By Melissa Donovan
In retail, display and point of purchase (POP) signage is created using both rigid and flexible materials. Many times one marketing campaign might use a number of different substrates. The look, feel, and most importantly color palette needs to match across all mediums.
Vendors are toting the capabilities of hybrid devices—both the technology and ink—as offering a solid match across both rigid and flexible output. These features address the concern any brand owner might have when it comes to color matching across variable substrates.
Above: The HP Latex R Series enables print providers to output to both rigid and flexible materials using the same ink set, ensuring color matching across multiple substrates.
Match and Set
It is important for color to match between rigid and flexible substrates used in the same display and POP campaign. Today’s retail companies are fighting for every last view and off-putting displays can be the difference between a sale and none.
According to Jay Roberts, product manager, UV printers, Roland DGA Corporation, color management experts use the term “shared visual appearance” for graphics that must be similar or as visually close as possible. “The problem is, if the colors are not visually similar, this can distract consumers. When it comes to branding or logos, it is imperative that the colors match as closely as possible. Brands and logos are the visual identity of products, so it’s especially important for the colors to be uniform across the prints.”
“Most companies that use these displays expect the color branding to be consistent. From the standpoint of the passer-by, it is really about the visual experience and the correct mood set by colors that are the same on any printed substrate. For the customer, it’s important for the branding appear as close as possible since that reflects the customer product,” explains Mark A. Rugen, director product marketing and education, Mutoh America, Inc.
Color matching is important to a brand, and should be equally important to a print service provider (PSP), adheres Randy Paar, manager, marketing – display graphics, large format solutions, Canon Solutions America. “Many corporations have strict policies around the colors used for their brand. Whether it is fashion retailers printing banners, counter cards with specific colors to promote a new line of clothing, or companies with logos with a particular Pantone color.”
Regardless of the application or substrate, brand managers have a reasonable expectation for consistency, says Dan Johansen, marketing manager, wide format solutions, commercial and industrial printing business group, Ricoh USA, Inc. “This is becoming more important today as we branch into a virtually limitless set of options for substrates. Color consistency can be the difference between a campaign that looks clean and professional versus something piecemeal or amateurish.”
Kaz Kudo, associate product manager, graphic system division, Fujifilm North America Corporation, admits that whether matching color between rigid or flexible, or rigid to rigid, color management is useful—especially since different devices and substrates have different color characteristics. “If there is a lack of consistency or if the colors don’t appear the same shade, it could affect project or campaign outcomes,” he explains.
“Color differences work against the brand goal of consistent presentation,” shares Kevin Currier, business development manager, Novus Imaging, an M&R Company.
Beyond color, Thomas Giglio, large format latex business development, Americas sign and display, HP Inc., points out that imagery is important. “Images need to have the same tonal value and transitions across many media types—gloss/matte appearance, texture, or even those with a different base or white point. And repeatability cannot be overlooked. Some campaigns are designed to be used with existing versions, so a PSP is held to a high standard for repeatability.”
Hardware, ink, and software collaborate to achieve color matching across variable substrates all on one device.
Today’s hybrid printers have the ability to handle several types of media. “This is good because you can print using the same ink and printheads for both rigid and flexible. Add software capabilities for tweaking colors and building profiles for those various media and you can count on a more consistent color product,” explains Rugen.
Hybrid devices provide PSPs with the ability to produce a wider range of materials on the same device. This not only makes color matching easier, shares Mike Kyritsi, president, swissQprint America, but also affects the ink’s appearance on the media. “One part of the display should not be glossy while a part next to it is matte—unless intended for design purposes. Using a hybrid ensures a consistent look, color match, and feel regardless of the substrate.”
“This is a tremendous advantage over a split workflow, where customers may print to rigid substrates on a dedicated flatbed and flexible substrates on a dedicated roll-to-roll printer, often using ink sets and different RIP software. Using just one hybrid device narrows those variables down—thus inconsistencies—without sacrificing substrate flexibility,” adds Johansen.
In the past, a rigid print might be output on a UV LED flatbed and a flexible material printed with eco-solvent. “Then the color consistency is an issue, unless your software used very precise ICC profiles and you have an operator that can use the software features to accommodate the various media differences,” admits Rugen.
“Consistency is the cornerstone to good color management. The physical components like inks, printheads, and media need to perform the same today as they will in the future. Software profiling needs to be implemented in a consistent manner and resulting profiles properly applied in the workflow and routinely monitored so that any color deviation is caught before it creates issues,” shares Paar.
UV hybrid printing specifically is an asset when it comes color matching across various materials. “UV inks sit on top of a substrate, versus other inks that are absorbed into a coated substrate, so there is less color variability from substrate to substrate with UV printing as opposed to other technologies. That allows printers to work with a smaller, more manageable set of color profiles that addresses this smaller, more manageable level of variation,” explains Johansen.
Giglio cites latex as a major advantage as well. “It has made significant inroads to combat the dilemma of balancing adhesion with color gamut by utilizing one universal ink set that offers both adhesion and gamut—in a single hybrid device and across bigger or smaller latex roll printers. Latex also leverages printhead mapping capabilities to provide reliable, consistent jetting of color density.”
Hitting the Nitty-Gritty
Color management is essential for working between substrate types. Media profiles help ensure the same shade of red, for example, is hit every time a roll or sheet of material is run through a printer.
Implementing color management throughout the entire workflow is essential to success. “It starts right from the beginning, the capture stage on the computer workstation where the image is manipulated and the layout is produced, the monitor is viewed on, at the RIP, and finally the printer/ink/media combination when it’s printed. There should be further consideration that the viewing conditions also be color managed in order to make accurate judgements,” recommends Paar.
Color management starts when the design software is opened, agrees Kyritsi. Once, he dealt with a customer unhappy about how the color green was printing—muted and dull, as opposed to its expectation that the green be vibrant. Since it wasn’t printing accurately, the initial thought was the printer was off.
“Upon further investigation, the files were set up in RGB and color corrected in RGB. When asked why the files were not set up in CMYK, the reply was that it was not vibrant enough,” says Kyritsi. Since the files were color corrected for RGB, it looked great on the monitor—but not on the printer. Once set to CMYK and the file corrected for vibrancy, the final output was better than the original RGB output. In addition, it was consistent across different materials including card stock and aluminum composite.
There is no “easy button” for color management, admits Roberts—the unfortunate thing about this process is that it does require management. “The creation of the output profile is a crucial point in the process. If the printer drifts, it must be re-linearized and brought back into place. The colors must be re-aligned. Media profiles are essentially micro-states of where the color is for the printer on that media.”
“For optimum results, every substrate needs to be profiled and evaluated to ensure as close a color match across the materials as possible. Once reliable profiles are nailed down, be aware of changes to the material surface and color by keeping in contact with the substrate manufacturer,” adds Currier.
Beyond basic color management, Rugen suggests utilizing a software program with features related to color adjustment and enhancement. “The ability to adjust ink levels without building a new profile, or to define a spot color using spot color mapping may be needed to keep the color consistent across different types of media.” He recommends a commercial grade design and production software for these types of adjustments.
“Spot color technology gives users the ability to produce consistent colors across different media to preserve brand identities. Systems like EFI Fiery ensure that color definitions match original spot color definitions from Pantone and other color systems. It also includes tools for defining spot color transparencies and gradation curves,” says David Lindsay, public relations manager, EFI.
It essential that PSPs working on large campaigns in the display and POP space have the correct equipment. This includes hardware and software that ensures color matching between multiple substrates—flexible and rigid. Ink sets found on today’s hybrid—flatbed and roll—devices are composed of the right mix of adhesion and color gamut to further guarantee consistency.
Oct2018, Digital Output