label, they prep the job for our Color Separation team. This includes getting a job jacket that holds all pertinent approvals and notes for production, putting a digital job jacket together, and printing Epson’s for each job for our production team. These Epson’s are used for color matching and to ensure all details on the label are printing correctly. All of this information is placed into the Color Separation bin, and that’s where the fun begins!

The first step in this process for our Color Separation Team is grabbing the correct sized envelope for the plates. On that envelope, they write pertinent item information and highlight areas that need special attention from Production.

Step 2: Smart Folder Preparation

The next thing that our Color Separation team does is take the material from the digital job jacket and import it into the Automation Engine Pilot. This software helps to store the information and eliminate errors. Some of the information that Pilot provides the workflow with is; the date, item family, the customer name, the shape of the label, the material, amount of labels per roll, the unwind, the press series and how the label will be applied.  All of this information comes together to form a smart folder.

Step 3: Illustrator

Once the smart folder is prepared, the next step is to take the prepped artwork and open it in Adobe Illustrator. The first thing our Color Separators do is remove any layers used for proofing leaving only the artwork and layers needed for prepping. Next, they make sure that the die line is overprinted, which means that you can still see it on screen but it will not appear when the label is printed. Making sure that all of the correct colors are listed in the file is what comes next. After that, the Color Separator isolates the printed portion. The last step in Adobe Illustrator is to launch the job through a pre-made workflow and import into the smart folder.

Step 4: ArtPro

The next step in the Color Separation process includes using ArtPro, which takes files and converts them into vector (shapes as opposed to images). After making sure the die is still intact, the Color Separation team ‘traps’ the artwork to ensure all the colors stay in their correct place without bleeding into each other. Trapping takes the lighter tones and slightly overlays them on the darker tones taking away any potential gapping on the label. Gapping can occur when the press moves at high speeds, so we need to compensate for any potential movement on press. Once this is done, the Color Separators can view a simulation of the printed version of the label and the possible movement on press, along with what the label’s plates will look like.

Step 5: Pilot

After finishing with ArtPro, the Color Separators go back into Pilot to complete one of the most important parts of this process, the step and repeat workflow. This workflow is used to multiply one label design into an entire sheet of artwork. This workflow goes off of the information that was input into the smart folder in step 2. Pilot helps to automate everything and eliminate potential errors. Our Color Separators also follow a Critical Quality Checklist for each job.

Step 6: Image Engine

Next, Image Engine is used to convert this artwork into a normal PDF. When printing a label, each color gets made into a plate and the colors need to have different angles, otherwise when put together, there can be a detectable pattern on the label.  Image Engine puts all the screen angles together as a final product and can detect if user intervention is needed. It will highlight the problem areas if applicable and Color Separation can manually adjust any problem angles.

These files are then converted into LEN files for the Platemaker. From here you can see a screen pattern/angle, which should be a rosette, pictured to the right.

Step 7: Checking Distortion

The last step of the Color Separation process is checking the distortion. This needs to be done as the labels will be printed on press using a cylinder which distorts the image if left as is. Our Pre-Press team put together this distortion chart that explains what the distortion should be depending on the label size. Based on the chart, the Color Separator enters the distortion into the software so the final product will be undistorted.

Step 8: Finishing Up

Once this step is done, the job is ready for release to platemaking and the Color Separators mark it as approved. This approval automatically sends our Platemaker the LEN files. The Color Separator then checks everything one more time, which includes counting the colors to make sure they match the original print provided by the Artist. All the job information is put into the previously mentioned envelope and taken to the Plateroom.

If you have any questions on the Color Separation process or would like to learn more, please don’t hesitate to reach out!