By Cassandra Balentine
Color is an important element of printing that must be managed throughout the entire production process, starting with design. A variety of standards help ensure accurate and consistent color, which is achieved with the help of sophisticated tools and skilled operators.
One step towards color management is the ICC profile. Developed by the International Color Consortium (ICC), ICC profiles help characterize color in a standardized manner. In addition to preset profiles for specified combinations of printer, ink, and media, custom profiles are built using color management tools.
Color accuracy and consistency is further managed with the help of digital front ends (DFEs), workflow software, color measurement sensors, and proofing and verification tools.
Above: Caldera TotalColor is a complete solution for color management and profiling.
Print buyers demand accurate and consistent color. Expectations are increasingly sophisticated. “There is no room for error or faulty colors. All colors—especially brand colors—must look consistent and great, regardless of the printer or substrate used,” shares Bart Fret, director of large format sales, GMG Americas.
Bryan Manwaring, director of product marketing, Onyx Graphics, Inc., agrees, adding that customers need to know their print service provider (PSP) offers accurate, consistent color that conforms to standards.
Print buyers want more consistent color and are more likely to switch PSPs to get it, suggests Dean Derhak, product director, SA International (SAi). “This gives a competitive advantage to PSPs that demonstrate proficiency in color consistency.”
“The ability of a print provider to match image color and quality across multiple devices or substrates, and to hit brand identity colors consistently will help them gain and retain the most profitable business,” says Mark Gallucci, manager, technology marketing, commercial software, Agfa Graphics.
Print buyers know what colors they expect to see in their products, so communicating color and making expectations clear up front is critical. “Not only do PSPs need to match colors in production, they also need to communicate intelligently about color at the beginning of the buying process,” explains Derhak.
According to Kerry Moloney, product marketing manager, Fiery wide format products, EFI, customers expect their logo and brand colors to be printed with the closest possible match, no matter what the substrate. “We see many colors requiring prints that conform to one of the print industry standards, independent of substrate limitations.”
Peter Pretzer, ColorPath solutions development manager, Fujifilm North America Corporation, Graphic Systems Division, says educating customers on what is possible and setting appropriate expectations is a challenge. “If they are touting accuracy, predictability, and repeatability, they should know what it takes to achieve those ends and remain profitable.”
“If customers can specify achievable designs from the get-go, the entire process is smoother,” admits Ray Cheydleur, print, packaging, and imaging product portfolio manager, X-Rite, Incorporated.
Expectations differ greatly from customer to customer. Darrian Young, VP of workflow automation, Aleyant, points out that some customers are satisfied with pleasing color while others demand exact reproduction of brand and corporate colors.
“It has become possible for anyone to have anything printed on a product,” says Robert Nute, president, ErgoSoft Americas. “But those PSPs who focus on and understand color management will ultimately win the consumer by delivering a higher quality product at a competitive price.”
Color management is complex and intimidating. PSPs may struggle with color management across devices, ink, and media as well as over time due to maintenance cycles. “It is important that PSPs have a malleable solution that provides the same output across device, ink, and media,” recommends Manwaring.
“It is at the same time a science and a religion in the printing industry. PSPs need to understand that the most critical component of a color management system is to have a system,” offers Nute.
Without training or formal color management processes, print providers often struggle with color consistency. “Color process controls like G7 calibration and profile simulation become important for more complicated jobs,” says Derhak. It is difficult for PSPs to get accurate or consistent color when they don’t use ICC profiles in their RIP software that match the media loaded in their printers.
There is often a lack of standardization and this is aggravated by the lack of standardization of printing materials available to the PSP. “There is often also a reliance on the pre-bundled RIP that drives each separate wide format inkjet digital printer to provide accurate color between every printer. This is an impossible task, as it cannot be done without centralized color management,” cautions Fret.
Gallucci adds that lower quality inks or substrates often introduce instability from batch to batch.
The increasingly varied range of media available is a challenge that affects color quality and consistency.
All substrates and ink combinations behave differently. “Even changing resolution or screening settings produces a color shift,” shares Moloney. Color management compensates for any differences these variables bring in. This is why it not only needs to be comprehensive in terms of the tools provided with a solution, but also easy to use.”
Manwaring adds that different substrates require different color managed profiles to ensure superior color output that is accurate, consistent over time, as well as conforming to color standards. “PSPs absolutely need the right tools at their disposal to achieve output that meets their customer needs,” he says.
Every piece of media absorbs—or doesn’t absorb—ink differently, which affects the final result, points out Fret.
“The basics of the color management are the same, regardless of the media. However, matching colors across media and ink types is very difficult without color management across the production workflow,” says Derhak.
It is important to remember that one profile does not fit all. “Variables such as number of passes, resolution, gloss, ink density, and substrate brightness can and will change print conditions visually. How painful is it for incorrect color to leave the shop? Today’s tools can help minimize the chance of that happening and the ability to profile for an individual medium is faster than ever,” shares Pretzer.
Color Management Tools
Color output standards are consistently updated and improved. Today’s color management tools are faster and profiles are easier to create. Calibration steps are more intuitive. Measurement devices adopt new modes that allow for second surface readings. In addition to software, spot color measuring devices, spectrophotometers, and spectrodensitometer tools are often utilized within a wide format print environment.
Here, we highlight several color management tools and discuss their role within a wide format workflow.
Agfa’s Asanti production workflow includes a fully integrated suite of calibration, profiling, and color management tools. It features integrated preflight, layout automation, color management, and rendering using Adobe’s PDF Print Engine. The program provides a wizard-driven process that enables operators to calibrate, set ink limits, and profile new media. Advanced tools facilitate G7 calibration and spot color tuning for accurate brand color matching across print modes, substrates, and devices. Asanti is ICC based and imports from or exports to any other ICC tool.
PressTune, part of Agfa’s ECO3 solutions, provides advanced calibration, management, and tracking tools. It offers validation, trend analysis, and integrated recalibration for multiple machines and print sites. PressTune is G7 certified and works with a variety of printing systems, including inkjet, toner, or offset.
Aleyant offers TFlow, device link, and spot color management. Files are color converted and tagged according to the standard as well as user-defined color spaces. Spot colors are checked and normalized, and can be renamed, converted, or color values replaced. Transparencies and overprints are also managed with optional flattening with additional treatment of rich blacks and white.
Aleyant QualityControl converts the X-Rite i1 Pro family or X-Rite eXact into a high-end spectrodensitometer by providing colorimetric and densitometric functionality. QualityControl also works with other color libraries for spot color quality control.
Caldera software includes a color management solution based on ICC technology. The EasyMedia module is in all of its RIP packages. This wizard-based tool allows users to calibrate and characterize printers, resulting in profiles that correspond to print configurations—including media, ink, resolution, qualities, and various mechanical and color parameters. “It is simple and powerful. Everything is preconfigured to capture the best printer gamut,” says Arnaud Fabre, product manager, Caldera. Fine tuning options are available for those with more advanced color management skills or those that want to learn by trial and error.
EFI offers a variety of color management tools. For example, Fiery proServer and Fiery XF are hardware and software, respectively. Fiery DFEs for wide to superwide inkjet print production come with proof-grade tools and options for managing color. “Customers can choose per job how tight color needs to be and treat jobs accordingly. Built-in spot color libraries also mean extremely good out-of-the-box results for brand colors. There are also many features for fine tuning, plus creating custom colors,” explains Moloney.
Fiery products are based on ICC technology. “They also benefit from sophisticated interactive routines for honing color quickly and easily for an even better simulation, whether process or spot color matching is required,” continues Moloney.
ErgoSoft offers a suite of color management tools consisting of integrated products to define printing system settings, create linearization, and generate a multicolor profile.
ErgoSoft RIP solutions feature three core systems that together provide a multicolor color management solution. From within the print environment, the user has control over the baseline settings for the printer, resolution, speed, and device options. The advanced dither settings enable a higher level of control over how drops of ink respond to media in variable drop size printing platforms.
Once the baseline settings are established, the next step is to create the linearization. ErgoSoft RIP solutions feature an integrated proprietary linearization application that is easy to determine the density end points of primary ink channels based on the spectral data gathered by a spectrophotometer.
Nute says the software supports all color systems. “It is possible to achieve G7 certification using ErgoSoft’s linearization tools and ColorGPS. It is easy to import Pantone color books to facilitate spot color replacement.”
Fujifilm produces and uses ColorPath SYNC DLP and ColorPath SYNC Brand Color Optimizer for wide format digital printing color management.
ColorPath SYNC DLP is a cloud-based solution that creates optimized device link profiles with integrated validation and reporting. It allows for fast, easy-to-use color alignment of multiple output devices to a common color target or industry specifications. ColorPath SYNC DLP works with any DFE that accepts device link profiles and uses X-Rite’s current USB-based spectrophotometers for data acquisition.
Because it’s cloud-based, any web-connected computer quickly becomes a ColorPath portal for measuring, creation, optimization, and reporting. There are no software or server platforms to maintain so the latest tools are always available and data is always secure, says Pretzer. “A simple interface means excellent results can be achieved quickly and accurately without having to be a color expert,” he adds.
ColorPath SYNC Brand Color Optimizer predicts, creates, and optimizes accurate brand color libraries for digital devices. With Brand Color Optimizer, the accuracy of a brand color library is predicted based on the previously described process. The library is then optimized by printing and measuring a chart containing every patch in the library. ColorPath SYNC Brand Color Optimizer works with Fujifilm XMF and other Fujifilm-supported DFEs. It uses X-Rite’s i1 Pro 2 family or i1iO Automated Scanning Table for data acquisition.
GMG offers two systems that provide centralized color management—GMG ColorServer and PrintFactory powered by GMG.
Fret says many companies have issues matching colors with different RIPs driving different printers on the same print floor—each often with their own color management. “This results in a total loss of color consistency between printers, but also between prints on the same device using different media or the same media produced at different times.”
The solution is standardized printing that reduces color deviations and variations produced by different printers. GMG ColorServer—and the GMG engine with PrintFactory—is a centralized system providing reproducible, high-end results through device link profiles.
With GMG ColorServer’s device link profiles, Fret believes RGB-to-CMYK conversion achieves smoother separations than an ICC workflow could do. Also, spot colors can be converted to the printer’s process colors using the maximum available gamut.
The optional, fully integrated GMG SmartProfiler is a software wizard allowing any user to calibrate, recalibrate, and profile digital printing systems easily and without advanced color management knowledge.
While PrintFactory powered by GMG is its own separate workflow, GMG ColorServer can be easily integrated into any popular workflow. GMG also ensures that artwork printed on different materials match each other and that the print result is consistent week to week, month to month, and year to year.
Onyx is a RIP and print workflow solution provider. “One of our key differentiators is our bespoke color engine built specifically for wide and grand format print. ONYX Color includes built-in G7 verification and ink savings with GCR Plus without compromising on color output. Users build ICC profiles that maximize color gamut to match their customers’ brand color needs by following a simple print, read, next walkthrough, resulting in superior color output,” says Manwaring.
A supporting color management tool within ONYX software is Swatch Books, which helps find the best possible match to any given color when media and ink combinations fall short of achieving brand colors. “Printing with Swatch Books takes the guesswork out of color matching and provides a means for PSPs to set expectations with their customers regarding final output,” shares Manwaring.
SAi’s Flexi wide format RIP software includes a full media profiling wizard, which guides PSPs through the media color profiling process. SAi Flexi also provides tools for automated Pantone and manual spot color matching of custom spot colors.
SAi differentiates itself by making color management easier for people without a color management background, says Derhak. “Flexi is a complete wide format color profiling RIP solution available by subscription. For as little as $50 a month, PSPs can have a full-featured RIP with color media profiling capabilities.”
SAi Flexi color management software works with ICC compliant media profiles. It also integrates with the printer manufacturer’s online media color profile libraries. “This means that PSPs only need to load the media in the printer and Flexi automatically loads the correct media profile from the printer manufacturer’s library,” explains Derhak.
X-Rite offers a number of color management tools suited for wide format digital printing. X-Rite, together with its subsidiary, Pantone LLC, provides a true end-to-end color management solution.
Starting in the design process, cloud-based tools like PantoneLIVE Design provide designers and prepress teams access to Pantone digital color libraries as well as private brand color libraries and for use during the inspiration, creation, and prepress phases.
In prepress and production, wide format operations take advantage of X-Rite’s spectrophotometer offerings including the i1 Pro 2 family or its next-generation eXact handheld solution. These tools check output quality against a physical or digital sample. Each also offers automation options.
X-Rite also provides a range of tools for profiling and calibrating everything from cameras and monitors to printers and scanners.
Consistent and Controlled
Color is critical and complex. It is maintained and measured throughout the production workflow. PSPs look to a range of color management tools, from handheld color sensors to ICC profiles and sophisticated, end-to-end software. To succeed, PSPs must set customer expectations up front and meet color demands.
May2018, Digital Output