Process Integration — Executing the Triple Play

THERE HAS been a tradition in the printing industry of categorizing work based on the process used to produce it—i.e., sheetfed vs. web offset, and now digital printing. Run length, of course, is the most important distinguishing factor, but process-based characterizations have also been made about color and print quality.

As adoption of digital printing continues to grow, more printers are integrating all three levels of output capabilities to meet the long and short of their clients’ needs. Advances in technology, adoption of standards and evolving customer expectations are making it more realistic for such shops to just generically offer printing (high quality, of course) and then produce the work using the most cost- effective production methods.

Regardless of process, “the heart and soul of color reproduction is printing to gray balance; being neutral,” asserts Daniel Remaley, senior technical consultant at PIA/GATF. “If you print a gray patch—50 cyan, 40 magenta and 40 yellow—it should look neutral on any printing device. The same printing characteristics apply to a digital press (toner- or ink-based) in terms of producing a neutral gray.”

Printing on a web or sheetfed offset press should be essentially the same, since color separations are made to standard numbers, the process control expert explains. “The problem is that printers typically don’t understand color separations. The color has already been defined, so all you have to do is print to SWOP—meaning the same density, dot gain and gray balance characteristics.”

Digital printing is a different scenario to the extent that the toners or inks don’t have the same color characteristics as offset inks, Remaley notes. Vendors like to point out that their digital machines can print a wider color gamut, he adds.

At some point, though, most digital printing operations will be asked to match the printing off an offset press. The common approach is to establish two workflows, one that capitalizes on the wider color gamut capabilities of the digital device and a second that matches sheetfed work, Remaley says. This is done by creating an ICC profile for the digital press to match SWOP or the fingerprint of a specific offset machine.

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