Why clients prefer to think inside the box

Physical packaging proofs cost a lot to make and can’t be emailed, but are clients ready to trust 3D virtual proofs and what kind of printer can benefit?

13 Nov 2012 | By Gokul Krishnamurthy

We trust computers to do a lot: fly our planes, transfer our money across the globe, even to perform some surgical procedures.

It seems strange, then, that when it comes down to it, the acceptance or rejection of 3D visualisation software for proofing within the packaging sector often comes down to whether a client or printer trusts a computer to be up to the task of creating an accurate replica of a printed product.
Despite the massive advances in the capability and complexity of 3D visualisation tools, and the fact that switching to digital proofs over physical proofs can cut costs significantly, this trust is still proving difficult to acquire. Some argue that a digital rendering can never be a substitute for a tangible physical proof, while others say that 3D visualisation, while impressive, can never give 100% assurances of structure and fit. A wider question, that should concern those rushing out to buy the software after being impressed by its capabilities, is whether at the stage the printer is now getting involved in a project, 3D visualisation is even needed.
That the 3D visualisation software coming on to the market is impressive is undeniable. Visualisations can now take in so many variables, from substrates to print techniques to finishing processes, that designers can create an accurate realisation of whatever their mind conjures up.
Anil Namugade, director at Trigon Digital Solutions, the Mumbai-based pre-media firm which provides digital proofing solution with the use of Kodak Approval NX system and Esko software to create product mock ups from laminating to metallised foils to polypropylene substrates, says, “Designers can select any material and the specific physical attributes of that substrate are recreated on screen. The same goes for inks, pigments, holograms, foiling, embossing, varnishes – everything you could imagine. All this information is in our library and it is harvested from real production data.”
“The technology has moved on considerably over two years and that is a key reason for its increased uptake and the confidence clients have in it,” Namugade explains. “We can do a live update from Illustrator, so corrections can be made and updated live for the client if that client is present or logged in remotely. So, for any design, the printer can take the client through a process and say, this is how it will look with a matt varnish or how it would look with specific material.”
Simulate different retail environments
If these qualities weren’t enough, the latest software on the market can also place the package within different environments to see how it might look.
Namugade, says, “We can now recreate the lighting of an airport shop, or a supermarket, or a boutique, using Kelvin values and other data. You can see how the product will look and react under those conditions. We can also recreate the shopping environment so you can see how the pack looks on shelf. It is almost becoming a really high-level video game.”
The reason all this capability has come about is that proofing for packaging products is increasingly becoming an issue. On the one hand, the packages are more elaborate than ever, so creating the proof is increasingly expensive – most clients expect a physical proof as part of the service and upping prices is not an option in the current economic environment. On the other, the design stage can now include multiple stages, and new proofs are required for each of those. In addition, turn-around times are also shorter.
Namugade explains, “Producing mock-ups for customer approval is a big problem – the new breed of buyers are not able to use their imagination. They want to see mock ups of the product throughout the design process and they want them instantly. The normal method of running off a proof, spray mounting it to board and CAD cutting a sample is clumsy and laborious and the print alternative, at present, is too expensive. A cost-effective method of producing mock-ups clients can use is essential.”
As has been shown above, 3D visualisation software certainly has the offering that could help this situation. Neither the developers nor the printers using the software see it as a wholesale replacement for physical proofing but, as Namugade says, “It can play a key role in reducing the number of proofing stages.”
“Around 95% of the time, we will end up doing a physical proof at the final stage of development, but we have cut down the number of physical proofs we have to create before that by creating them digitally in 3D instead,” Namugade explains. 
According to Namugade, this is the case for the majority of installs. Typically we are seeing 3D visualisations being used for the approval rounds and development stages of a job, and then when final decisions are made we are seeing the physical product being produced. It means that where you once had 13 mock-ups you now have one.
Namugade says, “The digital proofing capability shortens the proofing process and that means it is also much more cost effective. On some of the jobs, trying to proof innovative techniques would often cost more than the profit we might make. Some people do not realise what an incredible amount of money proofing can entail. And it’s not just the print – you have additional costs for the non-printed elements like the fitments.
“We work on high-end products, and our proofing costs can be astronomical.”
The costs are also reduced in the distribution of proofs. Today’s market is a global one – and there are multiple partners dotted around the world who wish to be part of the proofing processes. Sending packs is not only pricey but could see samples incur damager, where as an email is free and in little danger of damage in transit (bar a bit of rare code corruption).
However, reducing the benefits of 3D to just cost is misguided as those cost benefits lead to other advantages. 3D visualisation enables designers to innovate more with their designs, as it costs nothing but time to try something out, and so adding a process and showing the client the effect it has means no damage to the bottom line.
Namugade says, “From a design point of view, it enables designers to provide more value-add because they can experiment with coatings and materials and ideas and create concepts that never had a way of coming to fruition before.”
Software to create 3D visuals, enables the designers to push the concepts further than they may have done. However, in some areas the software falls down.
“With something like lenticular, it is difficult to simulate that effect,” Namugade explains. “I would say lenticular can be done with 3D visualisation but it is a question of how close it is to reality.”
Most pre-media firms admit that the systems are by no means perfect. For starters, for the full benefit of the artwork side of things, the screens of all those looking at the proofs would need to be calibrated to the right settings. You also have the problem of all clients needing the right software to run and view the proofs at full effect. And, as for the scope of the programs, Namugade admits there are more profiles that could be added.
He says, “We have room to improve and add to our libraries and create new applications for designers to utilise. But that will come the more the software is utilised and the more the brand owners ask for it – the bigger the uptake, the further we will be able to go with the software.”
Technical quibbles and profile absences are not really what is holding the software back, however, and where the real problem with it lies. The major issue restricting the use of the software is a lack of trust in its ability to do what it says it can do, from both printers and clients, and also a lack of appetite in a physical industry to hand any power over to a virtual process.
Namugade says, “The client does not always know what you are talking about and only through a physical proof will they sometimes understand where you are coming from. If you are looking at a complex profile, you need to have a physical carton to be able to really see what is happening and where things ought to be. The proof is always in the pudding.”
Most clients prefer physical proofs
In the majority of cases it is a physical proof that is required and is demanded by the clients. According to Namugade, the 3D proofs are the best option. This potential movement, however, creates two questions: firstly, whether the clients want this shift to 3D, despite the technology being ready; and secondly, whether it is printers that should provide it.
On the first point, Namugade, who has arguably implemented 3D visualisation in a bigger way than most, reveals that while clients are initially suspicious of the software, once the trust is built up they come to see its advantages and want to implement it further.
“We try to explain to them the 3D visualisation software’s capability to cut costs, push our designs further and give the client better more elaborate products, shorter turnaround and lead times, and shorter time to market,” he says. “Admittedly, that is often quite a steep learning curve for them but they do eventually see the point of what we are trying to do. The more you show them the benefits on projects, the more they trust you and the more you can shift to virtual proofing.”
On the second point, things get a little more complicated. Many of the benefits Namugade talks of are from the design perspective as his is a design arm that is part of a wider print operation. For the average packaging printer without attached repro or design services, many of these benefits will therefore be redundant. 
He adds that in the latter scenario, the cost benefits will also be limited as the toing and froing of packaging proofs will have been sorted before the printer gets involved. At the print stage, it is generally a one-wet-proof-and-away-you-go scenario.
At the final stage of production, all are in agreement that switching to a 3D visualisation is, and will always be, a non-starter. So for printers without the design or repro service, investment in ways of making that physical proof more affordable rather than in 3D proofing software seems sensible.
For those that do deal with the design side, however, it would seem sensible to attempt to migrate some of the proofing stages to 3D visualisations; to do that, as Namugade says, a trust has to be built up to make that move a success.
In short, 3D visualisation is a fantastic tool if you are designing, but for printers, sticking to printing for now seems the sensible option.

Kodak Approval and Esko workflow

Anil Namugade (l) and Milind Despande (r) demonstrating the quality of Kodak Approval system
Trigon Digital Solutions has a Kodak Approval system for contract digital proofing which is capable of producing thermal laser halftones. The proofing systems ensures customers can approve off-press proofs and see a mock-up without losing time.

Anil Namugade, director at Trigon Digital Solutions, says, “We are targeting the digital proofing segment for packaging. We believe proofing on a printing machine is a crime. The system generates colour accurate proofs for packaging on any substrates. Plus it offers densities on flexo, gravure, conventional offset with screen rulings at 2,400 dpi.

We can deliver the job on time. We can prepare error-free, print-ready, one-bit files which can be sent to a cylinder maker. It includes dot gain compensation and line angles. It is as reliable as our customers. Often, photo-ready product mock-ups need to look even better than the final printed package or manufactured product.”
Mumbai-based Trigon Digital Solutions caters to FMCG companies, agencies and provides facilities for design and correction as well as proofs. For this, the pre-press firm has also invested in the Esko workflow which include Studio, Visualiser, ArtiosCad and Deskpack.
Namugade says, “Studio software helps in producing better artwork. Whether it is a designer trying out different ideas, or a pre-press operator checking a back-match, Studio can create exciting 3D visuals, ranging from PDF files with 3D content to movies, or a virtual packshot.”
Besides Mumbai, Trigon Digital Solutions also has a unit in Bengaluru. This unit like Mumbai unit is equipped with a Kodak Approval system, Esko software and Kongsberg XL20 cutting and creasing table for proof sampling and prototyping.