How to simplify the complex world of standardisation

The global realignment has brought home MNC brands and the changing face of pre-media in the country has lured these brands to stay, says Tanvi Parekh

29 Apr 2014 | By Tanvi Parekh

“The essence of a quality printed product is the amalgamation of the elements like design, photography, typography, etc. There did exist a generation of printers, who had the calibre to blend design and printing. But, today the distributed leadership across the pre-press, press and post-press operations has resulted in the lack of single ownership to ensure a particular level of quality,” says Alpana Parida of DY Works.
A brand demands invariability. And a pre-media house has to do it all to deliver that. Begin from design to colour to print to implementation of the idea. And one can’t help notice the evolving role of the service providers in India that contribute in maintaining a brand’s identity. But what will it take India to be a powerhouse in this segment? Can India replicate its IT clout in this sector?
What they have on offer
Media agencies and brand owners seek a specialist who acts as a depot for all their brands and all their print vendors. 
Pre-media bureaus are the custodians of a brand’s image. “Earlier a brand procured services from several pre-press houses and printers. Today, most have a single pre-media bureau, from whom the empanelled printers receive the files to be printed. These files are tweaked to be print-ready for any process; offset printing, digital printing, flexo or narrow-web and can be implemented across OOH, in-store, or electronic campaigns,” explains Fred Poonawala of Comart Lithographers.
They make reproduction across brands and borders, a cake walk.  The role of pre-press has evolved. It merely doesn’t end at a print vendor’s unit; in fact, the printer’s unit is the last in the list. The bureaus have gone a step ahead in their collaboration with their clients; they have a team posted at the clients’ to offer quicker execution of the media brief given. The service provider works in tandem and with immediacy to the frequent demands of the client.
“We integrate with the client’s creative, development and servicing department and have even integrated our workflow with some of them,” adds Poonawala.
For Alia Creative Consultants’ Sethunath Padmanabhan, it is having the best of both worlds. “At Alia we are able to amalgamate the two areas of expertise; design and graphic art (print technology). We are primarily from a design and media background. Our strategy is to employ graphic art experts (print technologists) rather than design experts who would require training in the field of pre-media. This is what we can offer the client – our dual expertise.”
Looking back
PrintWeek India has attempted to map the genealogy of, what they call today, pre-media service. Over the past few years, the segment which has evolved the most in the print industry is perhaps pre-press. A decade ago, this department had the most number of craftsmen closely scrutinising the dot gain, calibration and colour process. The chief services included filming the negatives, block creation and colour correction. Looking a little ahead, the pre-press umbrella expanded to incorporate digitised processes, colour management software, workflows, and proofers.
This digitisation brought in reduced human error, higher standards of reproduction and reduced cost for the industry. According to A N Noufel of Honeycomb Creative Consultants, “Computer-to-plate imaging systems and the digitisation of pre-press is the best break in print technology for a century.” 
Pre-press, in its aboriginal form, constitutes only the above processes. So, a pre-press service provider will make your files print-ready with extreme precision. However, of the many players in this segment, some leaped out to cater to the growing size and demand of the brands.  So they rechristened themselves as a pre-media firm, quadrupling their services to include design, implementation and everything that falls in between – pre-press, printing and fabrication. While the printing may (or may not) be restricted to merely producing mock-ups and proofs, the files are made ready-to-print and ready-to-implement across the available mediums. 
Vijay Ayyappan, CEO, Olympus Premedia (Chennai), says, “The implementation of global standards is financially and technologically viable for Indian producers. There are some label firms in India who have been supplying international clients with jobs that are compliant with the most stringent global standards.”
Standards and regulations
Pre-media services for a packaging firm can be a challenge and an onerous task. Ayyappan, who has experience in implementing FSSAI Standards to many Indian brands, explains, “While packaging as a whole deals with protecting, containment and security of the product, the labels play a vital role in information dissemination as well as marketing. The essential aspects which the labeling on any product must cater to as per international standards include:  details of manufacturer or importer,  and country of origin, Information on usability, medical precautions required (if any), ingredients, net weight, coding of colours, additives and preservatives, restrictions in usage, dosage and potion control, storage and transport precautions, production and expiry date, protection against counterfeit or pilferage, recycling information, special instructions as and when specified by the regulating authorities.”
These details on the packaging material, he says, are critical in specific sectors such as food products, beverages, drugs, cosmetics, perishable products and inflammable, fragile or explosive products. 
Thus the brand has to be cautious and the pre-media house backing it should have the finesse to provide precise reproduction, immediate tweaks, and a mock-up executing the package and label design. 
“India,” Ayyappan adds, “is still in the elementary stages of creating suitable labeling guidelines. There are various agencies which have forwarded separate guidelines and instructions regarding the standards needed to be followed for labeling. Food Safety and Standards Authority of India(FSSAI) governs all packaging concerned with edible products in India whether produced domestically or imported. The Food Safety and Standards (packaging and labeling) Regulations, 2011 forms the basis of these regulations with a few revisions added in the subsequent years.
The details of these instructions and revisions are published by the the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare.
The labeling for cosmetics, drugs and other pharma products are governed by the Drugs and Cosmetic Rules, 1945. It calls for all labeling to address the “Quality, Safety and Efficacy” information of the product prominently on the packaging.”
What lies ahead?
At Print Summit 2014, as a part of the Masterclass session, Pankaj Shah, CEO of Supack and chairman of WICMA and Ajay Mehta of SMI Coated Products, rolled out statistics for the corrugated and label industries, respectively. Quoting Mehta, with the opening up of the retail market in India, the domestic demand for label and packaging is bound to multiply from the current per capita consumption of 0.25sqm. Furthermore, each year, according to Mehta, 25-30 label presses are installed in India.
Ayyapan states, “The current figures as per research undertaken by the Indian Institute of Packaging valued the packaging industry at over USD 18.8 billion for 2013 with a predicted growth of 15% annually. The labelling segment accounts for 3% of the packaging industry but is pegged for a much higher growth of about 35% over the next few years.”
With this forecast for the packaging industry and the international brands coming home, the pre-media segment is only bound to grow. With multi-location presence, investment in inventory, and quick turnaround times of the job, these firms can increase their offerings to the firms. 
An example of this would be Comart’s Periscope – an in-house communication platform developed by the firm to maintain a transparent and unambiguous communication record with the client. 
The India picture
Some Indian pre-media firms, with international clients on their roster, have taken the onus of accurately replicating a job, each time from any place. And they have been doing this right, each time. These firms operate at different levels and cater to different (sometimes alike) clientele. 
Alia Creative Consultants (Mumbai)
“The brands are more global today. They are multi-located. They need a system in place to ensure accurate reproduction from multiple units across the globe. We find solutions for these client and then build business around it,” says Sethunath Padmanabhan, Alia Creative Consultants, the Coimbatore-based pre-media firm.
The National Education and Human Resource Development Organisation (NEHRDO) has recently conferred Alia with two leading titles; the Rashtriya Udyog Ratna Award to Sethunath and the Quality Brand Award to team Alia. The firm has a strength of 120 members. The firm, rightly titled as the ‘print management firm’ by their clients, provides services from the graphic art designing to testable mock-ups. 
Not restricting to one single brand, Alia extends its alliance to the organisation and creates a central repository where the various design agencies submit their artworks, which Alia ensures is compatible across flexo, gravure, and offset print set up and checked for the various statutory elements. “Our investment in the colour management segment is six years old; including the formation of the team, investment in software etc and educating clients about seamless reproduction. India is still in the nascent stages of adopting a system like this but it is picking up,” adds Sethunath.  
Alia is the only Asian partner for Unilever from among its 15 service providers. The firm churns out an average of 100-200 industry-ready prototypes for its clientele, an industry first. For Sethunath, ‘if it helps the printers, if it helps the brand, it helps us.’
Comart Lithographers
Founded in 1934, Comart has seen and sustained through the evolution of the pre-media segment. The firm caters to the advertising, publishing, corporate marketing, packaging and print industries, across national and international brands. On whether India is a preferred destination for international brands, Fred Poonawala, says, “Our pan-India presence has brought the brands closer. The cost efficiency and quick turnarounds by the Indian pre-media houses have rendered the international brands to trust us.”
The firm has partnered Lowe Lintas, a leading media agency, for managing their studios. “This,” Fred says, “includes all services beginning from artwork creation to implementation.”
Group FMG
The PWI Creative Repro Company of the Year 2013, Group FMG is headquartered in New York, with offices in London and Chennai. Group FMG is an omni-channel content and e-commerce solutions company. Group FMG specialises in the creation of immersive content that can be carried by various channels in a manner that offers a unified brand experience. The firm creates rich media content across all channels – digital, social, mobile, advertising, packaging and POS, gaming, and broadcast – and integrates consulting, content and e-commerce services for its global roster of agencies and Global 1000 clients.
Healing Tool
Established in 2008 by Chitrabalu. The firm’s sister company Majik Touch is also also involved in pre-press activities. With a turnover of Rs 50 lakh, Healing Tool caters to agencies like McCann, Mudra, Lowe Lintas, O&M, Grey and Push among others. The pre-press firm has bagged the PrintWeek India Creative Repro Company of the Year Award in 2012. According to Chitrabalu, the agencies trust Healing Tool and Majik Touch for its ability to cater to the complex and difficult pre-press activities.
The unit is equipped with Macs, Adobe software, and  EFI software for proofing and Epson proofer.
Honeycomb Creative
Less than a decade old, Honeycomb has etched its name among the leading image-editing firms. Honeycomb began operation in two major segments. In the first, the jobs were routed through advertising agencies. Some of the agencies under their belt include Ogilvy & Mather, Mudra, 3M among many others. The second segment is the corporate, who approach Honeycomb directly for quick batches of work. “Some of our major clients in that segment include Tanishq, Wipro, Mom & Me, among others. Honeycomb also provides the facility of having in-house product photography, design and artwork production, and web services.
Honeycomb bagged the PrintWeek India Creative Repro Company of the Year title in 2010 and 2011. Partners Noufel and Shibu started the firm with Rs 10 lakh as working capital.
Olympus Premedia
Founded and managed by engineering and prepress professionals, Olympus has been providing pre-media services to brands, convertors, and brand management companies in India and across USA, UK, Australia, Swiss, and other countries. In the packaging segment, where the company’s special focus is providing artwork production and prepress services for the CPGs/FMCGs, food manufacturers and pharmaceuticals. “Our consistency in quality is achieved by utilising documented quality processes, latest technologies and a qualified workforce,” says Vijay Ayyappan, chief executive officer of Olympus.
Olympus has invested in a complete range of Esko suites, including production MIS for executing  jobs from anywhere at any time. Some of the other deliverables of the firm include packaging with localisation; that is in the country-specific language, structural design for new packaging and 3D visualisation and prototyping. 
Pixel Brush
The Bengaluru-based firm provides services for photo editing such as to enable better reproduction in offset printing, in digital printing, on web portals and others.
Trigon Digital Solutions
The recent most addition to the PWI Pre-Press Company of the Year title, Trigon Digital, is a six year-old firm and the braindchild of young enterprenuers, Anil Namugade and Milind Deshpande.
Namugade,a pre-press specialist stated, “We offer ideation and creation of packaging design, proofs and mock-ups on actual substrate, virtual stores, and three-dimensional PDF mock-ups up to the final printing of collaterals and large format prints. It is a journey that spans the distance from concept to the collateral, from pre-press to the final print job.” The firm has units in Mumbai, Bengaluru and Delhi. Equipped with three Kodak Approval NX, a Roland eco-solvent press for large and wide-format printing, Flora flatbed UV inkjet printing, Epson inkjet proofing, Konica Minolta short-run digital printing solution, spot UV varnish solution, thermal lamination machine to reproduce superior quality of gloss and matt finish, conventional foiling and embossing machine.