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Color, Managed

Color Management Tools Compete on Price and Ease of Use

by Thomas Franklin

In the era before the introduction of International Color Consortium (ICC) standards, the world of color management consisted of closed-loop solutions and took it upon itself to define what color meant and how to measure it, says C. David Tobie, product technology manager, ColorVision, a subsidiary of Datacolor, Inc. If the lack of a uniform standard bedeviled the industry, it ironically made color management easier for the end-user, in large measure because there was no uniform standard against which to judge the results.

Today, the situation is inverted. With an industry-wide, consortium-ratified consensus defining color and no more proprietary, closed-loop products, the process of matching color between applications and devices has more variables, and is therefore trickier, Tobie notes. The products themselves are also harder to differentiate now that every vendor is reading off the same sheet of (ICC) music. "Where we compete is on ease of use and price," Tobie says.

To properly manage color, users need a variety of hardware and software tools of varying degrees of cost and sophistication to calibrate their equipment and create profiles for monitors, printers, and media.

Monitor calibration systems from Pantone/GretagMacBeth range in price from 89 dollars for its consumer-oriented huey to 249 dollars-and-up for its professional Eye-One Display 2. According to Doris Brown, VP of marketing, Pantone, the company’s partnership with GretagMacBeth is geared toward creating color management tools that are vastly easier to use and implement than previous solutions.

X-Rite’s January purchase of GretagMacBeth will merge the Monaco color management product line with GretagMacBeth, for what both companies describe as a more comprehensive color management product family.

One of the key developments in monitor calibration is coping with new, flat-panel LCD technology, ColorVision’s Tobie says. The company’s Spyder2 line can calibrate LCDs, CRTs, laptops, and projectors.

While the ICC recommends the use of a hardware device to calibrate your monitor, software such as Adobe Gamma, DisplayMate, and Apple’s ColorSync may also be used; However, only for CRT monitors, not flat panels. Software is also integral to storing and managing your profiles once you’ve created them. While many printer RIPs have built-in support for ICC profiles, products from Chromix and others are dedicated to that task.

On the printer end, you’ll enter the world of spectrophotometers, colorimeters, spectrocolorimeters, and densitometers. These devices are also embedded in monitor calibrators as well. Simply, these devices measure the waves of light reflected off your printed media, allowing you to determine how your printer is reproducing color. Most of the suppliers that offer monitor calibration tools also offer handheld or desktop color analyzing tools with software for capturing and analyzing the values recorded. This will assist in building an equipment profile.

According to Brian Ash, applications engineer, GretagMacBeth, these devices are critical for creating printer profiles because they will render the most accurate, media-specific account of printer performance. As with monitor calibrators, devices are typically distinguished by how easy they are to use and how quickly they can scan printed output, Ash adds.

When the final target print is produced, your work isn’t done. "The only way to know color management works is to compare input and output, and your lighting environment impacts that comparison. At some point, you need controlled lighting to keep the comparison stable and non-variable," says Robert McCurdy, sales and marketing VP, GTI Graphics Technology. "If you don’t have a fixed point to judge against, you have nothing." ICC-compliant light stands are available from GTI and Pantone.

In Part 3 of our Color Management Series, we will hear from customers of various color management solutions.

Mar2006, Digital Output

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