G7 Qualification : The Art of Maintaining ColorNovember 2010 By Erik Cagle
Just mention the term G7 certification and you can hear a collective cringe coming from the folks at IDEAlliance, the printing industry association unofficially tasked with governing printing methodologies, specifications and standards. G7 is a “qualification” program; the law sees a difference between the terms. IDEAlliance is working on a certification program.
If you’re feeling a bit lost right now, take heart. G7 certi-, um, qualification is a subject that is relatively limited to the hard-core color cognoscenti. Relative to the industry, there are still very few G7 Master Printers (more than 500 at press time, with roughly 15 new ones each week). You can find them either by visiting the IDEAlliance Website, or you might happen to recognize them by their use of a logo.
OK, by now you’re hopping mad, and resent the exclusionary implications because you feel you understand color and proof matching just as much as the next shop.
You don’t need IDEAlliance or anyone else to validate what you’ve been doing for years, or decades. Your press work matches the proofs consistently. Frankly, you suspect this qualification smacks of a cash grab concocted by folks who think a little too highly of themselves and their calibration methods.
Buyers Dig Certificates
Fact of the matter is, there are a lot of people in the industry who can’t pick up the minor, subtle differences between proof and press. And those people are your existing or potential clients. But buyers, by nature, are drawn to certifications, qualifications and embossed stamps that declare someone or something as having been validated by an expert. That gives them the peace of mind to do business with a company that’s touting a quality logo.
“I can think of a number of times in recent months where (G7 qualification) has been a factor, particularly in the business development environment,” notes Bill Tucker, executive vice president of sales for Cincinnati-based Berman Printing.
“It establishes a certain amount of credibility. We use our G7 logo prominently in our marketing materials, when we do sales presentations and on our Website. Frankly, I’m surprised at how many times it’s come up. Potential clients and existing customers who really don’t understand what it means have latched onto G7 as a way of finding quality printers.”
Where it has made a measurable difference, for Berman, is in expanding its customer base geographically. Those potential clients who aren’t aware of Berman’s local reputation for quality, consistent printing can rely upon the G7 designation to provide assurance.
One out-of-area print buyer visited the Printing Industries of Ohio and Northern Kentucky (PIANKO) Website to determine which printers had their desired printing capabilities, then cross-referenced those results against the IDEAlliance list to find out which companies were G7 qualified.
Simply stated, G7 is a process, a color calibration method, that allows printers to gain repeatability across the gamut of printing devices and substrates. It requires financial and time commitments—both manpower and equipment—though depending upon your shop’s current configuration, both commitments are likely to be extremely minimal compared to the outlays in time and funding that it would require to install new iron.
For Berman, the G7 qualification was a fairly straightforward process, according to Paul Hilvert, who headed up the project for the printer. “We have closed-loop color control on all of our presses, we have an automatic spectrophotometer scanning table for reading proofs and press sheets, and we pre-verified all of our presses,” he says. “If you approach this process with multiple presses that don’t run alike or run well—or maybe manually read press sheets or proofs with a handheld device—that makes the work tedious, if not difficult, and prone to error.
“I was lucky because we already had a lot of things in place in prepress and the pressroom,” he says. “Basically, you need something that’s stable, therefore repeatable and able to measure.”
The entire training process took about three days for Berman, and Hilvert credits the department heads, supervisors, and prepress and press workers for working with the G7 consultant. What also helped, he notes, was the acknowledgment of Berman’s management that G7 qualification was an endeavor worth seeing through to its fruition.
While Hilvert doesn’t view the changes G7 imparted on the Berman production process as a “quantum jump,” he also doesn’t want to dismiss the qualitative improvements that were reaped. “When you focus on neutrals and gray balance, you indeed get optimum tonal reproduction. When you get neutrals right, which G7 assists you in doing, the dynamic range is better, contrast is better and consistency throughout the run occurs.”
Hitting the G7 targets can offer benefits well beyond the marketing possibilities, notes Boston-based consultant and GRACoL chair Ron Ellis. It provides for faster make-readies, less waste and improved proof matching, which translates into more jobs per shift at lower costs. But it’s not just calibration, he adds; even though print conditions can change, G7 tools enable users to quickly readjust the press back to job targets. And, again, repeatability is achieved across the full range of devices.
Process Control Is Key
The key to leveraging the maximum out of G7 qualification is process control, Ellis notes—being able to hit the proof target on a daily basis. If done right, that process control is learned during qualification, and along the way printers may learn new ways of measuring and thinking about color data. Learning how to use and apply process control procedures throughout the entire production process is a good starting point, he says.
Being able to hit the G7 mark repeatedly means being able to track printing conditions, Ellis wrote in his study titled, “Good G7 is Not Cheap; Cheap G7 is Not Good.” Some of the signs include:
• Proofer wandering away from calibration;
• Changes in dot gain by cylinder;
• Color changes due to ink batch variation or contamination; and
• Changes in trap, plate material and plate curves.
“Back when we were printing by the seat of our pants and customers demanded less accuracy, good process control was less important,” he wrote. “With the G7 method, process control is more important than ever, and you need to learn how to use it and correct your print conditions to maintain a constant appearance.”
Branch-Smith Printing hosted a qualification seminar for several companies, which not only provided validation for a good deal of the company’s processes, but also afforded them the opportunity to share and learn about the experiences of other companies. But the process changes, largely subtle, have paid dividends, according to Daniel Hanson, vice president and general manager of the Ft. Worth, TX-based catalog, book and magazine printer.
“We adjusted some plate curves,” Hanson says. “It showed us some areas, specifically in the highlight dot areas, that we could refine. They looked, mathematically, like very small adjustments, but they resulted in nice clarity and detail.
“The main benefit is that the press to proof match is a lot closer, across all ranges of highlight, midtones and shadow,” he adds. “The methodology we were using before resulted in a stair-step approach with results in the curves. The G7 process on how to manage gray balance and apply it to our curves resulted in a smoother curve.”
Hanson notes that higher-end clients acknowledge the benefits offered by G7. That qualification logo also gives the buyer a bit of insurance in case a job goes sour.
“These buyers have to answer to management for their spends, and they’ve got a selection of Master Printers in their supply chain,” he says. “So, if something goes wrong, it will be easier to demonstrate that it was just an anomaly as opposed to picking a bad supplier.”
It’s all about the process and staying in control of it. PI