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Color on the Shop Floor

How Businesses Integrate Color Management

by Thomas Franklin

"Color is everything," says David Wollmann, partner, Aardvark Imaging, LLP, a digital service bureau and fine art reproduction house.

Achieving an ICC-profiled shop is no easy task, Wollmann concedes. "It’s like playing an instrument; It’s easy to learn but difficult to master." Yet mastering it is essential for his business, which consists of trade show graphics, POP, fine art, renderings, and color laser prints.

The company steers clear of so-called canned profiles–the generic profiles provided by the printer or media supplier–because of the centrality of color accuracy to Aardvark. "It all depends on what’s acceptable, it’s certainly better than nothing. But canned profiles give you a generalized result and are not necessarily indicative of how a specific printer, ink, and media combination will perform in your specific environment," he says.

Instead, Aardvark calibrates its own equipment and creates profiles employing multiple hardware and software tools from a variety of vendors, exploiting each for a particular technology.

"We use Colorvision’s Spyder for calibrating our CRT monitors and Monaco Optix XR for both CRT and LCD displays," Wollmann says. The company uses GretagMacbeth’s Profile Maker software for creating profiles for its wide format printers and Monaco products for fine art printed on its Epson.

Different print technologies require calibration at different points in their use cycle, Wollmann notes. "Inkjets don’t drift as much, but laser and photographic equipment have to be calibrated almost daily," he says.

The biggest challenge for Aardvark is the variables not under Wollmann’s color control. "You can’t anticipate what kind of file you’re going to receive. If a file isn’t tagged with a profile when we receive it, then it’s a crapshoot. We have to rely on the monitor and our own expertise."

Wollmann, who has an extensive background in photography, has been working with color for years but also relies on help from the experts. "You develop an eye for it, but there are some excellent books as well." He recommends Real World Color Management by Bruce Fraser, Chris Murphy, and Fred Bunting. "There are a lot of experts out there as well."

One such expert is Lida Jalali-Marschke, founder of ColorManagement.com. Jalali-Marschke’s site is a comprehensive clearing house for all things color management but more importantly, is a resource for finding qualified color consultants for a variety of printing businesses. These consultants, Jalali-Marschke says, are heavily certified, and can either help a shop do a one time set-up or educate them to be self sufficient color managers. Training personnel in color management is an investment, Jalali-Marschke says, so shops should be cognizant of who is being trained, whether they will use their skills frequently, and the likelihood that they will remain with your business long-term.

The move toward full service businesses has made the need for color accuracy all the more important, Jalali-Marschke said. "When you’re responsible for doing the product packaging, printing billboards, and producing brochures with a company logo, you have to make sure all the colors are consistent, across multiple media, using multiple printers." Color management in the wide format market is doubly critical because mistakes can consume so much ink and paper, she adds.

Part 4 of our Color Management series will detail how to achieve a color accurate workflow.

Mar2006, Digital Output

 

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