Grace Label, Fathom Optics and KODAK FLEXCEL NX Technology work their magic to bring special effects within reach of small brands


“Truly Impressive Innovation” Wins Gold at Global Flexo Innovation Awards

It takes something special to surprise the jury of the Miraclon-sponsored Global Flexo Innovation Awards (GFIA), but that’s exactly what Fathom Optics and Grace Label’s joint entry has achieved. So much so that they even won a Gold Award (with top honors) for conversion to flexo, commitment to sustainable printing and creative use of graphic design.

In what the judges described as “a truly impressive innovation”, Des Moines, Iowa-based label, craft beer producer Confluence Brewery used Fathom’s brand new embellishment technology to create captivating 3D effects. on the labeling of the brewery. Gose “Wizard” style sour beer. The effects seem to be at three different levels: text and graphics on the surface of the label, a “northern lights” type effect that seems to move inside the box itself, and finally, at the top of the wizard’s staff, a spinning orb that appears to emerge from the label’s surface.

And what made the work remarkable was the fact that it was all done without the need for lenticular lenses or holographic foil, using FLEXCEL NX plates on Grace Label’s standard flexo press using inks standard. Traditionally, the use of holographic foils or lenticular lenses for small label runs has been prohibitively expensive, while holographic foils also raise sustainability issues since they are typically 95% waste. FLEXCEL NX technology makes special effect labels a viable option for brands pushing the boundaries of ordinary packaging designs for shorter print runs, with significant cost and durability advantages they can take advantage of.

A deep-rooted relationship
Fathom Optics and Grace Label have partnered to create the “Wizard” label, which grew out of a family friendship between Tom Baran, CEO and co-founder of Fathom, and John Martin, owner/founder of Confluence, to whom Grace Label is an established label supplier. Founded in the mid-1970s by the father of the company’s current president, Steve Grace, Grace Label is one of the oldest and largest regional converters in the American Midwest, operating as a full-service provider handling every stage from design to delivery. treat. In addition to the craft beer and spirits industries, Grace also serves meat and farm food customers. The company has both digital and flexo presses, with flexo printing accounting for 90% of their work.

FLEXCEL NX technology “like a whole new press”
The KODAK FLEXCEL NX System, which Grace Label installed in 2011, was critical to the success of the “Wizard” project. recalls Steve Grace. “The plates last longer, we install faster, dial colors faster and reduce our waste. It was a home run.

Steve’s enthusiasm for FLEXCEL NX technology was shared by Fathom Optics founders Tom Baran and Matt Hirsch: “When we realized Grace was a user of the FLEXCEL NX plate, we were thrilled,” says Tom. “We had already had good experiences with the technology, getting incredibly smooth and consistent results. Compared to other systems we’ve worked with where variables come into play, it’s a consistent system, so you know what you’re going to get.

A fourth party to the project is creative design agency 818 Iowa, who created the original design and worked with Confluence to enhance the labels’ most signature features – the wizard, staff, and orb. Fathom then worked with Grace to bring it all to life.

The effects are obtained by printing very fine microstructures on two interference screens. The first screen is printed on the white BOPP pressure sensitive material, and the second screen is printed with the other decorative inks on top of the clear lamination.

Since the microstructures are made at a minimum of 480 LPI or more, the 1:1 pixel-to-pixel accuracy of the FLEXCEL NX plates was critical to maintaining lines 10 microns wide and approximately 42 microns apart. Says Tom: “These demanding effects can be incorporated into the same plate with traditional 2D graphics, which can be at 133-175 LPI, without difficulty. Sounds very difficult, but so far all UV flexo printers we have worked with have been able to achieve some level of effects.

Fierce competition to attract consumers’ attention
In the craft beer industry, competition for shelf space and consumer attention is fierce. Imaginative and impactful labeling is therefore extremely important for a small independent brewery such as Confluence. In the case of the award-winning label, the ‘Wizard’ brand of Gose-style sour beer opened up all sorts of creative possibilities, with the preferred option a multi-dimensional moving 3D image that would capture shoppers’ attention as they walk by. . by, and engage them further as they pick up the can and spin to explore the image further.

Traditionally, such an effect is achieved using holographic foils or lenticular lenses, but short label runs made both too expensive. Additionally, there are durability issues with holographic foils as they are typically 95% waste, while the lenticular approach had the added complication of the lens orientation being incompatible with the direction in which the labels are applied. on the box.

The answer lies in the East
Confluence didn’t know it at the time, but the answer lay 1,300 miles east in Somerville, a suburb of Boston, where Fathom Optics founders Tom and Matt were marketing their revolutionary new approach to embellishment, Fathom Effects. The technology originated from the partners’ doctoral work at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

“The idea behind Fathom Effects is based on software, not materials science,” says Tom. “The basis of this is taking large-scale computational algorithms and using them to change the way materials interact with light. We calculate complex interference patterns that can be printed on the front and back surfaces of the film. These are not interference patterns, as in holograms, but signal interference, as in moire.

While the technology behind Fathom is relatively complex, for end users adding special effects is remarkably simple. Designers simply drop files into Fathom Designer, a free online tool, where they assign motion and depth effects that can be previewed and shared with other stakeholders.

After two years of making the technology robust enough for long flexo runs, Tom and Matt settled on core labels, shrink sleeves and product authentication as their primary markets. Matt says: “We realized that there are brands that want totally personalized packaging but for whom traditional holographic and lenticular solutions are too expensive. We differ in that we ship 1-bit TIFF files to production sites – unlike holographic foil, where if you want a custom design, you have to order a film truck. On shrink sleeves, for example, with Fathom Effects, there is no additional cost: you simply print both sides of the film.

He adds, however, that Fathom Effects is also gaining traction with big brands, simply because it’s a software-based technology. “Big multinational consumer products groups often don’t want to get into new things because the process of qualifying a new material can take months or even years. But because our technology uses the same substrates, inks and flexo presses, no qualification process is required and they can be brought to market faster. And, because we’re not adding a different material, like a lenticular lens or hologram, there’s a sustainability benefit because it’s easier to recycle or reuse. All of these factors add a whole new level of acceptance.

Coming soon to an aisle near you…
With Fathom Effects technology now integrated into over 40 production sites and strong interest from brands large and small, 3D effects will be hitting more and more supermarket shelves before long. This is partly due to winning the award, says Tom, which gave a level of exposure that would otherwise have been difficult to achieve: “With an innovation like ours, it can be difficult to talk about jobs real due to privacy concerns. , although winning at the GFIA increased awareness. The award has significantly boosted our visibility, generating real business and, just as importantly, kickstarting relationships with some top brands. So stay tuned for future announcements! »

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