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The Color of Money

The importance of a Color-Managed Workflow to Your Bottom Line

by Thomas Franklin

This is our first part of our four-part series on Color Management. Look for three more installments in upcoming weeks, as well as a full feature article in the May issue of Digital Output.

Anyone who works with color knows that what you see on the monitor is not always what you get from the printer. Nor do two eyes see color in the same way. In order to predictably and efficiently achieve high quality, color-accurate output, you must have a color-managed workflow.

Having a color-managed environment cuts down on waste, improves efficiency, and serves as a competitive advantage when marketing your services, says Brian Ash, an applications engineer at GretagMacBeth. In the early days, however, color management was a bit like voodoo, Ash admitts.

"The early solutions over-promised and under-delivered," states Robert McCurdy, sales and marketing VP, GTI Graphics Technology, Inc. Today, the tools are simpler and cheaper and no longer require a doctorate to operate. Yet while automation and more intuitive software have flattened the learning curve, they havenít leveled it.

"The industry is still searching for that magic box solution," says Dave Varty, global sales manager, Large Format Printers, Agfa. At the end of the day, the end-user must perform a number of hands-on calibrations and create their own bank of profiles to truly achieve a color-managed workflow.

Quality color management is all about process control, Ash states. It is the art of bringing predictability to your workflow. To achieve said predictability, one must know how all the elements, such as your source file, monitor, media, inks, and printer, will perform.

A profiled monitor and printer are the essential foundation of color management, comments Andy Hatkoff, VP, Pantone, Inc.

There are a number of tools a business can bring to bear, starting with inexpensive monitor calibrators (as low as $89) to high-end spectrophotometers for testing your printer; software for monitoring your printers color performance over time; and viewing stations to ensure the accuracy of the final output in controlled lighting. At a minimum, vendors suggest employing the ink/media/printer profiles provided by your supplier, along with a calibrated monitor. Such off-the-shelf solutions are a good start, they say, but wonít bring you the exacting specificity required for a truly color managed workflow.

Vendor-supplied profiles are essentially approximations, Ash says. They cannot account for the unique printing environment in your shop or the age of your printer. To do that, one must physically build profiles for each ink/media/printer combination they use to ensure the highest possible color-accuracy. Vendors suggest building a rolling database, starting with the media you use most frequently and adding the more exotic materials as you use them.

Vendors also stressed that a profile is really a static snapshot, capturing monitor/ink/printer performance at a moment in time. For a truly color-accurate workflow, that snapshot must be continuously updated to ensure accuracy.

Knowing how to receive files correctly is also important, states Hatkoff. Rather than receiving a pre-separated CMYK file, Hatkoff notes that maintaining an RGB workflow to the very end ensures more consistent color.

"What a color-managed workflow does is get you closer to accurate color, faster," McCurdy concludes.

The second part of our four-part series on Color Management will cover the primary manufacturers of color management tools. Hear from these companies about how their products differ in offerings.

Feb2006, Digital Output

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