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August 2002
Color Meets Its Match

GRANDVILLE, MI—Beauty is in the eye of the beholder and, unfortunately, so too is the perception of color. Therefore, to be of practical use, any attempt to define colors objectively must be reconciled with the subjective way in which they are viewed. That's why effective color management is such a desirable, yet often frustrating, goal.

The full scope of the challenge was made apparent during a press briefing held recently by X-Rite Inc. at its headquarters here. The event also brought home the point that the printing industry is not alone in facing this challenge. Some industries actually have it worse, since they must deal with the added variable of the third dimension—depth. Auto manufacturers, for example, must contend with the issue of a vehicle's finish appearing different when viewed from an angle as opposed to head on.

The range of applications for color measurement devices—such as densitometers and spectrophotometers—may even hold a surprise or two for those used to focusing on print. A case in point is X-Rite's new ShadeVision system for the dental market.

Shaped similar to a handheld hair dryer, the device reads the color of a tooth and the surrounding area. Measurements taken in a dentist chair then can be passed to a dental lab to guide the coloring of bridgework, crowns, etc., to better blend in with a patient's mouth. With ShadeVision as its cornerstone, President Mike Ferrara says he expects X-Rite's bio-diagnostics division to become a dominant market segment for the company within five years.

Building on this remote color workflow concept, there would seem to be a potential opportunity for cooperation between the various industry segments that measure the color characteristics of their products and the printers that reproduce these items in brochures, catalogs, ads, etc. For example, instead of trying to match the printed representation of a car to the transparency, why not use as a target the color data collected in the auto finishing quality control process?

Through its ColorMail product family, X-Rite has started providing the building blocks for what could be developed into a closed-loop color control system—from manufacturing to marketing. Initially, though, the company is focusing on enabling color data transfers (via e-mail) just among its own products.

Education would be a good starting point for any effort to explore the potential of such cooperation. The parties need to know what each is doing and why in terms of color measurement and control.

To help spur understanding, X-Rite recently opened a 6,000-square-foot, interactive Customer Center at its headquarters. Individual displays highlight the application of color measurement in the various market segments.

The facility also houses custom manufacturing operations, which was another stop on the tour. The relatively low volume, high precision requirements of X-Rite's products have dictated that it bring everything—from machine shop to circuit board assembly operations—in-house, management says.

Lastly, the press event included a preview of the company's latest product, the 939 portable 0°/45° spectrodensitometer. According to the manufacturer, the unit features a proprietary, high-resolution, 31-point spectral engine that yields an average agreement of .15 Delta-E. It can store more than 3,000 color references and samples internally. This model will replace the 938 by year's end, says Iain Pike, worldwide product marketing manager, Imaging & Printing Businesses.

Xerox Looks to Toner for Growth

ROCHESTER, NY—Xerox Corp. recently rolled out two color copier/printer systems that are more significant for what they represent than what they do, at least in the professional printing marketplace. The DocuColor 1632 and 2240 were designed around the company's new EA (emulsion aggregation) toner technology, which is expected to be the future of Xerox's output product line.

The performance characteristics of these devices make them best suited for the corporate and quick printing market segments, says M. (Abby) Abhyankar, vice president of worldwide marketing for Xerox' Color Solutions Business Unit. They really are not being targeted to high-end printing or proofing applications, he adds. (The company did also introduce the DocuColor 6060 digital color press, which fits between the DC2000 series and iGen3 professional production systems. For more on this press, see the "New Products" item on page 56.)

EA toner, however, is expected to evolve into a solution for the broader printing market, Abhyankar reports.

According to Xerox, toner traditionally has been made by pulverizing larger strands of raw materials into small particles. The process is both energy intensive and inexact, since the resulting particle size cannot be precisely controlled. This manufacturing method produces toner with average particle size greater than seven microns in diameter, the company claims.

Emulsion aggregation technology is said to "grow" toner particles with well-defined shapes and smaller (three to five microns) sizes. Xerox then incorporates the particles into a wax-based formulation for oil-less fusing. Reported benefits include lower operating costs, improved image quality and reduced environmental impact. "The technology puts 30 percent less toner on the sheet," Abhyankar notes.

Pieces printed with EA toner are smoother both visually (because of the smaller particles) and physically (because a thinner layer is applied). They also have a matte finish that is more akin to uncoated ink, but unexpected in a toner-based process. The thinner layer of toner holds up better to folding and scoring.

Xerox had said it planned to use Japan as a test market for EA toner-based systems. Abhyankar says the technology's U.S. debut was moved up somewhat because of the promise the toner has shown and because the printers filled a hole in the company's product line.

One station in X-Rite's new demo center highlights its ATD News 2 color measurement system for newspaper production, which The Wall Street Journal has employed with its move into color pages.

This highly magnified comparison of traditional and EA (inset) toner particles shows the latter's more spherical shape.

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