By Melissa Donovan
Print service providers (PSPs) look for a less challenging way to manage color—a simple button that takes all the guesswork out of the process. This allows the PSP to focus on other ways to make the business money. Margins are thin and PSPs can’t make color mistakes with clients, they need to ensure they get it right the first time or their reputation is on the line.
Color is more influential than ever before. “Studies show that color can be used to influence the consumer’s actions and perception of a product. The increased use of digital technologies and producing components of a campaign from different technologies accelerates the demand for color management usage,” explains Brian Wolfenden, field marketing manager, GTI Graphic Technology, Inc.
There is no compromise. Color demands must be met, more quickly than ever before. In response, PSPs turn to RIPs, workflow solutions, and dedicated color management tools to ensure accurate and consistent color.
Above: Print shops use X-Rite’s i1Pro 3 or i1Pro 3 Plus spectrophotometer with i1Publish software to create ICC profiles for displays, scanners, and backlit signage.
More Than Yesterday
Print providers are busier, working with less staff, meeting closer deadlines, and sometimes people with proper color management knowledge are hard to find. They need to devote time to other tasks but realize that a properly color managed job leads to repeat business. Customers dictate the importance of color management and expect proper color needs are met.
Ease of use is expected. “Color management is much easier with hardware, software, and measuring device advancements. Output devices are much more stable, matching the color management controls now available. It seems as if print providers aren’t necessarily looking for easy color management, rather expecting it,” admits Mark Ellingsworth, technical product manager applications/workflow, Durst Image Technology U.S., LLC.
There is an expectation from educated print buyers that specific color needs can and should be met. “Color is important for those commissioning the prints. They know that now the technology is mature and that digital inkjet and wide format printing can deliver excellent print quality,” says Sebastien Hanssens, VP marketing and operations, Caldera.
Demand to meet color criteria is growing rapidly, according to Paul Wagner, solutions architect, HP Inc., and has become a bit of challenge for PSPs over the years. “Prior to this, to meet these needs, many PSPs relied on external color consultants to come in and implement color management and process control measures, including workflow considerations and custom media profiling services.” As media ranges expand and applications become diverse, consultants become more expensive to justify their use.
Color management must be executed easily and quickly because of how fast the graphic arts is extending to applications. New applications mean new types of substrates, which requires more profiling. “Print providers want to take the complexity out of their workflow and at the same time work with medias that will serve their customer needs,” shares Marc Aguilera, product manager, professional imaging, Epson America, Inc.
Many PSPs’ production floors include multiple printers to address a range of applications and substrates. “Due to the large variety of printers, inks, media, and infinity of the print combination, color management is crucial to achieve high quality and provide the customer with a quality product,” notes Eyal Friedman, VP technical services, SAi.
“The challenge is to assure consistent results across all materials and print technologies, for example, matching UV flatbed output to solvent-based roll-fed printers,” adds Erik Schmitt, director of sales – Canada and wide format product specialist, GMG Americas.
Multi-application campaigns are produced more regularly, and these require special attention in regards to color. “Many jobs are part of larger, holistic campaigns where brand color and spot colors need to match across materials and different production print technologies. Everything from store displays, signage, packaging, mailers, and the product itself may be printed and require accurate and consistent color,” explains Ray Cheydleur, packaging and imaging portfolio and market manager, X-Rite Inc.
Color management provides a differentiation factor—buyers with color critical needs want to work with a PSP that can ensure color matching and repeatability. “Demand for corporate color, Pantone, and spot color matching is in part due to the greater demand from the public. Additionally, competition between shops is rising and those who can produce better, more vivid prints and obtain better color matching are getting more customers,” explains Mark A. Rugen, director of education, Mutoh America, Inc.
Competition affects price and time to market, according to Elie Khoury, founder/president, Alwan Color Expertise. “Competition has brought prices down, so print providers have to reduce costs. In order to do that, they hire less trained and less qualified workforce, resulting in lowered expertise that requires simple tools. At the same time, competition increased time pressure on print providers, meaning that they have to be extremely fast to deliver products to their clients.”
Staff with in-depth color knowledge is difficult to find, hence why easy color management is attractive. Peter Pretzer, ColorPath solutions development manager, Fujifilm North America Corporation, explains that in the past, a greater number of prepress employees often meant one or two were well versed in color management. “As printing companies become more productive and efficient—with improved technologies—repeatable equipment and fewer employees results in less time available for hands-on color experience.”
“Print is integrated into shops where the specialist print operator is replaced by a general line operator with a wider skill set. That is why processes that require in-depth color management theory and experience have to be integrated into the software and back to the press vendor,” states Tom Mooney, product manager, ColorPro, Global Graphics.
Using a color management solution is advantageous to any PSP looking to save time and make money. We discussed why color management is so critical and why easy tools are necessary, but why should PSPs use these tools?
For Rugen, it is simple—“print providers are in the business to make money, not to spend time figuring out color management.” That’s why, he says, end users choose to use ease-of-use features like presets, where the print provider simply chooses the preset rather than dissecting the many aspects of color management.
“Color management integrated in the production workflow provides numerous advantages,” notes Mark Gallucci, manager, technology marketing, Agfa. One benefit is the increased ability to color match devices using different print technologies and to fine-tune spot color reproduction across various substrates, print modes, and devices. “This provides greater productivity, higher quality, and less waste—ultimately saving time and money,” he continues.
When color is critical—especially on repeat work and corporate identities—it just makes sense for PSPs to introduce color management devices to ensure success, says Michael Maxwell, senior management of corporate strategic development, Mimaki USA, Inc. “PSPs can get to a great starting point with provided profiles and may have years of acceptable work. However, each environment is slightly different. A red in a shop in MN compared to one in FL may mathematically be the same as far as the software is concerned, but the actual produced color may vary due to a variety of variables.”
Having a baseline in place is necessary. “Color behaves differently across different media and inks, so by implementing best practices and standards through color management, PSPs can achieve reproducible results that help retain repeat business,” adds Jonathan Rogers, international marketing manager, Onyx Graphics, Inc.
Many of the profiling software solutions are designed for the inexperienced and experienced. “While intelligent, automatic profiling modes remove the guesswork for newer operators of digital print devices, advanced profiling options are also available to fulfill the needs of a more traditional offset workflow. In either case, the software makes the profiling process quick and easy for the operator with highly accurate profile results,” explains Stephen Rankin, director, product management, Techkon USA.
In many instances, these solutions are offered “free” or bundled in with a printer purchase. The hardware even offers on-board color management capabilities. “They democratize color management, allowing less experienced operators with functionalities like color calibration and ICC profiling directly from the printer’s front panel,” explains Wagner.
Is It Necessary?
Every graphic needs some form of color management. While not every job or client is color critical, it still requires a certain level of care in this department. Plus, color management effects other components of the print process. So yes, all print providers should use some form of color management in their workflows—whether it is a RIP or dedicated tool.
“All print providers need color management. Being competitive for a print provider, now more than ever, comes from delivering quality products and controlling costs. It is also critical for all print providers with several printing presses to be able to print the same quality on different machines and to have the same quality when reprinting jobs,” shares Khoury.
There is a risk when color management tools aren’t in place. “The cost of losing customers is just too high. In today’s environment, it is more important than ever to print the job right the first time,” advises Rogers.
While Kerry Moloney, product marketing manager, EFI Fiery, says the short answer is that most print providers do need color management, even more true is all print providers likely already have some sort of color management. “Taking the Fiery digital front end (DFE) as an example, they all provide printer calibration, a choice of default profiles, plus settings and controls to make color look good, as standard. So there is a certain level of color management right from the start.”
Wagner believes customer expectations should drive measures taken by PSPs with respect to color management. “If the customer is satisfied using generic or canned media profiles, then their use makes perfect sense.” However, he warns that customer expectations are constantly changing. “Today’s satisfied customer may be tomorrow’s ex-customer if those expectations are not met on an ongoing basis.”
“If I am a print provider and I can confidently wake up every single day knowing that I have no responsibility for maintaining accuracy or consistency in delivering a printed piece when it comes to color, then I don’t need to worry about it. But if there are clients that will look at a piece and say ‘this doesn’t look like the color I had yesterday’ or ‘this doesn’t match our corporate brand identity’ then yes, you do need a color management strategy,” comments Jan Lemieux, pre-sales solution support, Canon Solutions America.
Rankin feels that customers will likely become more color critical over time as they continue to purchase more printed materials. “Therefore, given the low price tag and relative ease of use of today’s color management solutions, it seems like a ‘no brainer’ for print providers to make the investment in a color management solution.”
When customers suddenly become color critical, Cheydleur refers to it as the “creeping elegance” effect. “It is when what was considered good enough no longer is. Overtime, what was once considered color critical becomes the new normal and expected for every job. The outside influences push for more. This is really a reflection of our industry.”
Color management effects other components of the print process beyond color. “Without color management, most printers would lay down too much ink and that could cause issues such as adjacent colors leaking into each other, or ink not curing or drying properly. Also, too much ink without proper color management is costly. Color management saves money,” suggests Rugen.
“Color management controls much of the business’ economical positioning. Topics such as ink usage for pricing, proper cure/finishing, and proper output are all inclusive in color management. Without proper color management and control methods, the provider could be risking revenue and margin,” agrees Ellingsworth.
“Whether or not color quality is demanded by clients, the PSP should invest in tools and education, and in services from a vendor partner, to establish and maintain good color management practices,” adds Gallucci.
Solutions by Type
Color management comes in many forms. Each tool makes the process easy for PSPs, depending on the level of involvement they are looking for. Here, we’ve divided categories by third-party software, bundled with a printer, and spectrophotometers, viewing boxes, etc.
Alwan’s flagship prepress software is the workflow agnostic, hot folder based color management server Alwan ColorHub, which automatically standardizes and optimizes PDF files for printing. The solution improves color reproduction quality and reduces ink consumption by up to 50 percent. Alwan PrintStandardizer is the press room companion to Alwan ColorHub, monitoring printing presses’ stability through standards assessment and reporting. In Alwan ToolBox, Hydra Profiling is a spectral profiling technology that profiles any printing process with a limited number of patches.
Caldera’s built-in color management tool features an easy-to-use wizard. Profiles are made through a step-by-step interface, which makes color management straightforward for the user. It is included in the company’s legacy RIP software because Caldera believes creating color profiles and managing color output should be done in a one-stop solution.
Global Graphics software provides the RIP, but it considers the workflow and provides some color management products. Working together, it makes sure all the steps in the color management workflow are working correctly including the third-party ICC profiling software for PSPs. Also, it provides original equipment manufacturers with tools to create media libraries on a reference press. Then, print providers can use the media and profiles supplied with their press and calibrate to get the same results as the reference press.
GMG’s dedicated color management solutions are designed to take the science out the process and let PSPs print. GMG ColorServer Digital delivers exactly the colors that customers expect. The application is as precise as it is efficient. With unique MX technology from GMG, RGB, CMYK, or even mixed image data are automatically converted into the desired output color space.
ONYX software processes files with Adobe PDF Print Engine and Adobe PDF Converter, which means there is a reduction in data loss from design file with embedded ICC profiles to finished print. Embedded into the software is color engine, ONYX Color. The software also includes ColorCheck for accuracy, consistency, and conformance to standards; DeviceLink+, which synchronizes color across devices; Swatch Books 2.0 to match Pantone and spot colors; AccuBoost to fine tune ICC profiles; and integrated G7 verification.
SAi Flexi is design, RIP, and color management software all in one. Flexi Profiler wizard takes the user through the steps of ICC profile creation. The solution supports popular spectrophotometers, whether standalone or integrated into the printer. Flexi is licensed for Pantone libraries and features advanced tools to ensure accurate color matching with low delta E.
Bundled with Printer
Agfa’s Apogee and Asanti workflow solutions include tools for linearizing and calibrating output devices, for generating and tuning ICC profiles, and for managing input color spaces of supplied artwork. Once quality is established, tools like Agfa’s PressTune and PrintTune color and quality management solutions analyze and score print results to detect and correct any drifting from the target standard.
Canon suggests ONYX Thrive workflow software for its Arizona flatbed and Colorado roll printers. Exclusive to ONYX Thrive is ColorCheck, used to prove color accuracy, consistency, and conformance to standards including G7 and Fogra.
Durst Workflow is a workflow, RIP, and color management tool. The platform provides predictable output in addition to cost savings. Durst leveraged the knowledge of its hardware colleagues while developing and engineering this proprietary software.
EFI Fiery DFEs combine RIP, workflow, and color management. The Fiery Color Profiler Suite can be run across all printers driven by Fiery DFEs, having color management across all technologies naturally makes color management easier. The Fiery Color Profiler Suite is completely integrated into the server, meaning everything from selecting the correct calibration for a substrate through to where a profile lives once created is all automatic. Most of the tools are wizard driven and visual.
Epson Print Layout for desktop and iOS and iPadOS is fully color managed with Epson Media, which makes it easy for print providers to print managed color on a variety of photo, fine art, and proofing media. The latest generation of printers, the SureColor P700, SureColor P900, SureColor P7570, and SureColor P9570 work with the new Epson Media Installer, which allows users to download and register media types and ICC profiles as well as create new media and assign custom ICC profiles to custom media.
Fujifilm’s ColorPath SYNC is a suite of cloud-based color management tools. Tools are processed based, so they are easy to use and lock in the expertise and settings of the initial setup and alignment. All settings are maintained in the cloud and tools and reports available wherever there is an internet connection.
HP Latex printers integrate color management capabilities on board. Printer operators are able to create custom media profiles on board the printer, without the need for an external spectrophotometer or separate ICC profiling software. Media presets back up into the cloud and are then redeployed via the HP PrintOS Configuration Center.
Mimaki realizes that ICC profiles are a concern at some level, so it invested time and resources to support profiles in its RasterLink RIP. Large libraries of available profiles are tested with specific media and ink combinations and ready to use. Mimaki also offers customers the capability to invest when they need to develop and manage their own profiles.
Mutoh offers the Mutoh edition of FlexiSIGN & Print with most of its wide format printers. The commercial design and RIP software offers features like soft proofing that allow users to accurately preview a print on screen prior to printing and then match what is seen on the monitor. Mutoh hosts webinars focused on training end users on how to achieve better color output. Also, its product managers carefully produce high-quality ICC profiles.
Spectrophotometers, Viewing Boxes, Etc.
GTI manufactures D50 lighting systems for critical color viewing, color communication, and color matching assessment. All of its light booths comply to the ISO 3664:2009 standard. They are available in sizes ranging from wall viewing systems for large format graphics to small portable desktop viewers.
Techkon launched a new, low-cost ICC profiling solution called MYIRO-1 in January 2021. The solution consists of a scanning spectrophotometer to measure printed profiling targets and software that makes it easy for the operator to build custom printer profiles. A key differentiator of the MYIRO-1 instrument is its ability to wirelessly transfer color measurements to the PC.
X-Rite is known for its Pantone matching system, which designers utilize in the design specification stage. It integrates nicely into Pantone Connect, which creates a seamless platform for mobile, web, and Adobe Creative Cloud. Print shops use the i1Pro 3 or i1Pro 3 Plus spectrophotometer with i1Publish software to create ICC profiles for displays, scanners, and backlit signage. It works independently of the RIP software driving available printers.
Color is a pivotal part of the print process. Utilizing all of the available tools to achieve correct color, every time and across multiple machines and medias is essential to ensure jobs are won and clients retained. Today’s color management solutions, whether RIPs, workflow software, or dedicated color management tools, offer ease of use for all PSPs.
May2021, Digital Output