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07 February 2020

A Multi-Layered Approach to Print Quality with LivePrint

Steve Mylott, Global operations Director at Equator Design, discusses our game-changing approach to PQM.

Like all packaging design agencies, we rely on advanced technology here at Equator throughout the design, project management and production process. Indeed, as a company, we’ve embraced technology to enable our under-one-roof model and support a fully-integrated, multi-disciplinary approach.

But the human element of what we do is still central to the quality of everything we create…and that’s just as true of production as it is of design. Technology supports us but it’s the passion and expertise of our team that achieves the industry-leading outcomes our clients are looking for.

When it came to providing a PQM (Print Quality Management) system for our clients to help them promote the quality and consistency of their brand, we looked for an off the shelf solution. We found none that delivered what we and our clients required, so we simply developed our own.

Delivering, targeted, relevant information LivePrint combines advanced software with the option for the printer to upload information live from press into LivePrint. Alternatively, LivePrint can take readings and perform visual quality assurance checks from supplied printed samples.

The big advantage over other PQM systems is that LivePrint also performs follow-up instore evaluation. This enables LivePrint to target and deliver a high percentage of packaging evaluation.


The Journey to LivePrint

As an integrated packaging design agency, we make it our mission at Equator Design to ensure the pack that appears on shelf looks just as good as the creative signed off by the client. To do this, we embed production know-how into every element of the design process; from first concept to the final product on shelf. However, we are not responsible for printing procurement. LivePrint measures and reports on print quality issues, alerting us if the printed packaging falls below commercial standards, thereby enabling the client to decide if and how an issue should be addressed.

The difficulty is that retailers have thousands of own label products to look after and are adding new lines or updates to packaging for existing lines all the time. They simply don’t have the time to evaluate and extract data for all of their printed packaging.

We saw an opportunity to do things better. Instead of bamboozling clients with superfluous data, we talked and engaged with them about what information was important to form a PQM process and we designed LivePrint around that.

The system is far from simple to deliver, as it needs to be thorough and multi-layered, but it is simple for clients to digest, with a traffic light system to indicate quality performance against core criteria – are PMS or house colours printed within a target delta E? Is the job printed in register? Does the print match the final approved profiled proof? Is the print consistent? Does the job sit within a multiple range of jobs printed on various substrates, by different printers and processes? Are the agreed finishes to spec? etc.

All samples are scored between 0-100 with a red, amber or green colour code to indicate whether the job was good, average or poor.

Over time, this allows retailers to track the performance of specific printers and address any issues or select their supply chain based on performance. It also enables us to discuss any quality issues with printers so that these can be addressed. All data is communicated via a secure online platform and the client can review all jobs assessed by LivePrint, enabling a complete reference library to inform future design and procurement decisions.

Beyond Raw Data

It’s not just the amount of data collected by LivePrint and the simplicity of the way that we present it that sets, Equator Design’s LivePrint PQM system apart; it’s also the expertise of a team that knows what the pack should look like and can spot instantly if something is wrong.

LivePrint also delivers an expert press attendance service when required, to enable range consistency, set standards, and help the printer to match the approved profiled proof, delivering consistency.

When the printed packaging samples arrive from the printer we visually check the sample against an additional profiled proof which is identical to the profiled proof released to the printer for matching.

LivePrint has also developed an app, which is available to our clients on their mobile devices. This enables them to pull up a packaging report by simply scanning the barcode on the printed packaging. These checks can be performed instore and the app also enables the client to report back any packaging issues they may come across direct into LivePrint.

There’s are many reasons why additional layers of quality assurance like this are important but here’s just one example that illustrates the value of in-store checks:

LivePrint was made aware via the app, that a client’s printed juice carton, did not look right. An issue was reported and an image was immediately uploaded and sent to LivePrint. A carton was purchased and investigated, resulting in the consclusion that the printer had not used light-fast inks. Because the refrigeration unit in which the packaging was displayed used a high-UV light source, the magenta and yellow ink had been erased from the printed carton, leaving only the black and cyan ink visible, which affected the design.  More importantly still, the coloured red, amber and green GDAs had changed, red and amber were no longer visible, and green was now cyan.

LivePrint targets Delta E readings for colour regardless of substrate or process, we visually compare c,m,y,k to a profiled proof, as well as capturing c,m,y,k digital data. We also measure set gloss unit targets for sealers and varnishes, and metallic inks and foil blocking are approved visually.


Where Next for LivePrint?         

With the capability to quality assess a high percentage of packaging that appears on shelf, LivePrint is ahead of the curve for print quality management, but at Equator Design we’re always ambitious. The system is scalable and the combination of the software, the app and in-store checks means it is feasible to target checks on 100% of on-shelf packaging.

Indeed, we’re now talking to a major US retailer about how the system could be rolled out across all packs and all stores throughout the whole of the US, regardless of the local supply chain for design and printing.

LivePrint 2 will see a system that requires all production agencies who supply files for a given client to upload the final PDF and meta data into LivePrint. A LivePrint page will then be generated and, if required, Digimarc identified. At this point, if required, our team will be able to create a 3-D render for multiple uses.

LivePrint 2 will then carry out all PQM using mobile teams to collect data direct from identified stores across the US, taking into account multiple local suppliers, targeting 100% of released on shelf packaging.

LivePrint and LivePrint 2 have not only been designed to meet the quality assurance goals of just one specific client, but offer an opportunity for ALL retailers to hold their supply chain to account across their agency and printer roster. The retail sector has worked hard to achieve unparalleled levels of consumer loyalty for own label ranges and LivePrint has the potential to secure that investment by measuring and reporting on the printed quality of their packaging, allowing the retailer to make both commercial and quality decisions.