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COLOR CONTROL -- Managing the Variables

February 2003

Would color management by any other name still carry the same stigma? When it was first introduced, the concept grew to being billed as just short of perfect color in a box. The early offerings might as well have come in a yellow and black box with a "Color for Dummies" label.

It quickly became clear that color, the human eye and perception defy description by straightforward mathematics. Or, maybe it's just that expectations were set so high, there was no chance of matching them.

To avoid repeating the mistakes of the past, it's worth taking a brief look at where things went wrong. Consultant and researcher Don Carli explored that question as part of a 2001 study—titled "Trends and Issues in Adoption of Color Management in the Graphic Arts"—commissioned by NPES the Association for Suppliers of Printing, Publishing and Converting Technologies. Carli is a principal with Nima Hunter in New York City.

"The most important issue we uncovered was the lack of a commonly accepted definition for color management. If everyone means something different when they say color management, how can they hope to get people to adopt it?," the researcher questions. "Secondly, we found there was a huge gap between the promise of color management and the ability of solutions to deliver on it."

The core of the problem was that equivalence in measurement does not equal equivalence in human perception, Carli explains. "Companies offering color management tools and services claimed you could run based on measurements alone."

For many years, developers also worked under a false assumption, the researcher asserts. "They had been trying to come up with silver-bullet solutions to problems that weren't important to people. What people in our study sample said they wanted most was to simply match two devices of the same type in the same medium," he notes.

"A great deal of the benefit people want from color management actually derives from Statistical Process Control (SPC), device calibration, and device and process characterization. It's not a question of appearance matching, but process control," Carli continues. "Rather than hiring a color management consultant, printers should think first about looking into standards like ISO 9000, SPC and Total Quality Management. If you understand those disciplines and apply them to color, you will have a better-managed process and achieve greater consistency in proofing and printing. These are not specifically color management disciplines."


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