5 mistakes FMCG companies make when developing Artwork (and how to resolve them) -Part II

by Vineet Singh 

In this part, we will look at Artwork Management best practices, and how some correctly placed technology aids in artwork automation. And, of course, review how to find solutions to the 5 expensive mistakes we discussed in Part 1.

Artwork best practices can be easily achieved by implementing a software-based artwork management solution. An artwork automation solution mitigates the impact of critical and tedious artwork procedural tasks. With a good artwork management system, you can ensure that all the regulatory guidelines and processes such as designing layouts, form filing and approvals are automated right from design to print. An artwork management solution offers the following benefits.

  • faster time to market
  • release approved, error-free, and proof-read artwork
  • avoid product recall
  • avoid wastage due to non-availability of artwork

Presentation and packaging are the first touchpoints for the consumer, and often the most important part of a product. Therefore, a robust and effective automatic artwork management system ensures that you are prepared to effectively meet all the critical challenges of artwork - from design to print.

What to look for when choosing an Artwork Management software solution

Challenge #1 - Coordination across departments

As a first step, preparation of the content required for Artwork - be it for New Product Development (NPD), Existing Product Development (EPD) or temporary artwork for campaigns - is a crucial part of the artwork preparation process. The right Artwork tool will get all your teams on the same page with regards to the content & deadlines. It is important to look for some key collaboration features within the software you choose.

The artwork automation tool you choose should give you, at a minimum, the following features.

  • Configurable workflows
  • Deadline tracking
  • A single, reliable view of each Artwork under preparation for each team member
  • Reminders & notifications
  • Chat, comments & other collaboration tools

The software solution will provide the entire team with dashboards where they can track their own work Inbox & task list and also a single-screen view of deadlines to which they need to adhere. The software solution also brings

Challenge #2 - Bringing structure to unstructured Artwork processes

Moving to a Workflow-based system brings accountability & structure to the Artwork development process. Chances are that you already have a defined, paper-based fill-pushing workflow that is being used at your company. This is a great start because a good workflow solution will allow you to directly map your existing business processes, giving you the best of both worlds - you can follow your own best practice process as well as use a software solution.

Moving to a workflow-based solution, you should be able to do the following.

  • Track KPIs - you should be able to define times for each step of your workflow, and track adherence to timelines. Any deviations can be easily identified to introduce improvements as required.
  • Automate escalations in case of delays - Sometimes, the concerned person is on leave - or unavailable. What happens to your process?
  • Electronic & mobile approvals
  • Audit trails

Moving to a workflow-based solution will bring transparency and accountability to the Artwork management process. As an added advantage, an Artwork workflow system also allows your team to be process-driven, rather than person driven.

Challenge #3 - a Central Repository for all Artworks

A central repository of all Artwork - filed, categorized & versioned - is a must-have for any organization that deals with physical goods & packaging. And, this repository must be in a Document Management System (DMS) that allows for, at a minimum the following features:

  • Secure storage - where only authorized access is allowed
  • Single view of the truth - meaning, only the final, approved versions of Artwork are visible to the participants. Only creators & custodians of the repository may control access to previous or deactivated versions of Artwork
  • Categorization - the DMS should allow for a multi-tiered file structure. A suggested format is below.
    • Product Category
    • Product Name
    • Packaging type (e.g. 100 gm bottle)
    • Box, Label, Insert
    • For each, the actual artwork
  • Collaboration - your DMS must allow sharing of this information with internal stakeholders as well as with your Vendors
  • Backups & restore - a cloud-based DMS will provide inherent backup & restore features. If you choose an on-premise or self-hosted solution, the DMS needs to allow for regular, scheduled backups that can be restored onto your infrastructure with minimal effort.

The central repository is the asset base that you and your team will create over the life of the organization. The importance of choosing the right Artwork repository cannot be stressed enough.

Challenge #4 - Managing colors

The challenge with colors lie in how computers can ‘read’ colors & ‘render’ colors. Computers rely on scanners to read in the specific colors, and the internal representation is a mix of R,G,B - Red, Green & Blue colors. And, for each scanner vendor or even iteration of the hardware, the sensors that detect color will differ.

In the physical world, the colors are developed by mixing CMYK (Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, Black) colors. In some cases, there can be a mix of even more color shades. This causes much confusion & frustration with regards to getting colors accurately represented between what a graphic designer creates & what a printer can print on physical packaging.

A much-needed standardization was required to communicate between the graphic designers & printers, and one was introduced in the 1950s by a company called Pantone LLC. The team at Pantone LLC standardized over one thousand shades across the color spectrum and defined the mix of colors required to achieve that exact shade. You can read more about the history of Pantone color. For this blog, we will take Pantone to be an existing, widely accepted standard.

The automated software solution that you choose may or may not be able to auto-translate RGB into Pantone shades. That is fine - because the translation from the physical colors to digital colors will always have a degree of variance. It is imprudent to rely only on the software solution to bring any variances to your notice. Color must be verified manually by matching the Pantone shade to the physical samples provided by your print vendor.

Having said that, it is very important to finalize the exact Pantone shade using Pantone Shade Cards for each color on your Artwork. And, this must be done outside of the software solution. This Pantone code should then be entered as a reference onto the Artwork design itself, so your print vendor can ensure the outcomes match the actual expectations.

Challenge #5 - Proofreading

Proofreading deserves a blog post by itself - with the sheer number of variables, potential for error & methods that are part of this process. Each person proofreading Artwork deals with the following (listed in no particular order).

  • Reading small font sizes - Large fonts are, of course, easier to read than the tiny fonts that are found on leaflets, regulatory messaging and other information that is not related to marketing. Reading through a leaflet of hundreds of words to ensure there is no mistake - technical, grammatical or spelling wise - is a daunting task.
  • Incorrect spellings that are difficult to identify - in many fonts, a capital ‘I’ can be easily confused with the letter ‘l’. This can change the meanings of words or cause inaccurate information to be published. The human brain requires only the first & last letter to be in the right place - letters within the word may be inter-changed or incorrect, but a human will be able to read the sentence - sometimes without even catching the incorrect spelling.
  • Missing words, sentences or symbols - In some cases, especially in the case of Pharmaceutical products, a missing hyphen can potentially cause bodily harm. What if a dosage of 2-4 tablets a day is printed without the hyphen? It would read ‘a dosage of 2 4 tablets a day’ - which can easily be confused for 24 tablets.
  • Missing or incorrectly placed tittles - that is, the small dot on top of an i or j, that can go amiss. Or, inversely, a printing mistake could add a spot that could look like a tittle. A small mistake, but can cause your packaging to be rejected at source, or cause product recalls.
  • Good Artwork Management Software today come with built-in smart proofreading tools. In fact, this is a key component of choosing your Artwork Management solution. A section below focuses on which features to look for in your proofreading solution.

Checklist for Artwork Management Software

When choosing a solution that is right for you, you must prepare a checklist of features required for your team, according to priority. With software, one size does not always fit all.

1. A lightweight, versatile solution

A good Artwork Management solution must be easy to adopt, configure & deploy. An optimal solution will be Cloud-based, and can be consumed in a plug-and-play model.

Discus Artwork Manager takes into account typical challenges faced with Enterprise Software and offers an off-the-shelf, Cloud-based solution built on a versatile platform. The versatile platform, Kriya, offers clients hundreds of out-of-the-box features for configuring Artwork processes. What’s more, Kriya can also host a full Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) solution for your organization.

2. Approval workflow features

Preparation of Artwork content, approvals of final images and even the comparison & finalization of print samples - all follow a workflow. Workflow solutions come in different sizes, with the most basic versions can be a simple state machine without auditability & accountability - say, a spreadsheet-based tracker.

You need an effective solution that allows for authorization, accountability, traceability & auditability of the work done across all workflows. For this, you should look at the below features.

  • A web-based solution. A basic ask, so the solution is accessible across locations & workstations, does not require installation of extra software in addition to a standard web browser - and, most importantly, all data is stored in a Cloud based or central server. This ensures only one version of all data exists, regardless of who is accessing the system, and when.
  • Easily integrates your existing systems. You already have an ERP where you track item codes. Artwork has its associated asset codes & cost centers. The workflow solution should be able to kick-off where your existing system ends, and ideally, come full circle to your ERP to attach the finalized Artwork artifacts with the Purchase Order.
  • Multiple Customizable workflows. Artwork preparation is not a single-workflow affair. Your team probably has multiple product teams, multiple regions, multiple campaigns and… well, you get the point. Each aspect of work will require its own workflow - choose a system that allows easy configuration of workflows. Preferably, without specialist and/or programmer help.
  • Faster Online approvals for both serial and parallel approvals. Some workflows are built linearly. Some need to branch out to multiple stakeholders parallelly and eventually the outcomes need to merge (e.g. content preparation goes to R&D, Marketing, Legal, Regulatory, etc & final content comes to the Designer for Artwork creation). Your solution should be versatile enough to allow for serial & parallel workflows - and also workflows that need everyone’s action - or can be actioned by any one participant.
  • Vendor Portal for Printers. Your print vendor is part of your business process. They should also be part of your Artwork Workflow solution to allow for seamless communication. This gives the additional benefits of transparency & key metric tracking such as deadlines, turn around times (TATs), etc.
  • Dynamic dashboards. Workflow solutions gather a lot of data. In many cases, this is metadata & not linked to transactions. A dynamic dashboard builder allows you to visualize your data in the way you desire. TATs by product? Response times by the vendor? Delays by the team? Work Inbox based on priority of work? A dynamic dashboard solution allows you to configure the system as per your needs. What’s more, each user can configure their dashboards and track the data that is important to them. This puts you one step closer to a data driven organization.
  • Checklists. Checklists are important as reminders as well as validation of work done. Multiple steps of the Workflow should have the ability to define checklists, to ensure nothing goes amiss.
  • Audit trail. Activities on the Workflow system should leave an Audit trail. An audit trail provides accountability of actions performed on the system. Essentially, it covers ‘who did what, when’.

Automatic Artwork Management process thus offers significant critical core competency that reflects in the following aspects.

3. Annotate & Proofreading Features

A smart proofreading solution will take the onus of finding differences in versions of Artwork, allowing the proofreader to focus on more human-friendly tasks - such as communication & contribution to the Artwork process. An effective proofreading solution should have the following mandatory features.

  • Automatic comparison algorithms. The proofreading solution should have algorithms that can automatically scan images & highlight all differences that are found, allowing the proofreader to jump straight into acceptance or comment mode.
  • On-screen comments. You are comparing images using a tool. Then why should you use a disjointed commenting tool? Your proofreader should allow on-screen comments, and what’s more, also allow communication - chats & resolution - on the comparison itself.
  • Web-based access. A proofreading tool should be lightweight, and accessible via a Web browser. Web-based access allows your comments and reports to be hosted in a central environment. With desktop based tools, users tend to make local copies & leave crumbs of information across workstations, which in turn makes it difficult to control and manage comments & comparison reports.
  • Multiple comparison modes. Not all images are made equal, and some modes of comparison work better than others depending on some factors of the image - such as color shades of the image, the amount of text information on the image, etc. At a minimum, the proofreading tool should support these comparison modes:
    • Flicker compare - where two superimposed images are shown to the user in rapid succession (with a configurable flick rate). The human eye is trained to spot differences in such a format, and many differences can easily be identified.
    • Inverse compare - where all similar pixels of two images are removed and only the differentials of both images remain visible.
    • Auto compare - where the tool compares the images for you (as mentioned above).
    • OCR based text comparison - where selecting specific parts of the image get translated to text, and are then compared as ascii values.
    • Side by side comparison - where two versions of images are shown next to each other, and the comparer can manually identify differences between both.
  • Color comparison. We discussed above that RGB to Pantone is not a perfect science and difficult to achieve. But, RGB shades across versions of digitally prepared images can be easily compared - and this is a necessary feature for any proofreading tool. For comparing with scanned images, standardizing your scanner model & sensor, and allowing for a tolerance percentage (of color distance) can give you reasonably accurate results.
  • Document comparison. For leaflets, instruction manuals & other document-style packaging material, the proofreading solution must allow for effective PDF to PDF comparison. An effective proofreader will highlight missing characters or words or lines; misplaced or misaligned images; and even misplaced or missing whitespace.
  • Allow comparison of digitally prepared image with a scanned sample provided by the printer. This is not a simple feature to implement technically, but it is extremely valuable when proofing print samples.
  • Barcode reader. Barcodes are created to make it easier for machines to read information (as compared to Optical Content Recognition, or OCR). They are not meant for human readability. The person responsible for proofreading is then tasked with verifying the accuracy & correctness of the barcode. The proofreading tool should have a feature to scan barcodes & demonstrate the same in an alphanumeric format to make it human readable.

Alongside, the following optional features can be helpful.

  • Braille recognition - this should not be a make or break, because a reverse recognition of Braille is not going to be 100% accurate all the time. Also, braille cannot be recognized (at least easily) from scanned images
  • The Discus Artwork Management solution gives you more than one way of comparing images.

4. Compliance to Standards

Compliance to standards such as GAMP’s CFR 21 Part 11 - at a minimum - guarantee that the solution will be developed in line with best practices. Also, this is a requirement if you operate in an environment regulated by bodies such as the United States Food & Drugs Administration (USFDA) or Medicines & Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) of the United Kingdom (UK).

Artwork is considered to directly impact consumer safety, and hence the tools used to prepare Artwork would fall under scrutiny by regulatory bodies. In such cases, the Artwork Management Solution will need to be validated (validation is a process where the solution’s effectiveness & data integrity are verified to be in accordance with approved processes).

Solutions like Artwork Manager are CFR 21 Part 11 compliant and have undergone many regulatory bodies and client audits. Adherence to Good Automated Manufacturing Practices (GAMP) standards ensures that the solution is stable, and will not allow for your business process to fail. Discus Artwork Manager is a GAMP category 4 product. This allows for a smooth installation & prompt validation of the solution - reducing the time to go-live.