By Cassandra Balentine
Print service provider’s (PSP’s) reputation is often credited to its ability to provide high-quality graphics. Those in the wide format space invest in color management to ensure color vibrancy and consistency—even when multiple output devices are utilized.
A variety of software solutions—including those from Caldera, EFI, Onyx Graphics, Inc., SA International (SAi), and Wasatch Computer Technology—are available to drive proper color management, specifically targeting the wide format space. PSPs rely on either one solution or a custom mix to ensure quality and consistency.
Since every PSP is different, production workflows and color management are unique to each shop. We spoke to three different PSPs regarding their color concerns and solutions. These shops believe that color is critical and strive to perfect the process to ensure its output lives up to expectations.
ER2 Image Group
Founded 26 years ago in 1990 as Bloomingdale Signs by Tomorrow, ER2 Image Group transformed from a small sign shop with few employees to a one-stop shop for wide and grand format output with a staff of 60. Now the PSP can run prints from “the smallest of small to the largest of large,” comments Gary C. Schellerer, COO/VP of operations, ER2 Image Group.
With an array of equipment and ink capabilities—solvent, latex, UV, and even thermal resin—color gets complicated. It is essential that each job is thought out from the get-go, since a scenario involving multiple printers requires that color be restricted by the device with the lowest gamut.
Color consistency is critical, and a service that clients expect. “Customers want their colors to match, period,” states Schellerer, adding that the larger the customer, the more educated and seasoned they are. “If you know what you’re doing and understand color, you should be able to create a workflow that guarantees these matches.”
To help manage color and the shop’s overall productivity, ER2 Image Group is a veteran user of Onyx Graphics, Inc.’s ONYX ProductionHouse RIP and ONYX Thrive print workflow software. Schellerer estimates that the company has been using this software for about 20 years. “We’ve seen the introductory stages of Onyx and it was one of the first companies that developed the ability to lay down the ink in four colors. They were pioneers in the earliest stages,” he recalls.
Today, the shop operates ten RIP stations, all licensed with an ONYX RIP and supported with ONYX Thrive. “Because it is versatile, we are able to easily take operators from one machine to the other,” says Schellerer.
Another thing the shop appreciates about the Onyx solutions are its focus on production and the sign industry in general. “The ability to lay down cut marks or grommet holes gives us a lot of flexibility and time-saving features for our production staff,” he comments. “When you’re talking about millions of square feet, the ability to process jobs efficiently has a huge effect.”
With Onyx, ER2 Image Group truly has a software partner. The company served as a beta site for new features, and provided feedback that was implemented in future versions. “One of the things we appreciate is that the company actually listens to us,” exclaims Schellerer. For example, it asked Onyx for a way to choose colors of varying degrees when you’ve come close to replicating a color. “The feature they’ve added enables us to explode out a color that we’ve tried to replicate and substitute it into the artwork.”
By far, the biggest challenge is consistency and having the skills—and the tools that support them—are essential to reputable sign business like ER2 Image Group. Schellerer notes that it often produces national airport campaigns using fabric panels that advertise company brandings for different airlines. “When these are reproduced, they need to match between each airport,” he explains. The color expectations are high, and if a print is rejected it is expensive for the print provider. “If those images aren’t perfect out the door, it is the expense of reinstalling those panels around the country,” he stresses.
ER2 Image Group provides a variety of wide and grand format graphics on an array of different devices. To help manage productivity and color correctness, ONYX workflow tools play a large role in its success.
Founded in 1990 with more than 25 years of experience in the graphic arts and printing business, Letragraf, S.L. was born with the objective of providing personalized and quality service to its clients. Focused on the development of the company in parallel with the needs of the market, its goal is to always provide an efficient, fast, and consistent response to new materials, designs, and ways of understanding business to business or business to consumer communication.
Today, the company operates out of 12,917 square foot facility in Humanes de Madrid in Spain. It serves national and international clients in the European Union. It has 17 employees.
Letragraf offers a variety of wide and narrow format print services, including advertising decoration and indoor and outdoor signage. It believes in making the most out of every medium for both aesthetics and branding purposes.
The company relies on a long list of machinery to perform a variety of output, including both digital and offset. For wide format, it offers digital printing to both rigid and flexible materials in glossy or matte finish and with varnish or laminate. For finishing, it utilizes folding and die cutting. Among its equipment portfolio, it runs three Mutoh America, Inc. ValueJet eco-solvent printers and one 3×2 meter Jetrix UV flatbed printer, manufactured by InkTec Co., Ltd.
Its primary business is printing large format on rigid substrates as well as punching/milling and packaging.
Color is an essential part of the print business’ overall operation. To support this, the company understands the importance of color management software, and invested in PixelBlaster software from SAi. The selection of this software over competitive offerings was mainly due to its familiarity with the software provider, having utilized SAi’s FlexiPRINT software in the past.
PixelBlaster is production software designed for superwide, high-volume, and specialty print shops. It supports each stage of the production process from preflight to production. The modular, PDF-based software is designed to ensure consistent and predictable print color on a variety of printers. Additionally, the solution features built-in proofing capabilities.
The shop was very satisfied with these tools and knew the solution SAi proposed would meet its needs and provide them with improved color management and certifications that would guarantee good monitoring of the production process.
“We saw several solutions from other manufacturers, but given the good relationship with SAi and its previous products, we thought that we could adopt it immediately so that our production process would not be affected. This would let us give our customers better service from the first moment without interruptions or delays,” shares Miguel Martin, marketing and design manager, Letragraf.
It is 100 percent satisfied with its decision to implement SAi PixelBlaster. “There is always room for improvement, but we know that the people at SAi are always looking for better solutions and enhancements to upgrade their products,” says Martin.
Letragraf benefits from the advanced color control provided by PixelBlaster. The biggest challenge is integrating it into all of the production equipment, inks, and finishing. “Consistency throughout the entire job workflow is an issue,” admits Martin.
In addition to PixelBlaster from SAi, the company utilizes Enfocus PitStop to control color and PDF elements.
Martin finds three primary challenges when it comes to the practice of managing color. The first is what the customer wants and sees in the system, the second is what the agency does and the guarantees it works with, and the third is a solid follow up to realize the color and certifications meet expectations.
The choice to invest in a specific color management strategy is driven by both ease of use and customer demands. “The decision is an average between the two factors,” explains Martin.
A recent color-critical job completed by Letragraf involved a two-sided, in-store graphic using transparent media. The client presented Letragraf with the idea. Both sides were different and included text. Using transparent media, it was important that one side of the design could not be seen by the other. To complete this job, the company searched for a material that could support temperature changes without generating deformities. Additionally, the media needed to provide good adhesion without leaving a residue at the end of the campaign.
The shop developed a series of samples for the client to review. The samples showcased appropriate color on both sides of the design. The print consisted of a mirror image on transparent PVC with a white anchorage of selective ink above and the other side printed on a selective target.
“PixelBlaster was integral to this job. “We made different profiles for both faces and in this way, handled the color independently for each one knowing at all times that the color was suitable for a complete certification of the work,” says Martin.
The print job was completed in three steps. To start, Letragraf printed on reverse backlit media or transparent film on the Mutoh eco-solvent printer. Next, it was taken to the Jetrix flatbed printer for white ink. The second side was also printed with the Jetrix.
Finally, the job was die cut, finished, packaged, and shipped to the customer.
The use of production software gave Letragraf the confidence it needed to produce a two-sided indoor graphic that included transparencies.
FedEx Office, headquartered in Plano, TX, operates more than 1,800 retail centers throughout Canada and the U.S. The company acquired Kinkos in 2004 and rebranded the business segment FedEx Office to better reflect its services and product offerings. Today, it staffs 15,000 employees and counting. Wide format printing is offered through both retail centers and centralized production centers.
FedEx Office provides printing and shipping services. Its portfolio covers the entire gamut of printed products from simple posters to banners to large format building wraps. “Anything you can imagine, we can print,” states Jerod Littlefield, VP, operations, planning and support, FedEx Office.
The company offers nationwide service. “The retail fronts are additionally supported by strategically placed manufacturing hubs equipped with high-volume production capabilities. These centralized production centers enable faster turnaround with expanded product offerings,” says Littlefield.
With so many locations, the company utilizes customized software to drive and color manage its wide format printing fleet. “The software includes an extensive list of features, with a focus on color management and quality. Ease of use and an intuitive user interface are also critical features to simplify our team members’ ability to adopt the technology needed to meet the day-to-day requirements and ever-changing needs of our most color critical customers,” explains Littlefield.
He says while most of its requirements are met with various software applications, there are a few gaps that alternative solutions or custom built software address.
When researching color management solutions, FedEx Office invests many resources into the evaluation process. “The wide format space has recently exploded with a range of printers and RIPs driving them. Color management has always been the key feature in the section of the RIPs,” offers Littlefield. “Additionally, necessary features include an extensive tool set for spot color editing to make brand color matching easier than ever.”
Calibration and profiling features are also a priority in driving color and quality consistency across all retail and production centers for the company. Other important elements include application security, ease of use, support for printers and spectrophotometers, and remote fleet management tools.
Because the company caters to a variety of customer needs, it relies on an exhaustive list of qualification criteria for the tools it uses. “More than the selection, our requirements are driven by customer—internal and external—demand,” says Littlefield.
Littlefield suggests that the field of color management has matured in the last several years with a wide area of software for calibration, profile creation and editing, and spot color matching. “From a production perspective, the tool sets are adequate to produce an acceptable color match. The real challenge is that for color management to work each and every time, the entire workflow—such as selection of different file formats for incoming files, PDF conversion settings, variation in consumables, environmental factors, printer hardware drift, inadequate calibration, and color verifications or operator execution—could break a color managed workflow.”
He believes color management to be more than just color—it’s getting the file right, performing preflight, selecting stable consumables, ensuring your printer is in its baseline stable state, confirming the operator knows the right setting/workflow to use, and having a well vetted out quality control process.
Littlefield stresses the importance of ensuring color and quality requirements are well defined and documented for all of FedEx Office’s commercial customers. Recently, it on-boarded a color-critical customer with more than 20 brand colors. The customer produced physical samples that they wanted FedEx Office to match.
“We worked with them to quantify their brand colors in colorimetric terms—or L*a*b* values. We also ran several tests internally to identify the best print process and hardware to use to meet the tight color requirements. The optimized color workflow ensured that the color expectations were met each and every time the job was printed. Our existing infrastructure in place for cross-center print production ensured the jobs—when printed across multiple locations—matched as well. We used an array of color management software and spectrophotometers to develop color standards and to assist with daily production,” says Littlefield.
Overall, FedEx Office feels its strong color management program encompasses every printing segment that it provides—from narrow format to inkjet to traditional offset. “It composes of initiatives that focus on color management training to certifications, color verification, hardware, consumable testing and qualifications, production SOP development, and definition of support/escalation models. All of our production centers hold the G7 Master Printer certification. Our team of G7 experts ensures each stage of the workflow process is well defined and optimized to produce the results to meet the requirements of our commercial and retail customers,” concludes Littlefield.
Brand owners, as well as PSPs, are concerned with color. They rely on specific procedures and the right selection of software and hardware to ensure consistency and vibrancy on all output. While some look for end-to-end solutions that manage the process from start to finish, others customize the process with a variety of tools. No matter what the means, print customers expect PSPs to be color experts and masters of their trade.
May2017, Digital Output