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Placing a Foundation in Knowhow

Color Management

By Melissa Donovan

 

Color management is important as brand owners and agencies make the switch from analog presses to digital print. Many print service providers (PSPs) recognize the importance of a streamlined color workflow—from print to print and device to device. However, cost, time, and ability to commit to learning the essentials can be a challenge. 

 

Outsourcing is a consideration. A print shop who has honed its color management skills is an excellent resource. Yellowcase LLC, based in Dallas, TX, is one such company that offers in-house printing capabilities to cater to its own clients in addition to demonstrations and tutorials on correct color management.

 

Calibration Beyond the Norm

Established in 2000, the digital imaging solutions company offers color managed giclée printing, consulting services to commercial printing companies, and is an authorized dealer for Caldera. Matias Bilbao, founder, Yellowcase, realized the lack of consistent color in 1999 when he was working as a professional photographer. Collaborating with high-end customers, his images were reproduced for signage ranging as large as a billboard to as small as a CD cover. In each case, every print provider he worked with, he found the color matching unsatisfactory.

 

“After several years in the imaging business, I realized this was an industry wide problem. The owners of digital printing companies grew into digital from blueprint and knew very little about it, not to mention color management. Similarly, those who owned or worked in traditional darkrooms grew—most forced—into digital. Most never dedicated themselves to the long process of training. They just learned on the go,” explains Bilbao.

 

Today Yellowcase prints for fine art customers in 1,600 square feet of space with Epson Stylus Pro 11880, 9900, 9880, and 4880 printers. These run on a Caldera RIP, which integrates with X-Rite, Inc. color management software. A module in the RIP software, Easy Media, allows for the calibration and profiling of both the media and monitor used.

 

Every media that moves through the PSP’s shop is calibrated, at every resolution and mode. Calibration is not just the creation of an ICC profile, it includes custom transitions/ink restrictions, linearization, and ink limits. Performed inside the Caldera RIP, the selection of the correct media calibration occurs automatically. The result—if a client orders a giclée in March and then asks for a reprint a year later, the output looks exactly the same.

 

What Others See as Boredom…

The company’s mantra is knowledge and training—with Bilbao stating, “it’s all about the knowhow.” He learned this early on when perfecting the technical part of his photography skills. Hours studying provided a foundation that translated into a keen business sense. 

 

“This is the part I feel few are willing to do. Some find it boring. At Yellowcase it allows us to better serve our customers because we understand what they are asking for. We study often and keep up to date. The only way to do that is to have a rock solid foundation,” he adds.

 

Bilbao is dedicated to teaching this philosophy to others. Besides digital print services, the company also offers assistance in learning correct color management skills. Bilbao realized early on that many of the larger print companies he consulted for had trouble securing sales, mainly due to the long and complicated process of color management. 

 

“You can’t sell a service to a customer who doesn’t yet understand its value. It seems they had been promised on numerous occasions that color management could solve their color issues, but after several failed attempts at doing it themselves, they simply resigned to what they believed was part of the process—testing, tinkering, and reprinting—until the print looked good enough,” he shares.

 

Yellowcase offers demonstrations to artists, graphic designers, RIP operators, and any other interested party on how to accurately match color across devices and different media types. During these events, the PSP’s digital print operator sends dozens of files to the four different Epson printers—each loaded with different media—and then shows how the color is precisely matched between all of the output. 

 

“By getting the print right the first time, every time, you reduce unnecessary employees, printers, and material. This translates to not only happier customers, better turnaround, and less frustration, but huge savings. More importantly, it improves customer loyalty,” advocates Bilbao.

 

In addition to these demonstrations, Yellowcase also works with its commercial clients on a deeper level, integrating existing digital devices—both printers and finishers—into a system run on a single RIP that controls all the color management and file processing. Training and support are also supplied. As an authorized Caldera RIP dealer, Yellowcase integrates the vendor’s software into all of its clients’ workflows—Bilbao is sure to express that the firm sells the Caldera RIP because it uses it, not the other way around.

 

A Demand for Color

Yellowcase customers requesting fine art prints demand color at every interval of the process. “Our customers do not just like color accuracy, they are use to it and they demand it. Color management is not something we sometimes use. It is used continuously at every level of our process,” shares Bilbao.

 

Two of the company’s repeat clients are based in HI. Artists Kat Reeder and Jordan Dodson both submit work directly to Yellowcase and do not order proofs despite demanding the best in color accuracy every time they request a canvas giclée print. The company’s color management provides what they expect the first time and every time after. Neither artist has had to re-order for any adjustments.

 

Another customer is OldBluePrints.com. The small business specializes in vintage architectural blueprints. Each order involves images printed on archival fine art rag media with a specific blue required for the background. For large requests of hundred of prints, Yellowcase turns around an order in one day. One operator printing on three Epson printers guarantees a match across all three devices.

 

The Elephant in the Room

A lack of education and understanding can lead to failure in any scenario. Somehow, many print providers who aren’t fully up to speed on the ins and outs of color management are still able to cobble along quality work for their customers. The downside, countless hours are wasted on trial and error and money is thrown away from ruined prints.

 

“The lack of proper color management and its incorrect implementation is the largest problem in digital print today. I am often asked if it is difficult to create profiles. My answer is simple, anything is easy when you know what you are doing,” explains Bilbao.

 

Color management may be the elephant in the room, but it doesn’t have to be. Learning how to correctly implement a color controlled workflow is as easy as reaching out to a network of peers and beginning the education process. 

 

Aug2013, Digital Output

 
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