The changes in the quality and output within the printing industry have been astounding over the last 50 years mainly due to technology. When Roger Thibault, Production Director at Century Printing and Packaging began his printing education it was a letterpress before the advent of offset printing. Recently, we sat down with Roger to talk about the printing business and what he has seen during his 50+ year printing career:
So my first printing class used a letterpress. I really wanted to take the class but a lot of people took it for an easy grade so the instructor would have us sort type and by the time the class got to the right size he stopped having us do it because he had weeded out the kids that didn’t want to be there and could start teaching us about printing. In those days everything was done on Intertype/Linotype with tons of brass matrices to make letters. It was slow, tedious work. But offset printing really changed everything.
Talk about the speed evolution in printing:
I went from letterpress to sheetfed and lead printing before we went to flexographic printing. The speed is incredible in terms of printing just 20 years ago. When I started out back then a press would run 5,000 feet an hour and now the same machines are running 20,000 feet per hour! Everything was pretty much manual in terms of adjustments and now we make them on the fly on the computer and the productivity has increased so much.
And colors weren’t always exact were they?
It’s pretty incredible when you stop and think about it. In the early days, we were doing one color at a time. This was before we went to multiple units and then from 1-2, 4, and 8-color presses. It just kept improving the quality and the process as time went by. And then digital printing just improved the dot structure and you have more control.
How has this changed the proofing process?
The proofs today mimic the finished product so there is not a great degree of change like there used to be between proofs and the final product. The client can actually adjust colors in the prepress whereas in the old days you had a process and would take each color, a clear film, or laminate and it was a crude process that would give you some idea of how the finished product would look like on the press. You would go back and forth several times to get the press proof right for a color match that met the customer’s approval.
Today, the GMG proof is an exact match. We can do a fingerprint of the machine in terms of how the machine prints and how the plates will be made. It’s like a footprint and every day we are running more and more unsupported film jobs with flexible packaging because of these advancements that cut out time and save money in the long run.
You’ve printed just about everything during your career. Is there anything that still excites you in terms of designs, colors, and the finished product?
I’d have to say some of the coolest stuff is the craft beer and CBD market. We’ve printed on foil and using shiny foil to come through different parts of the beer labels, so some parts are opaque and white so the ink is brighter and leaves some empty space or a metallic look. It’s holograph type material. These beer labels are getting more and more creative in their artwork. So we tweak them for the press and make suggestions on what we know our presses will do, but the final decision is always the customers. A lot of customers know what they want, but don’t know how to get there in terms of printing and we help them get the results they have in mind. Beer labels are fun to print cause you never know what they are going to look like…
What other advances are you happy to see?
We are using water-based inks that wash up with water. It’s a little more difficult to work with inks that aren’t solvent-based as you have to balance the Ph and chemistry, but it’s cleaner and better for the environment. Flexo was the first place I experienced water-based inks.
Our Mark Andy Digital One printer is exciting because it can do very short jobs while maintaining quality. Last week we had a winery that just wanted 40 labels for a wine they were bottling. Back in the day, it would’ve been cost-prohibitive because it wouldn’t be worth the setup and job just to do forty labels. The Digital One is way more cost-effective in that regard. It allows smaller businesses to get quality labels without having to worry about ordering a minimum (big) number to get a price break. We did a beer label this morning with four color printing coming off the digital and we used the flexo water-based gold to imprint and added a gloss laminate.
The majority of our beer labels are matte finishes with a clear film on top of the label to about 1,000th thickness that covers the label. The film has this adhesive that sticks to the bottle and the ink has to be formulated to be taken in and out of cold, or wet environments without being compromised.
What trends are you seeing and what about your team?
Our industry keeps changing, evolving. The unsupported film is a growing market for snacks, trail bars, chips, etc. We see a lot of CBD products and it seems to be growing. Beer labels are my favorite and the most interesting designers are getting more and more creative.
Our sales team is the best I’ve ever seen. They do a great job of conveying the customer needs to us. And when a customer is in doubt they are free to come to look at the press run in-process and we can make changes on the fly if necessary. It’s all about getting it exactly how the client wants the finished product.
Our color booth is really cool and I believe we are going to see more advances like it. It is color corrective lighting so you can take two samples into the booth and one looks different from another. I think we are up to 9200-kelvin color rendering in what we are matching and how close we come. And the Spectrometer helps us to see the inks standards and strengths which has improved our quality drastically.
There are 13 of us in production and we have a really good team and communicate very well. There are a lot of good operators and just good people. We are really working on cross-training so everyone can operate every piece of equipment to minimize downtimes and production delays.
Roger thanks for your time any wild or crazy stories from your years of printing?
Yeah my first job running a press in 1972-73 a job for IBM. The facilities were located in the back of our lot and I had a job where a security guard was with me the entire shift and took everything I had, the waste, final product, etc. I found out IBM was introducing a “chip” and I didn’t even know what it was. I read what I was printing and had no idea just how important these “chips” would be and now look at us, lol, lol.
Century Printing and Packaging is an ISO 9001:2015 certified company located in Greer, South Carolina. Flexographic, rollstock film, flexible packaging, CBD, and craft beer labels are among our extensive print products and technologies. We are family owned and operated. Call us today about all of your printing or packaging needs. We make labels that perform and stick!