RESOLUCIA™ Story 1Research / Design
"TORAY PRINTING PLATES Lab." is an experimental initiative to explore the possibilities of expression through TORAY's printing plates and lead to new creations. This series of articles will tell the story of how leading creators and partner companies met through TORAY's printing plates, stimulated each other, and worked as one team to reach their goals.
A brand management agency established in 2017 that specializes in design. The agency offers a comprehensive range of services for corporate, product, and service branding. These include research, strategic planning, product development, and web planning.
Additionally, the company actively participates in exploring and promoting a sustainable future through its P.K.G. Lab. together with companies.
Comexi is a Spanish printing press manufacturer whose main products are flexographic presses for flexible packaging.
They offer a wide range of innovative solutions from printing to end of line automation processes, and also collaborate with EB ink manufacturer and promote EB printing system.
TORAY Development Team
The RESOLUCIA™ project team is responsible for developing a high-definition flexographic printing plate. This team operates within Graphic Systems Department of Toray Industries, located at Toray's Okazaki Plant in Aichi Prefecture. Our main objective is to enhance the quality of printing plates, aiming to make a significant contribution to society by creating high-quality plates that surpass the traditional standards of flexographic plate production.
Toray has developed advanced technology to enhance plate making and printing quality beyond traditional flexographic plates. This innovation not only improves reproducibility by enabling high-resolution of 200-line level, but also enhances production efficiency by reducing plate making time through full water-wash process. Compared to the conventional solvent-wash method, Toray's approach ensures superior results in terms of both quality and efficiency.
RESOLUCIA™, developed with Toray's photopolymer letterpress technology, brings new value to the flexographic printing market
― On a beautiful April day, after the cherry blossoms had fallen and fresh greenery had sprouted, two designers, Mr. Amano and Mr. Osada, entered the conference room at TORAY's head office in Nihonbashi, Tokyo. There, preparations were underway for an online meeting with Comexi, a Spanish printing press manufacturer, and a new partner at the TORAY PRINTING PLATE Lab. ―
TORAY Development Team (TORAY): Thank you for joining us today. Our primary focus will be on RESOLUCIA™, a plate utilized in flexographic printing.
In the photopolymer letterpress printing market, Toray has long been known and loved by customers around the world for TORELIEF™, which combines high-definition printing quality and high durability.
TORELIEF™ technology, which holds the highest global market share in photopolymer letterpress, to create flexographic plates. We have successfully developed a flexographic plate that offers full water-wash process and high-definition printing quality, now available under the new RESOLUCIA™ brand.
This printing method is popular overseas for label printing and other applications, and is well-known its high-volume output. To enhance the appeal of RESOLUCIA™ on the international flexographic printing market, we were seeking a partner company for the TORAY PRINTING PLATE Lab.
P.K.G.Tokyo Designer, Mr. Amano (Amano): So RESOLUCIA™ is the culmination of the technology and know-how you have developed through TORELIEF™. I understand that the search for a company had been challenging due to the COVID pandemic and current unstable international conditions. I am relieved to see progress. Mr. Osada and I are looking forward to collaborating with you on a design for this project.
P.K.G.Tokyo Designer, Mr. Osada (Osada): This is my first time working with an overseas printing company, so it is a very new experience. What influenced your decision to select Comexi for this project?
TORAY: Previously, we collaborated with them on a research project. When we invited them to join us again, they graciously accepted. Comexi is a Spanish printing press manufacturer whose main products are flexographic presses for flexible packaging. They also collaborate with ink manufacturer and promote EB printing system.
*EB Inks (EB curable inks): Inks cured by electron beam (EB) irradiation. They do not require hot air drying like conventional inks.
Amano: I see. In Japan, gravure printing is often used for flexible packaging, isn't it?
TORAY: Indeed, gravure printing used to be the first choice due to its superior print quality. However, today and especially abroad, flexographic printing is more prevalent.
Although it depends partly on the job, the growing demand for flexo printing can be attributed to its cost-effectiveness, simplicity, and quality that rivals gravure printing.
In line with such market trends, we aim to introduce RESOLUCIA™ globally. This product, a result of Toray's dedicated efforts, promises to offer new and innovative solutions.
Comexi is a company currently innovating in the field of flexographic printing with EB inks. We believe they are an excellent partner for RESOLUCIA™ to achieve significant progress.
We are ready to start our online meeting, so let's hear more about this topic from the project leaders.
Jordi Puig, Comexi Technical Sales Director (Comexi): I am Jordi Puig and it is a pleasure to meet you today, albeit virtually. I have been with Comexi for 28 years and currently serve as Technical Sales Director. This role allows me to bridge the gap between technical, R&D and sales departments. I assist our customers in identifying optimal products, while at the same time helping our engineers in defining new products for development.
Amano: You are a mechanical expert, but you are also responsible for sales, right? What kind of printing presses does Comexi manufacture?
Comexi: Comexi's primary product is the center-impression flexographic press, a line we started over 60 years ago. Recognizing an opportunity to merge solventless offset technology with center-impression drums for flexible package printing, we expanded into center-impression offset presses as well. Currently, we are concentrating on manufacturing digital printing presses as well, in anticipation of the imminent digital printing press era.
TORAY: Flexo presses are predominantly of the in-line type, while center-impression type presses don't seem to be as common. What exactly is the difference between the two?
Comexi: One issue with the in-line type is that the material is heated and can stretch during the drying process. In contrast, the center-impression type allows ink and similar substances to be placed on all decks surrounding a central drum. All decks are oriented towards this drum, and the material between decks is affixed to the drum instead of being left floating. This design prevents the material from stretching.
TORAY: Okay, that's what makes it so unique.
Comexi: The center-impression type excels in color registration, too. This is a critical aspect for flexible packaging, because flexible packaging is made of flexible materials, that is, materials that are malleable and stretchable. Nowadays, thin and stretchable materials such as polyethylene are gaining popularity. Therefore, to achieve high- quality printing with very sophisticated technology, you need a center- impression press.
TORAY: So the thinner the material, the more suitable a center-impression press is, right?
Comexi: Most labels are produced using in-line presses because labels for bottles and packages are very thick, and the elasticity of the material is less important. However, for flexible packaging, the use of center-impression type presses is essential.
Amano: Thank you for the clarification. It would seem that flexographic printing is becoming more and more popular overseas, both in the packaging market and in the label market. What do you consider to be the advantages of flexographic printing?
Comexi: Flexographic printing holds a competitive edge in the flexible packaging field over gravure printing due to its environmentally friendly and sustainable nature. Gravure printing involves the use of large amounts of solvents generating significant Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs). Flexographic printing, on the other hand, can significantly reduce both, uses less ink, and contains fewer solvents in the ink too.
Amano: It matches the needs of our times, doesn't it?
The thinner the material, the better suited flexographic printing is
Comexi: Flexographic printing has a much shorter job changeover time when compared to gravure printing. Typically, a flexographic press can switch jobs in approximately 40 minutes, while gravure printing requires 80 to 100 minutes. This effectively halves the time it takes to change jobs. Recent trends also indicate a shift towards shorter jobs. This results in a higher number of job switches, making flexographic printing much more advantageous than gravure printing.
Osada: I see. So this is why flexographic printing is mainstream now in other countries.
Comexi: Indeed, the advent of new technologies has elevated the quality of flexographic printing to match that of gravure printing. Additionally, with EB inks, which have higher solids and lower solvent content, we can surpass the quality achieved with traditional solvent-based inks. This results in equivalent quality, but with increased sustainability, cost-effectiveness, and profitability. Furthermore, the versatility of this technology enables us to print any food package using flexographic printing. Essentially, any package available on the market today can be made using flexographic printing.
TORAY: Just curious, how common is it to move from gravure printing to flexo printing?
Comexi: The global shift from gravure printing to flexo printing is especially clear in Asia, where there are very strict regulations on solvent use. The easiest alternative technology to gravure printing is flexographic printing.
Amano: I see. Now, given these advantages, what kind of packaging do you think flexographic printing is best suited for?
Comexi: I would say all types; especially the thinner the material, the better suited flexo printing is. For instance, if you want to make a very thin polyethylene package, you cannot do that with gravure printing.
Osada: It seems that thin films are very much in favor in the European packaging industry these days. Why do you think this is?
Comexi: From a sustainability standpoint, our most pressing task is to reduce the amount of plastic used. While we can't completely eradicate plastic products due to their numerous benefits, we can significantly reduce the overall volume by adjusting the thickness from 40 microns to 30 microns, for example. Also, making polyethylene thinner enhances its stretchability. If it's stretchable, it's easier to print using flexographic printing. Consequently, there is a high demand for thinner polyethylene materials. Moreover, the thinner the material, the more cost-effective it becomes.
We want to help the flexible packaging industry become sustainable under the "Better Packaging for a Better World" motto
TORAY: So thinner films are desirable both from an environmental and cost standpoint. Now for my next question: What are the advantages and features of EB inks?
Comexi: EB inks are curable inks. They have many solid parts, which do not dry but cure through a chemical reaction. While UV inks cure by exposure to UV light, which causes a chemical reaction, EB inks do not need light, but use an electron beam instead. Thus, the major difference between EB inks and conventional solvent inks is that they cure without drying via a chemical reaction.
Amano: Okay, so they cure with an electron beam.
Comexi: Yes, the use of EB inks in flexo printing can significantly reduce the need for solvents. Also, there is no need to use hot air drying, thus eliminating the need for gas. In addition, the solid content of the ink is higher and does not bleed due to solvents, resulting in clearer prints. There is also less dot gain, enabling superior print quality. Plus, since the ink cures through a chemical reaction, it provides greater physical and chemical resistance as well as heat resistance compared to conventional inks. EB inks allow for the application of a varnish coating over the ink to create various effects. Desired finishes such as gloss or matte can be attained, and the amount of material can be reduced because of the ability to substitute lamination. This not only reduces costs but also simplifies the production of single materials and molecules, facilitating their recycling.
TORAY: EB inks appear to be not only eco-friendly, but also cost-effective and capable of delivering high- definition results. With conventional inks, it seems you must print first and then apply varnish or laminate separately, correct?
Comexi: Yes, that's correct. For example, a pouch laminated with polyethylene and polyester is non-recyclable because the materials cannot be separated. But with EB varnish, it’s possible to produce a single-layer pouch that is more durable and heat resistant, using only polyethylene. This cannot be achieved with solvent inks. In other words, EB varnish is indispensable for producing single-material pouches.
Amano: Are EB inks generally used for a variety of applications?
Comexi: EB inks are an emerging technology, currently utilized by only a handful of companies worldwide. At Comexi, we are committed to EB inks from a sustainability standpoint, which lies at the heart of our mission. Our guiding principle is "Better Packaging for a Better World." We are convinced that EB inks offer the most effective technology to promote sustainability within the flexible packaging industry. However, only a few customers have adopted this technology so far because it is still very new. While EB inks in offset have been known for some time now, their application in flexography is still in the early days.
Amano: Comexi is a pioneer in the sale of EB flexographic presses.
I truly appreciate Comexi's strong environmental consciousness and the evident pride in your work. This meeting was highly informative, and I gained several significant insights for my design work. Thank you very much for your time today!
Comexi: Thank you as well. We hope to see you in Spain soon.
How the "UMAMI JAPAN" pouch was designed to promote Japan's renowned "umami" culture
― A few weeks after the meeting with Comexi, in May, the TORAY development team was invited to P.K.G. Tokyo's Omotesando office for a design presentation ―
TORAY: Given that Comexi is a company proficient in flexible packaging, after our last online meeting we had requested your assistance in designing a pouch. Could you please update us on the progress?
Amano: Yes, I must admit, I initially found the task challenging. I’ve always seen pouches as lacking aesthetic appeal.... Therefore, we tried to make our work as symbolic as possible. First of all, we identified the primary function of a pouch. We decided that it was a packaging material adept at containing odors, particularly for food products. Also, since TORAY is a globally-operating Japanese plate-making company, we thought it would be good to promote "Japan" as a brand. After extensive brainstorming, we came to the conclusion that "dashi broth" would be perfect.
TORAY: Dashi, did you say? We want to market RESOLUCIA™ worldwide, so the JAPAN element is ideal for us.
Amano: "Dashi broth equals umami," which is something we are proud to share with the world. Under the "UMAMI JAPAN" brand, we designed six distinct pouches containing ingredients for dashi broth: bonito, shiitake mushrooms, kelp, scallops, small shrimp, and anchovy (small dried sardines). Our design incorporates a droplet symbol to represent the essence of dashi broth, and features realistic images of the contents on each pouch. The droplet not only signifies the process of making soup stock by immersing the ingredients in water, but also highlights RESOLUCIA™ as a water-washable plate.
TORAY: It is great to see that you incorporated the characteristics of the plate as well. We plan to manufacture the plate in Japan as soon as possible, followed by printing in Spain at the start of June, so we are looking forward to see the final result.
Osada: We too are looking forward to the completion of the project.
Summary: Symbolic design with a Japanese character by flexographic printing
Amano: During the online meeting with Mr. Puig from Comexi, I was impressed their pride in their flexographic presses. Their commitment to the environment was evident, and I learned a lot about various printing technologies focused on plastic reduction. We are eager to see how the symbolic design we proposed will turn out with flexographic printing, especially as the demand for flexible packaging is likely to rise in the future.
Osada: I had the impression that flexographic printing was used for cardboard or simple items, so the idea of flexographic printing on flexible packaging was new to me.
TORAY: Our initial perception of pouches was that they were often flashy, so your proposal for a simple, Japanese-style design was very innovative. The fact that the drop shape also serves as a symbol for water-wash is also a great honor for us as a manufacturer.