How Managing Print Quality Can Amplify On-Shelf Performance

By David Stewart

David Stewart News

Measuring print performance and driving print quality improvements can often be a complex effort. Having dedicated resources with a strong background in color, print, and industry standards can help to simplify and amplify.

An experienced expert can help surface issues and clearly communicate to all stakeholders including brand owners, designers, prepress, and the printer.

People verses technology is a powerful thread in the world of color. Because color need to be measured and managed in a scientific way, you can’t get around the fact that technology plays a role. However, we need to be careful that the use of technology doesn’t create a barrier to success.

For example, when we reference industry standards like "PQX" or "ISO 12647-2" without qualifying them to for the participant, they are reduced to just acronyms or fancy codes that confuse everyone involved.

Being accountable as a print quality leader is not about accumulating the highest number of acronyms; it is about meeting the challenge of understanding the concepts behind the acronyms so that we can socialize those concepts to all partners in a simple way—enabling us to collectively make print quality consistent across printers and brands.

It certainly is an ongoing challenge to simplify the whole process. As a brand, the best thing you can do is keep your design intent in focus:

  • Think about your design intent
  • Focus on the aspects of the package that are important to how your consumer interacts with it
  • Establish guidelines or requirements to help keep those things in control

Keeping those pieces of your package experience in control will help you deliver on the promise and vision that was so important in the design stages of a product and keep your results on shelf aligned with marketing’s expectations.

A modern approach to simplifying communications around print quality is called "Scoring". Scoring gives us a great way to talk about the quality of color that people get. In grade school, that was a pretty common thing—you get a report card where A is great, F was not great, and people fundamentally understand those structures.

Scoring is a powerful and flexible approach to gauging print performance that lets brands introduce new strategies to manage print quality in a simple, manageable way. Scoring is also a powerful way to combine a series of different measures into a single statement about your quality (a score), so that you can track how well all-important aspects of the package are being produced.

For example, you can track the "grey balance" or the "tone value", and also the "solid spot color". All of these things have different technical measures. However, by putting a score against each one of those, you can simplify into a single number that is meaningful — providing a clear indication of whether or not the entire package is printing within specification or not.

The most important thing about numbers and metrics used to measure print performance is that they are totally above board. It is critical that, whoever the partners are working together based on the scoring system, that they take the time to properly educate and align on what these scores mean. In some cases, people have different approaches to making scores and it’s tough for everybody to get on the same page.

Can’t I just follow industry standards?

In the print world, there is a strong appetite to implement ISO standards for print. However, ISO standards are much bigger than print—ISO standards govern the way things operate around the globe. These standards are largely put in place for safety and compatibility.

The type of precision a brand expects is typically much higher than what an industry standard is built for. Because of this, we should look closely at the foundation of the standards, but make sure we consider the capability of the printer and the expectation of the brand.

Many brands don’t have a lot of historical knowledge about the details of an industry standard and should investigate further as to how industry standards could and should be used to govern their print.


About David Stewart
David Stewart brings more than 20 years of experience in colour management for print and packaging. Having worked for some of the leading colour management development organisations, David now brings his expertise to SGK.