4 Ways Digital Color Workflows Support Packaging Sustainability

Replacing visual color assessments and physical printed packaging samples with digital color management reduces materials waste, shipping, and travel — which can significantly cut your carbon footprint.

Cindy Cooperman, Vice President, Brand Global Strategic Accounts

August 18, 2021

5 Min Read
Photo credit: tuulijumala – stock.adobe.com

Most of the top 100 fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) companies have made significant sustainability pledges to help reduce carbon footprints and improve recycling. A key component of these strategies involves rethinking product packaging to minimize its impact on the environment.

For many brands and consumers, these sustainability efforts are focused on packaging material innovation — paper bottles, water-based inks, and recycled or biodegradable packaging. While these developments are important in helping the industry reach its sustainability goals, there are smaller, process changes that significantly help FMCG brands lower their carbon footprint.

Color is used as a brand identifier and to help packaging stand out on the shelf. However, it is so much more. How brands and their print suppliers produce consistent color on packaging can play a significant part in sustainability efforts.

For example, color accounts for 60% of acceptance or rejection in packaging production. If a packaging run is rejected, it not only costs the brand and supplier money but materials end up being scrapped or reworked. This increases energy or fossil fuel use and waste in landfills.

Leveraging digital color management best practices can help brands reach their sustainability goals by reducing waste, shipping, and travel. These seemingly small changes not only have a positive impact on the bottom line, but also help the environment.

Here are four ways digital color workflows support sustainability efforts.


1. Improve accuracy and reduce waste.

Every brand and converter wants to achieve accurate color the first time. Digital color communication tools can help share clear specifications and color intent with designers and set clear requirements across the supply chain.

Often packaging designers and converters see color as a subjective task. This is true when color is communicated and assessed using a 100% visual process. The challenge is visual color assessments are influenced by many things — lighting, surrounding colors, and even what a person ate, drank, or how much sleep they had. When you rely on visual assessment and communication alone, it will introduce process inefficiencies and drive up waste.

Digital communication and workflows take the subjectivity out of color by using spectral data. Establishing a digital color standard in your design and production process should be the first step.

When achievable color standards are defined by their digital spectral values and shared digitally, print suppliers have more efficient make-readies resulting in higher productivity and less waste. Digital spectral color standards also help eliminate or reduce the need for onsite press approvals. This can save on travel expenses and helps lower a brand’s carbon footprint.

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2. Eliminate physical color drawdowns.

When designers select final colors for a design, it is common to request an ink drawdown of the color on the same material as the final package. This is done because packaging materials vary in color, including different shades of brown and white, clear plastics, metallic foils, and so on. Since printing inks are transparent, the substrate will show through and impact the final color. If you are using a visual workflow, ordering a sample to be produced is a reasonable requirement to ensure the desired color will be manufactured. However, this step adds more waste and is carbon-intensive to produce and ship the samples.

Digital color tools like PantoneLIVE, a cloud-based tool for digital color communication, can reduce the need for physical color drawdowns by showing what is achievable, on each substrate, without a physical drawdown. Designers and suppliers can use PantoneLIVE to see how a color will reproduce on 34 common substrates and get recommendations on how to achieve the design intent across different packaging substrates, labels, promotional signage, in-store displays, catalogs, general print/marketing materials, and digital communications.


3. Measure for improved process control and efficiency.

There is a common proverb that says measure twice, cut once. While traditionally thought of for carpentry, this saying holds true for printing. Measurement is the easiest way to make sure color is on target before a production run is wasted or projects are rejected.

Spectrophotometers can measure color throughout the process from premedia, ink formulation, production, and quality control. They can also be used to calibrate monitors and production devices, evaluate ink and paper prior to, during, and after print production, and validate the color of process inks (CMYK) and spot color inks. Spectrophotometers also provide printers with guidance to achieve a closer match to a specific color standard by adjusting ink on press.

By measuring against a digital target at each step in the process, converters have greater control to make necessary adjustments before, and even during, a production run. This reduces waste and saves valuable resources including inks, substrates, and energy.


4. Minimize shipping costs and onsite press approvals.

Sending drawdowns or packaging samples around the globe and flying teams onsite for press approvals has a major impact on our carbon footprint. However, many brands are discovering that digital color workflows can eliminate onsite press approvals.

For example, the Coca-Cola Western Europe Business Unit (WEBU) implemented a Digital Print Quality Program. For its recent new product introduction, Coca-Cola WEBU was able to set achievable targets with clear maximum tolerances for the printer and approve press trials without sending a brand owner, marketer, pre-media agency, or X-Rite Solution Architect on-site. As a result, Coca-Cola WEBU was able to introduce the new design in half the time for a sustainable print cycle with fewer print-related costs.


Digital color promotes sustainability.

As brands and manufacturers work toward sustainability, consider whether there is room for improvement in your color workflow. Shifting color communication and evaluation from a physical reference to a commonly-known digital value can make a big impact.

With a connected digital color workflow, brands can establish clear color standards and requirements, designers can design with realistic intent and provide accurate specifications, and printers can work confidently without the need for proofs or travel. All of this results in on-color packaging the first time for a process that minimizes the environmental impact.

About the Author(s)

Cindy Cooperman

Vice President, Brand Global Strategic Accounts, X-Rite

Cindy Cooperman has spent the last 20 years working with brand owners, designers, premedia partners, packaging converters, and ink companies in the packaging value chain. As vice president of Global Brand Accounts at X-Rite, Cooperman brings together companies, people, and ideas to guide the relevant players in the packaging industry to adopt new technologies in practical and profitable ways.

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