The “last mile” problem for digital graphic arts is the review-approval process. Proofing has been problematic since the beginning. The print buyer expects to see a physical sample before granting final approval. It’s a hard habit to break. Printing produces a physical product that we really want to see (and touch) before we spend money.

Virtual, monitor-based proofs have solved this problem for publications and much of commercial printing. Publishers and print buyers are using costly press checks and contract paper proofs less often. Increasingly, it is acceptable to view print page replicas on a calibrated color monitor. But packaging is another matter.

The Package Review-Approval Dilemma
By its very nature, a finished package is not a flat surface but a three-dimensional object. Packaging also uses more complex elements, like metallics, embossing, and unusual substrates like glass and plastic. A package is a complex visual medium. Brand companies are more likely to demand more in the review-approval process.

The trouble is: it’s costlier to create a 3D prototype than to print out a color page proof. The virtual approach has to involve more than good color management. It must embrace 3D technology, and allow all stakeholders to participate—at an affordable cost.

The iC3D Array of Options
As you can imagine, iC3D has many different solutions to this thorny problem. In no particular order, they are:

  • Using screen sharing with iC3D – As we’ve discussed many times, iC3D is a remarkable tool for creating production-ready packaging. Companies commonly use online screen sharing services like GoToMeeting to share their iC3D screen with multiple decision makers. (A great comparison of such services can be found here.) You can also use free services like Skype or Google Hangouts.

PROS
– Every participant can interact, live, with the iC3D operator.
– Changes can be made and viewed immediately, in real time.

 

CONS
– Internet connection and bandwidth issues are outside the presenter’s control.
– Time zone and scheduling issues can make it difficult to manage.

  • Using iC3D’s opsis feature for online viewing – When decision makers are separated by location, time zones, and scheduling challenges, iC3D opsis is the ideal solution. Users log in to this secure portal, to view only those package designs associated with their company or department.

PROS
– Every participant can see, and “handle” the 3D objects created by iC3D—including ray-traced (photo-realistic) models.
– Uses HTML5, requiring no special browser plugins or IT support.

 

CONS
– Does not provide in-line commenting.

  • Export a video file – iC3D has another great feature to solve the review-approval issue. It can export any 3D package to a QuickTime (.MOV) file. This can be done manually, where each action of the designer is recorded. Video export can also be automated, using an animation template to apply a sequence of rotations, zooms, and even folding sequences. The resulting videos can be uploaded to a hosting platform for viewing.

PROS
– Automated video export can be used to standardize review-approval of multiple packages.
– Many video portals allow extensive commenting and interaction.

 

CONS
– Video file sizes can be very large.
– Security issues can be a problem with some video platforms, like YouTube.

  • Export a 3D PDF file – If the packaging decision makers are accustomed to working with PDF, and with Acrobat’s commenting and annotation features, designers can also export 3D PDF files directly from iC3D.

PROS
– Users can view at any rotation or zoom level, and add comments.
– PDF 3D files are used by many companies, including market research firms like Invoke.

 

CONS
– File sizes can be fairly large (10-20 MB).
– Many packaging-related special effects cannot be displayed in PDF.

 

OEM partners like Hybrid Software can also use the iC3D Software Developer’s Kit (SDK) to read, annotate, and share native iC3D files for reviewing purposes.

There is no “one size fits all” solution to this issue. But as the consumer product company supply chain becomes larger and more complex, these review and approval options will be a critical part of a brand’s success.