An English poet once observed that “colors are the smiles of nature.” For many print service providers (PSPs), color just as easily evokes a furrowed brow. Ensuring color accuracy has never been more important, as the demand for out-of-home advertising surges and the multiplying number of substrates makes color consistency a watchword for brand managers and marketers. Fortunately, the tools for locking in consistent color are becoming automated and centralize around the same RIP software used to drive wide and grand format presses.
Color cuts to the very heart of what it means to be a PSP, observes Danielle Mattiussi, director, product portfolio and business development, ONYX Graphics, Inc.
To help manage it efficiently, RIP software programs offer built-in color management tools, or integrated modules that a PSP can add on if needed. These modules range from software plug-ins for ICC profile building to software and hardware bundles that include a color measurement device and robust software tools. Some vendors include color management training classes as part of the purchase as well.
“A RIP does not have to be the heart and soul of a color management process. Some large format RIPs don’t feature profiling engines, but it does simplify things to have both, especially if you need to synchronize color across various presses,” observes Jeffrey Nelson, inkjet solutions product marketing manager, graphic systems division, Fujifilm North America Corp. “Trying to manage color consistently across multiple devices and with different RIPs, or profiling outside of the RIP, makes it more difficult.”
RIPs are also adding color management engines, such as X-Rite, Inc.’s i1Prism and Adobe Systems Incorporated’s Color Management Module, to enhance color capabilities. “With the i1Prism option, customers benefit from state-of-the-art algorithms to print colors at a higher accuracy that were not reachable with previous profilers,” says Sebastien Hanssens, VP of marketing, Caldera Graphics, one of the companies that incorporates the i1Prism engine into its RIP products. For its part, Shiraz Software, adopted Adobe’s Color Management Module, due to the wide penetration of Adobe creative software among graphic designers.
Without color management tools in a RIP, a PSP doesn’t have the control or intelligence over their printer that’s required for optimum performance, shares Ryan Lee, channel manager, Wasatch Computer Technology, LLC.
On a particularly color critical job, many PSPs get tripped up with spot colors if things aren’t centralized. “A common mistake is to not preserve those spot colors, which means that Pantone colors are re-interpreted from RGB to CMYK,” notes Hanssens. “We urge clients to keep the spot colors activated and let the RIP do the color correspondence calculation.”
It’s important for RIPs to include tools for profile building because canned color management doesn’t always satisfy the need of the increasingly diverse varieties of media that PSPs access, adds Ed Thomson, product manager, ONYX. Greater sophistication hasn’t necessarily come at the expense of ease of use. Most color management tools are now wizard-based, with step-by-step guidance on building and using media profiles. However, it’s still not a one button solution, at least not yet, acknowledges Leon Williams, chief scientist, EFI.
Speed is also a crucial factor. “You’re ultimately looking at how to get the best sellable output in the shortest amount of time,” continues Williams. The more integrated the solution is, with the printer and other color management tools, the faster and more efficient the print process. Efficiency in process is not just a money saver, it’s key to meeting customer expectations.
“A PSP needs to achieve precise colors and not print multiple trials to get it right—a trial and error process will only lose money,” seconds Hanssens.
For those whose color needs are more modest, accessing libraries of pre-built profiles is also becoming easier. “We just launched an online profile library where PSPs can register their printer and access an updated library of color profiles,” says Francisco DeBrito, color services supervisor, Mimaki USA, Inc. Downloading those new profiles takes a single click.
“Almost 90 percent of our customers are happy with the profiles supplied to them—either through our Web site or distributor partners,” shares Tom Mooney, business development manager, Shiraz. For those who require more control, the company offers a color module that allows custom ICC profiling, along with access to support and training tools to guide end users through the process. “The more controls, the greater the chance to get something wrong,” observes Mooney.
RIP engines track with computing processing power to deliver greater horsepower when it comes to rendering. Several RIPs range from eight- to 16-bit color rendering, expanding the number of steps along a tonal curve from 256 to over 65,000.
ONYX developed its own 32-bit color profiling engine specifically for the needs of digital wide format. Coming in a May 2011 update to ProductionHouse is the ability to perform G7-compliant calibration. “This allows a PSP to certify that the printing process from beginning to end is meeting G7 standards.” Bringing in a more systematic, rigorous, and standards-based approach to color initially appeals to businesses with exacting color needs, but is slowly becoming the norm as the tools proliferate among both hardware and software suppliers.
Fujifilm’s ColorGate also offers a G7-compliant color module.
In addition to more robust engines, RIPs keep pace with evolving media and ink options, observes DeBrito. “We recently launched a module within Mimaki’s RasterLink RIP for handling silver ink—color swatches with silver inks are possible, because right now, there is no Pantone metallic library.”
As with so much software these days, there are cloud-based color services as well. Fujifilm recently incorporated its Taskero Universe remote monitoring solution into its wide format inkjet RIP as an option. It allows PSPs to upload color measurements that alert them whenever the printer is drifting off of a set of predefined specifications. “It’s like OnStar for a PSP,” explains Nelson. The subscription-based service also helps customers recalibrate printers to achieve optimal performance.
Customer Profile: Making Advances
Located in North Andover, MA, Advance Reproductions produces a range of wide and grand format output on a number of platforms. The company’s commitment to color is part of its overall quality orientation signified by its ISO 9001 designation, says Paul Nigrelli, VP, Advance. It stocks an array of equipment, most recently a QS UV flatbed from EFI VUTEk. They adopted the EFI Fiery RIP for the flatbed because of its ability to handle print sizes for output as large as 126x40 feet. The RIP is also a money saver. “Once you factor in how much ink is going to be put down, you’re saving money. You also improve quality; some substrates need less ink than others,” explains Nigrelli.
The approach to color management is methodical. Everything is process-based, beginning with a prepress department that inspects files for resolution and print quality. Before any run, a half-sized proof is made, and possibly a full mag strip if the resolution is in question. “These are for customers to sign off on or for the firm’s prepress head to visually inspect. Custom profiles are built for each piece of media using an X-Rite i1. The company manages color and drives its VUTEk GS3200 via the Fiery RIP and its Seiko Instruments USA, Inc. ColorPainter H-104s printers using ONYX ProductionHouse.
The i1 is also pressed into service for monitor calibration. Roughly 95 percent of the jobs run through Advance are “color critical and contain PMS colors the company is required to match,” says Nigrelli. “Print consistency is very important to us” and everything is closely scrutinized before it leaves the door.
“The Fiery RIP has an option to print a color verifier control print to quickly verify a profile, which I find helpful,” observes James Rountree, employee, Advance. The profiles get Advance close but sometimes they’ll print a PMS chart to make any final adjustments, he adds.
“Ultimately, we’re a service company,” shares Nigrelli. Since every business can go out and buy the same equipment, it’s incumbent upon Advance to get the best results it can while offering the highest quality customer service. “The only advantage you have is through the service you offer and making sure the finished product is what the customer expects.”