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COLOR MANAGEMENT SYSTEMS -- Color Me Successful

April 2002
BY CAROLINE MILLER


The decision to implement a color management system was a no-brainer for Multi-Visual Products (MVP) owner Craig Graves. The Murrieta, CA-based company, which prints high-quality trading cards for youth sports leagues around the nation—as well as a line of magazine covers, calendars, enhanced team prints, magnets, stickers and mouse pads—had a color problem.

When the company began eight years ago, MVP had a code blue calibration process, including a scanner and an output device. The company had to tweak the output devices as best it could, but there were many colors that didn't match the original. "Our reject rates were very high," admits Graves. "We did a great deal of remakes, and the cost of remakes was expensive. A card that would normally cost 40 cents would cost $1.20 to remake."

Realizing it had a problem, the company entered the world of color management. "We learned how to do all the procedures and developed a workflow that would work. In terms of cost savings, remakes dropped a third by utilizing color management. Aside from less material waste, our labor costs were also reduced," he reports.

But, like many who attempt their first crack at color management, MVP's initial effort was not as successful as it could have been. The company continued to research color management options, according to Graves, and decided to integrate MonacoProfiler into its workflow. Every scanner, monitor, printer and output device, including two Indigo digital offset presses, are profiled and calibrated using the Monaco software.

With the previous solution, Graves estimates that in the year 2000 nearly 4,000 orders out of 800,000 digital products were reworks. "The price tag associated with this effort was nearly $20,000 in direct costs, but immeasurable in lost customer confidence," he remarks.

Success stories such as his make color management systems sound like a dream come true, but the reality is that getting to the level of MVP is not always easy. In fact, it tends to be very difficult, which is why integrating color management across an entire workflow continues to be a hard sell among printers.

For those who have taken the plunge successfully, however, the benefits range from material savings, faster makereadies, the ability to venture into remote proofing, providing a color-consistent product and improved customer satisfaction.

Still, getting to that point isn't half the battle; it's the entire war. "You don't come in one weekend and set up a color management system," notes Gregory Hill, manager of electronic systems for Sandy Alexander in Clifton, NJ. "It's an evolving process. You are always going to be tweaking and maintaining the system."

Color Odyssey

Sandy Alexander's most recent odyssey with color calibration began when it switched from a CMYK environment in prepress to an RGB color space. "We switched to an RGB workflow because we now receive files from a wide variety of sources. We have some clients who are very precise with their files and some that lack the knowledge to prepare their files correctly. In either case, we have to make it work. Plus, a wider color gamut is more in demand (from print buyers) than ever before.

"With CMYK separations, we are starting with a gamut that is more compressed," he adds, "but we need to achieve a significantly broader gamut. RGB seemed like a more natural way to work. It also led us to rethink how we manage color, because with an RGB workflow you must have proper color management."

Sandy Alexander's first step was to hire a color consultant to help it work through its color management issues. The company now uses GretagMacbeth's SpectroScan, ProfileMaker 4.0 and ProfileCity ICC Display.

Hiring a consultant is a recommendation that MVP's Graves seconds. "To be really successful, you do need to bring a consultant in to talk about the theory of color, especially when you are first getting into it," he claims.

But a color consultant isn't a prerequisite for success, according to Blayne Jensen, prepress supervisor and systems manager at Lorraine Press in Salt Lake City. Instead, Jensen took on the challenge of becoming his own color expert. Lorraine Press uses Agfa's ColorTune 4.0 and X-Rite's Spectrofiler software.

"It's a lot of trial and error. I recommend that anyone getting started should talk to someone who has successfully integrated color. You're not going to get all the information you need from a single vendor. You need to attend trade shows and talk to your peers. When I'm at a show I find someone I consider an expert and pick their brain."

Jensen also recommends seeking out the color expert within a color management software company. "They are often willing to share more information than the salespeople are. I'm always looking for a technical person's name and phone number."

David Warheit, executive vice president of Extreme Color Technologies in Plainview, NY, agrees that the biggest part of getting a color management system in place is doing proper research. Extreme Color uses Imation (now Kodak Polychrome Graphics), X-Rite Spectrofiler and BestColor software, as well as an X-Rite spectrophotometer.

"It's really all about spending hours on the Internet, doing demos and bringing in multiple vendors to set up live equipment for a couple of days," he adds.

It is also realizing that creating an entire system requires working with more than one vendor. "In the beginning, it really would have been helpful to know that I couldn't go to just one vendor for my color solution. Anyone that I've talked to who has been successful has had to use multiple vendors to get what they need," Jensen explains.

It was a realization that Warheit has also come to, as well. "Many systems are very good on the surface, but when you get into manipulating color within ICC profiles, it doesn't allow you to do it. Some of them don't allow the flexibility that a high-end shop needs. A fleshtone that I use for J. Crew is going to be different from the one that I use for Donna Karen. We also need to be able to do isolated color changes and some color management systems don't allow you to do that," he says.

Because no one management system seems to provide all of the tools that printers and prepress shops need, software interoperatibilty becomes an issue, reports Jensen. And that is where the research and talking to people about which software works well together comes into play.

In his experience, successful color management integration has four key components: the right hardware, the right software, the right expertise and consistency in the pressroom. Of these four components, consistency is the most important, he stresses.

"Quality control in the pressroom is really essential," says Jensen. "If your presses aren't maintained and are not consistent from day-to-day, then color management is just a dream and you are just shooting at a moving target. It makes no sense to profile your presses if they're completely different from one day to the next."

Because color management depends so much on consistency, proper communication between prepress and the pressroom becomes even more important. "There has to be a good relationship between prepress and pressroom. We've worked for years to break down the barriers between these departments," notes Jensen.

Still, getting everyone on board the color management train can be difficult. One way that Lorraine Press has helped to set the tone is by requiring everyone in the shop to be able to create an ICC profile.
 

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