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Coping With Color

Printers Share Tales of Color Combat

by Thomas Franklin

2 of a 2 Part Series

Printing may be one of the "great elements of modern civilization" as the Scottish historian Thomas Carlyle once observed, but that doesnít mean itís easy. Perhaps the toughest element in this process is color management. In an environment where time is money and margins are tight, getting a job done right the first time is critical. That means color is critical.

"Color management is extremely important to meeting, and exceeding, customer expectations," says Lester Samuels, president, Pictorial Offset. The sheet-fed Web printer does wide format proofing on Epson printers and instituted a thorough color management regime as part of its comprehensive approach to process control, Samuels says.

"Our goal is to get ink on paper, to match the proofs and get [the job] in and outóthere is no second chance," he states. The firm employs a full time calibrator to ensure all aspects of its workflow, but it also takes a company-wide commitment to see it through. "You really need all parts of the organization working together to achieve the same end result," he adds.

Tight color management aligns with the firmís ISO quality certification. "We track over 500 different metrics; we have a completely closed-loop system," Samuels says. The firm employs a range of color management tools, including Pantone/X-Rite spectrophotometers, the Spyder monitor calibration tool from Datacolor, and Kodakís Matchprint proofing software.

While color is critical for all print related businesses, it takes on added importance in the realm of fine art reproduction.

For Les productions Numart of Quebec City, color accuracy is the cornerstone of the business. Founded in 2002 by former computer analyst Daneil Vezina, who now serves as technical director, and business partner Daniel Gregoire, the firm has focused on developing technology for high quality fine art reproductions.

The company custom developed an archive-quality inkjet canvas along with a high end wide format scanner to offer artists the assurance that their reproduction would survive for generations, Vezina states. For Numart, color management is "essential. Artists always want to get the original colors in their reproductions. The success of our business is entirely based on the fact that we have mastered color management."

The firm works in a Mac environment, which is important for color management, Vezina says. "The Macintosh platform was the best choice when we started because the color management function is integrated at the operating system level and not just at the application level. It guarantees you that color management functions are available to all applications and not just to some specific ones."

The firm employs Epson and Canon scanners and prints on Epsons with the Ultrachome K3 inkset. For color management, the company uses Datacolor tools, including the new Spyder3Studio suite. "We can create accurate ICC profiles that allow us to print in color and still get correct B&W results with the same sets of profiles. It allows us to make B&W inkjet prints for photographers that look like a traditional silver halide B&W," Vezina says.

Indeed, "99 percent of the first proofs we present to our customers are accepted "as is" with no subsequent modification to do," Vezina explains.

Vezina says he learned color management while working in technical support for a graphics arts department in a Canadian government agency. He also "learned by reading books and by hands-on practice." Mastering color management is not terribly difficult, he adds, but it takes time. "You often need real life cases, and bugs, to improve your skills, but itís worth it," he says, "because once you master it you become much more efficient."

The affinity for the process shows. On Numartís Web site there is an extended discussion of color space, complete with gamut maps. The tools themselves are getting easier to use and less expensive, he adds. "There is no excuse anymore to not learn it." That said, the process is still challenging, especially since in "a printing business you often get its input from other companies/graphics designers/photographers" and thatís "often the Achillesí heel in the process.

"While the color management software we need is readily available and not too expensive, many people don't use it yet," Vezina continues. "So if you get your input from a photographer or a graphic designer working on a non calibrated screen, and who doesn't use color management for himself, then the workflow is broken and you will need to correct the files you get by using a more traditional, trial-and-error process before you can let it enter in the color managed production chain."

CA-based professional photographer Andy Katz has been printing his own work for over eight years. "Iíve spent my whole life in a dark room," he says. Katz shot film well into the digital era (though he now totes a digital camera as well), scanning and printing his work on an Epson Stylus 10000 and 9800 and most recently, an HP Designjet Z3100.

For Katz, a color-managed workflow means cost-savings. "When you think about fine art printing, the inks, and paperótheyíre not cheap." Once a file is fed to the printer, you donít want to discover after the fact that the colors are off.

Katz recently purchased his Designjet just prior to receiving an offer to produce 42, 40x50-inch prints for a one man show, Mixed Emotions, at the prestigious Mumm Napa Gallery in CA. "I was just about to board a plane to India for a shoot and they wanted the prints three weeks after I returned."

Despite the break-neck pace, Katz was able to meet the deadline, producing his prints largely on on Hahnemuhle Photo Rag Pearl 320gsm.

One of the Z3100ís selling points was its color management features, especially the built-in spectrophotometer based on X-Riteís technology. Such an "under-the-hood" approach to color management saves time, Katz says. "Now, I can set up the calibration and walk away, whereas before Iíd have to hover over the printer every minute. I like the idea of just pushing a button and being done with it."

Thereís a good chance Katz is not alone.

Click here to read Part 1 of this exculsive online series, Color Controlled

Nov2007, Digital Output

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