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Proofing for Large Format Print Precision

Acchroma Chronicles its Path to G7 Qualification

By Kim Crowley

Acchroma is a graphics communications provider based in Cleveland, OH. The company offers nearly 40 years of experience helping organizations market and communicate effectively with services such as screenprinting, digital printing, manufacturing, finishing, and fulfillment services. Acchroma recently achieved G7 qualification status, which proves an attention to customer satisfaction and accuracy while setting them apart from the competition.

Proofing and print precision are essential to Acchroma’s success. "Proofing is a mission critical part of our business," says Rob Trube, VP, sales and marketing, Acchroma. "We call our proofing process ‘expectation management.’ Everything we do in our pre-production and proofing processes is designed to provide our clients with an accurate proxy regarding the ultimate outcome of the product," adds Brian Stansky, COO, Acchroma.

Acchroma’s G7 qualification adds value to its business. "Many print buyers request that their print service providers (PSPs) become G7 Qualified as a print purchase may involve several print processes," says Joe Fazzi, VP Print Media, IDEAlliance, Inc.

Fazzi explains that a wide or grand format printer should become G7 Qualified to control neutral gray balance and tonality of output. "The ability to match supplied proofs to either a G7, or G7 plus GRACoL or SWOP color gamut is the end goal. G7 provides a means to meet these goals," he says.

A G7 Master Printer works with speed and simplicity. "This level of printer does not need to monitor individual color bars. One click on the gray bar with a densitometer or spectrophotometer confirms balance. One click on the black scale confirms tonality," states Mike Ruff, CTO, Nazdar Consulting Services.

"Print buyers find different print media prints easily to the same neutral print density regardless of ink types, substrates, or application to a substrate. It simplifies the process to the point that some buyers only use G7 Masters, eliminating the need for color proofs. Every vendor simply prints to neutral," says Ruff.

G7 Qualification
The G7 specification, developed by Don Hutcheson, is an innovation prompted by print buyers who were frustrated by prints that had matching dot gain but clear visual differences to the human eye, according to trademark holder and non-profit organization IDEAlliance. The goal of G7 is to achieve printed images across multiple devices and media with similar visual appearance, using new metrics of neutrality and tonality.

G7 focuses on the gray balance, or neutrality, of an image rather than dot gain to define the metrics of visual similarity. G7 also provides control for the tonality of an image using a Neutral Print Density Curve.

To date, there are over 400 G7 Master Printers worldwide using multiple print platforms, including offset, Flexo, screen, digital offset, gravure, digital inkjet, and hardcopy proofing platforms. Ruff says that all forms of printing benefit from G7 specifications. "We calibrate screenprint, digital, flexo, and offset. Even RGB devices can print to the colormetric specifications of G7 because it is not indigenous to the dot gain of CMYK. It is simply a specification of neutral gray print density," he explains.

The G7 qualification process takes between two and seven days to perform, depending on the complexity of an operation and the equipment to be qualified. PSPs begin qualification by hiring a G7 Expert Consultant, the cost of which varies based on how many days the consultant is on site. IDEAlliance trains and certifies G7 Expert Consultants on how to teach, implement, and qualify a G7 Master Printer. Generally the consultant is a color management expert who’s skilled in pre-media and presswork.

Qualification steps include determining where the equipment is from a neutral print density (NPD) tonal range, comparing output to a base or target neutral curve, making adjustments in the RIP to bring the tonal range closer to NPD, and re-measuring after adjustments.

G7 Master Printers invest in a one-time $400 application fee and a G7 Network fee of $690 for a two year membership through IDEAlliance. Annual re-qualification is $95.

Master Printer
Acchroma’s G7 qualification is a process that began with a preliminary audit and action plan by Ruff. Nazdar Consulting Services’ work with large format graphics providers in developing color control processes spans many years. "It is important to be able to confirm and correct printing issues that cause instability prior to the G7 implementation. Optimized results require that a printer first become stable and repeatable. After print integrity is confirmed, G7 calibration and training is easy," says Ruff.

Output for all devices needs to be consistent to reach G7 qualification. "You are tested to become a G7 Master Printer for proof-to-print consistency. So, you need to be able to produce a color accurate proof according to international standard. You also must produce printed output on multiple devices—both digital and screen—that accurately represent the proof. Proofing is essential to the process," explains Trube.

"The biggest challenge for us, is that we use both digital and screenprinting for production, so the technology and methods for our processes vary widely," he notes.

Printers used during Acchroma’s G7 qualification include the Epson Stylus Pro 7800 proofing printer; large format printers from Gandinnovations, Mimaki USA, Inc., and Roland DGA Corporation; and an M&R multi-color inline screen press. Media ranges from styrene to vinyl and many other materials.

Acchroma’s X-Rite, Inc. i1 and  DTP70 autoscan spectrophotometers are also involved in the process. The company uses other X-Rite products, including a Judge II light booth, a 518 spectrodensitometer, MonacoPROFILER Gold software, and ColorShop X for color analysis. Acchroma’s RIP is from Wasatch Computer Technology.

Proof Positive
Proofing is a natural part of business at Acchroma. Every project gets a full-size, G7 qualified, proof with finishing lines before final printing. "Our preference is to provide every client with a proof that accurately represents their file at full size and at the resolution the final product will be produced," states Stransky.

Color accuracy is very important to the company. "At Acchroma, we take our responsibility as being a guardian of our clients’ brand very seriously, and what is more critical to a strong brand than a consistent representation of the brands color?," notes Trube.

When trap lines present issues or color overprints are required, Acchroma produces a color card that presents the lines or overprint color matches. When the same colors run on multiple substrates, Acchroma displays the spot matches on each substrate. "Our job as a graphic communication company is to provide clients with printed output that accurately reflects the files provided and approved through the proofing process. Acchroma embraced G7 as a way to improve on what we felt was already an existing best practice process," says Stransky.

A recent project produced by Acchroma requires printing a window cling on white removable window film and matching it to posters already printed using an offset printer on 24-point solid bleached sulfate (SBS) media. "The accuracy of our proof indicated that we were going to be less blue than what had already been run by an offset printer on SBS. The client provided the offset printed poster when returning our proofs with his comments. We evaluated the offset printed poster and determined that we could adjust it on press," says Stransky.

The client drove two hours to reach the Acchroma facility on a Saturday morning. He approved the first press sheet, took sheet number 50, and was on his way 20 minutes later. "That continues to galvanize in our mind the significance of color, content, composition, and resolution. Not every client has that level of care and concern, but at Acchroma we don’t discriminate; if our proof process is good for critical clients it is good for all of our clients," states Stransky.

Beyond color accuracy, resolution and image quality also drive the need for proofing. "When you are a doing a large format print, clients will try and send a low resolution image they pulled off a Web site, and not understand why they can’t use it. It becomes clear very quickly when we send a full-size G7 qualified proof and the image is pixilated or distorted," says Trube. 

Final Proof
Acchroma works to fulfill client expectations and G7 qualification helps them achieve those goals. "The time to conduct dialogue concerning the suitability, accuracy, or quality of a given graphic element is during the proof process, not when the client has finished goods on their dock," explains Trube.

Accurate execution can be quantified and independently verified given known parameters, adds Stransky. "Our inside joke is that we are in the transfer of ownership business. We print or make a product and then we transfer the ownership of it to our customers. By having a well-defined and disciplined proofing process, we are able to consistently transfer ownership to our customers and clients."

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Sep2009, Digital Output

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