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Paramount Views On Color

June 1998

Our clear vision is to build a workflow where consistent color output is confidently achievable time and time again. Agfa will continue efforts to develop solutions that address these challenges.

Finally, the pieces are in place for color management to become a reality. I know you have heard this proclamation before, but consider the following:

  • With the impending release of Adobe Photoshop 5.0, all of the major desktop publishing applications will be ICC compliant. All of these software vendors have either licensed Kodak's color management developer tools, developed their own CMS or are using the CMS offered in Apple Color-Sync.

  • In addition to these applications, several RIP and OPI server vendors offer CMS in their products.

  • The use of and demand for ICC profiles continue to grow as does the need for tools which can be used to accurately make profiles for all kinds of devices. There are now a number of different professional profiling products, like Kodak's ColorFlow family of software.

What's the biggest challenge ahead? In a word: training. Color management is not an easy concept and it's certainly not a shrink wrapped solution. Sure, you can buy the most robust set of profiling tools and measuring instruments, but if you don't know how to integrate the use of these profiles into your unique workflow, what good are they?

This lack of proper integration and training support accounts for most of the attitude that results in statements like "color management doesn't work."

What's up with color? New technologies will polarize the market for color services.

At the lower end of the quality spectrum, digital printing, remote soft proofing and inexpensive color PostScript printers will give many companies a workflow that does not rely on expensive contract proofs. These firms will sacrifice predictability and process control for cost savings and cycle time reductions.

At the high end, end-to-end calibration solutions, computer-to-plate, affordable dot-for-dot digital proofers and new workflows such as CIP3 will provide unprecedented quality levels for those segments that require it, such as food and fashion.

Connectivity solutions will enhance collaboration between companies in areas such as soft proofing, remote laser and color laser printing, and even remote high-end proofing. As such, open connectivity technologies such as the ones provided by DAX are "neutral" in the looming color wars, and support both the high-end vision and the low-cost, fast-turnaround alternative.

With remote proofing, it is important to not forget about the multiple iterations that a product gets to before color becomes critical. Remotely printing to a laser printer can often save as many days and dollars as printing to a Rainbow.

Color management tools must be used through the entire color-critical portion of the production cycle. The cycle needs to be extended to the customer when high-end remote proofing is being used.

The enabling technology for high- end remote color proofing with clients is missing the easy calibration tools for the end client. We've been working with vendors to help. The proof checking that needs to be done at the customer's site is simple: Proof comes out, proof gets checked, proof passes or fails. Once the proof at the customer point has been certified, then they can confidently tell the designer the wrong purple is being used.

All of this—color management in remote proofing—takes patience.

Digital color means that the use of color is now practical for any short-run document, as it addresses the requirements of a whole new class of on-demand, distribute-then-print and print-for-one applications. Such applications include reports, proposals, presentations, flyers, menus, point-of purchase posters, marketing brochures and any other document that would benefit from the increased effectiveness of color.

Color means business. But digital color production printing goes one step further. The currently available digital color workflow components transform wasted time into creative time, resulting in better documents. Digital documents allow new information to be incorporated at any point in the production cycle.

Using digital color printing, prototypes can be produced with the actual look and feel of the final piece, allowing for more comprehensive design review.

At Polaroid Graphics Imaging, we have focused our new digital proofing technology on going back to the future. The introduction last year of our Polaroid DryJet contone system and our PolaProof halftone system placed us in the vanguard of a trend that is seeing proofing return to the way it was originally intended—proof to press.

Printers have asked: Why do we keep on having to make a proof chase the press? Why can't we make the press chase the proof like the old days? How can we minimize the headaches of constant color calibration? Why can't we get a proofing system that gives us results that we'll see on press? Why can't we get more consistency in our proofs?

Without an old technology legacy in proofing to hold on to, we focused entirely on the needs of printers and their customers in developing our digital proofing solutions. Polaroid proofing systems are designed to provide color gamuts, color pigments and dots that are imaged directly onto actual printing papers that produce consistent, high-quality, repeatable color proofs that printers can truly match on press.

Proofing technology is becoming a vital part of all-digital workflows in time-critical printing environments where color is critical. Printers need more color, reliable color.

Fuji has been watching and participating in the evolution of the color management movement for some time. We are one of the original members of the International Color Consortium (ICC) and have been very active in the development of standards for color reproduction throughout the graphic communications industry.

Since PRINT 97 the idea of profiling and attaching ICC profiles to documents is becoming more of a reality. We have observed that many of the major software vendors have made marked improvements to their products, especially in the area of "user friendliness."

The most recent software products we have evaluated are much easier to use and we feel will be more widely implemented by print producers.

Fuji believes the implementation of color management systems (CMS) will develop in stages. We are currently at the point where CMS within one media type is reasonably well accepted. For example, working with images captured by a digital camera and images captured on a scanner work reasonably well within the CMS available today.

Using ICC profiles and working with those image files produce good results. Also, most printers are comfortable working with an off-press proof in the pressroom because they are confident of achieving quality results on press. Both of these situations are examples of using a form of color management within the same media type.

What doesn't work yet is cross- platform color management. It's doubtful you will find a printer confident in matching a press sheet to a monitor. This is the challenge for our industry. Standards and formats exist, but the information doesn't necessarily give you what you want to meet the goal—an acceptable color match at any given point in the production process.

Fuji will continue to work toward the goal of truly independent, cross-platform CMS products. With our wide range of color science and imaging technologies, from amateur and professional films to image capture to output recorders, we believe we can contribute much toward this end and will develop and support products with this goal in mind.

The color management ideal—to reproduce the same colors from device to device in a digital workflow—is getting closer and closer every day. As an industry, we've solved a number of important color management issues already. Quality measurement devices have come down in price. The proliferation of color management solutions has led vendors to build color management support into their scanners, monitors, printers and proofing systems.

The ICC profile format is becoming more broadly accepted. And ColorSync 2.5 now enables users to directly create automated AppleScript workflows and to select their preferred default Color Matching Method (CMM).

However, current tools and technology have not yet been able to deliver on the promise. What has been missing are the tools and technology to create truly accurate output device profiles, and a CMM engine that efficiently maintains color fidelity in transformations between color spaces. Further, proofing accuracy is suspect when transforming images between color spaces—RGB to CMYK, CMYK to RGB and between custom color spaces. And applications are often too complex for graphic designers—color management will have to extend beyond the trade shop and press to create true end-to-end color fidelity.

As a result, graphic arts customers have come to expect more, but must accept less from color management systems—less color accuracy, slower performance, more simplicity and the inability to get the right color on their devices.

What's needed—and what Imation has implemented with the technology in its Rainbow Spectral Profiler software—is a new definition of the architecture for profiling and processing color. The new definition must base profiles on the full range of spectral data available. Our next step, available soon, is to implement this technology in an industry standard format appropriate for any output device. Moreover, we must have accurate color matching methods (CMMs) to reliably transform any image from RGB to CMYK and back again, or between custom color sets. Again Imation has developed this technology, and will supply this in conjunction with its ICC-based spectral profiling product.

When this happens, our customers, those to whom accurate color is the lifeblood of their business, will have a true color fidelity system—one that faithfully manages and maintains accurate communication and reproduction of color across the entire workflow from design to final output.

Unnecessary confusion abounds in the color management segment today. No one can blame the customers here: The fact is that the color management category is crowded with vendors who don't always speak the same language and therefore burden an otherwise eager marketplace with too much jargon.

Confusion is exacerbated by the availability of many components, including hardware and software, in single, bundled, and OEMed offerings. The customers don't really understand that, for instance, they can buy a color measurement device and separate software to measure, calibrate and profile their color proofer. Or they may get the measuring device and software from their device vendor, as part of the package. There are a number of variations on this theme, and as a direct-to-end-user vendor as well as supplier to dozens of OEMs, X-Rite is well aware of the seemingly redundant range of options.

X-Rite proposes two things: one, that when we talk about customers, or those that need further education regarding color managed workflows, that we address everyone in the workflow, from design through output. Second, we propose that we keep the language of color a simple, logical and appealing undertaking.

Customers must start with the practical, three-pronged foundation for color management: measurement, calibration and color profiling of all devices in a prepress workflow.

Measurement and calibration allow professionals to work with as many "knowns" in the process as possible. The more "knowns," the more consistent the results. Profiling is the process of characterizing your device so that other equipment or software in the workflow can consider that device's color display or reproduction capabilities when doing its processing on the same image.

Color measurement requires a color measurement device such as a spectrophotometer, densitometer or colorimeter. Color calibration, the process of keeping your measurements consistent, requires a measurement device. Color profiling requires measurement and calibration, as well as profiling software.

Once a professional understands these basic issues, he or she will be better equipped to wade through the various color management choices available on the market.

For most people, everyday life is viewed in full, living color. Although we see color every day, and although we view color on our computer displays and across the Internet, we do not automatically print in color across our computer networks. In fact, it's the distinct minority of computer users who print in high-quality color.

High-speed, digital color printing has been around for less than 10 years. Those in graphic arts have been the earliest adopters of this technology. A growing number of companies in this market are using third- and fourth-generation color laser printing technology, paired with color servers from Splash or other companies, for design comps and mock-ups, digital preproofs, even short-run production itself.

The color server seemlessly links desktop computer users to the output engine, just as though it were a standard office printer. The impact of Splash servers continues to be significant by providing the users with benchmark color accuracy, practical color calibration and useful, advanced prepress features.

Looking out to the year 2000 and beyond, it's only a matter of time before our "fundamental underpenetration of digital color printing" will change to the fundamental use of color. Yet with all matters technological, the unanswered question is when.

Although the nay-sayers who insisted that color management would not be achievable in off-the-shelf or "mixed" environments now concede that color management can work, it seems we're now combatting a very vocal group that professes that the process is too complicated to be adopted by the industry masses.

At Heidelberg, representing both Heidelberg Prepress and our Heidelberg Color Publishing Solutions companies, we believe that this attitude also will be proven invalid, as well.

Here's why.

To begin with, the components necessary to a standard color management workflow exist. These include device measurement, device calibration, device profiling based on a standard format (ICC), operating system compatibility, popular application adoption and incorporation of the ICC standard and maintainable profile communication across devices and platforms.

What this means is that the color reproduction capabilities of any device in a color-managed workflow can be utilized by any other device in the workflow, in order to maintain the intended color of the job. It's all there.

What's not there, however, is the people-based variable that will make a standard, color-managed workflow an easier undertaking. It so happens that color management technology maturity is taking place in parallel with groundbreaking changes in the people part of the workflow, and we feel that it is this part of the process that leads people to believe it's too complicated.

In-house communications departments that expect plug-and-play functionality as they bring more and more of their prepress processes inside can't grasp the more complex and subjective nature of color. Their designers do their work in isolated environments, and everyone down the workflow, especially at press or printing, goes through tedious gyrations to fix the color so that it matches the designer's intentions. Color management for these environments is truly as simple as providing the designer with the color reproduction capabilities, or ICC profile, of the workflow's proofer and color printer or press. In this way the designer can work within the realm of feasibility.

It would be easy, as a vendor, to say we've done our part in providing the components, and now it's up to the integrators and information systems personnel to figure out how to educate the people responsible throughout each step of the workflow. However, the fact is that we vendors have had no choice but to assume the responsibilities of a shrinking integrator community, and so it is partially our responsibility to fulfill the education process.

As such, Heidelberg will continue to work with its color industry partners such as Apple, Microsoft, Canon, Ricoh and X-Rite to make the prospect of utilizing a standard color management workflow an appealing and friendly undertaking for the changing prepress marketplace.

Clearly, color management is critical to a successfully printed image. In an ideal world, the reproduction of an original color image would be fully optimized for any given display or output device in an automated (digital) workflow. All images would be provided in an RGB format with a profile describing the color biases of the media they were produced on and the devices that digitized them. All output processes (color proofs, printers and displays) would also be characterized and quantified through these profiles.

The introduction of ICC profiles as the heart of the digital workflow was intended to facilitate successful interpretation and application of supplied profiles by a color processing module. Yet most print users are still relying on more traditional color management methods.

Here at Du-Pont Color Proofing, we have observed several different factors that have prevented the broader acceptance of ICC profiles.

While the ICC has developed a standard data format for profiles, wide latitude is permitted in the way files are created. Each profile generation software product uses its own test target to characterize the printing process and generate output profiles. One software package may measure a simple step wedge, or color target with fewer than 100 color patches, while others, such as DuPont CromaNet color technology, use a target having nearly 2,000 patches that include complex overprints.

Obviously, the degree of accuracy among these profiling tools will vary considerably. Input device profiling is also subject to variation, based on factors such as lighting and contrast in a given captured image.

For example, profiling of color scanners with the proper emulsion IT8.7.3 target delivers a reasonable baseline profile, but does not address the subtle differences that processing variables or scene lighting can introduce to the actual transparencies.

At DuPont, we recently introduced DuPont CromaNet color technology, which creates highly accurate printing process color profiles for proofing devices to improve the control of color throughout the creative and print production processes.

DuPont Color Proofing will continue to work with organizations like the ICC to drive ongoing improvement of the tools needed to produce high-quality printed color images. Together we will refine ICC-profile-based workflows.

In an ideal world, color management means device-independent color representation and manipulation on all devices and with all files. Tools are now emerging to make this a reality, and some printers have successfully integrated them in environments where they control the entire process, from scanning to printing. However, much work is still needed to make color management work in typical print shops with multiple devices and arbitrary file sources.

Today, printers manage color by using color calibration tools. Combined with the consistent manufacturing capability of thermal CTP technology, color calibration tools are providing an effective way to achieve consistent color in the pressroom.

Creo's color calibration tool, Harmony, helps printers get results on press that consistently match the proof, regardless of the press or paper used for a job. It works by creating four-color calibration tables, which match the characteristics of the press sheet to a measured proof or printed sample.

As for other color management options, the most practical use of color management today is to simulate the press output on hard-copy proofers.

While halftone proofers (both digital and analog) strive to match the color space of the press through industry standards such as SWOP, GRACoL, etc., contone proofers (ink-jet and dye-sublimation) typically have a larger gamut than that of the press.

Today, color management provides users with the gamut mapping that is needed to make these contone proofers match the printed product. Analog proofs and the halftone proofers like the Kodak Approval and the Creo Spectrum match the printed color space and therefore can be accurately calibrated without full color management.

In the future, end-to-end color management will become a reality only when prepress vendors can provide seamless transfer of ICC color profiles and agree on where in the workflow to perform the final color calculations.

The graphic arts industry has been working for years on ways to manage digital color. Through the participation of Harlequin and many others in the International Color Consortium (ICC) and the development of the standard ICC format, the industry has made great strides in moving toward the goal of device-independent color.

However, "color management" can take various forms. Most people think of the model that represents color data in one of several standard three-component "device independent" color spaces such as the CIELAB or XYZ.

These data are transformed to the proper printing values just before an actual print is made. Though the "device independent" representation does not change, the transformation varies depending on the actual printing process employed.

Although the tools are available to characterize products ranging from relatively simple electronic devices like RGB monitors and digital color printers to four-color printing presses, the most common color management model has not caught on well in the CMYK world of high- end printing applications.

The problem with the three-component color management model for commercial and publications printing applications is that the color cannot be approved early in the process. Tools are not yet available to do this with sufficient reliability. Print buyers, prepress trade houses and printers cannot agree on where the responsibility lies should something go wrong if the actual data are not proofed and approved early in the production cycle.

However, there is another model of color management that accommodates four-color production by maintaining files in four-color space throughout the process. In this four-color model, traditional graphic arts methods are used to prepare, proof and approve CMYK files.

The four-color model still uses ICC profiles—four-color input profiles, output profiles and one-step device link profiles—which can easily be created in ways that preserve black text as black and assure that text is not screened.

Since workflows based on the four-color model of color management solve real production and business problems, they will be with us until tools are available that allow truly device-independent models to be used and trusted by print buyers, prepress trade houses and printers alike.

The world of digital color printing is changing rapidly and the customers are getting much more savvy in their desire for accurate, pleasing and consistent color.

When digital color printing was first introduced, customers were satisfied to just be able to get something that resembled the original image as long as they could get it fast.

That is no longer the case. Customers still want their digital output to be fast, but they want it to look like it came off an offset press. This has always been complicated, if not virtually impossible, in the digital world due to limitations in color tools that could control the output of digital color.

Well, that has finally changed and customers are noticing the radical improvements in digital color quality. T/R Systems believes that the right approach to meeting the color demands of customers is that which is three-pronged: the first being color calibration, the second being color matching and the third being color adjust.

Color calibration is the ability to print consistent color across all of the color output devices connected to any one server.

The calibration process should be simple enough so anyone could do it, fast enough so someone is willing to do it and good enough to work without needing an expert. T/R Systems' color calibration tools allow customers to do this across all of the color output devices connected to the MicroPress (from one to eight).

Color matching is the method by which image colors are changed so they print with the colors you expect, WYSIWYG.

There are numerous methods of "prepping" images for this type of printing, but the "ideal" color matching system is one that requires as little as possible from the user, the software application and the computer platform.

In order to satisfy all three, T/R Systems has built its color matching system inside of the MicroPress using the ICC Profile Processor.

If you don't have a color matching solution as a part of your printing system, you'll have to modify the images yourself.

For example, every RGB image would have to be changed to CMYK before printing. But just that simple RGB to CMYK conversion can introduce problems. CMYK images were electronically "separated" for printing to certain CMYK devices.

Are you sure your CMYK device is the same as that for which the image was separated? If not, the image will not look the same. Most CMYK images are separated with SWOP in mind. If you're not printing to a SWOP printer, it won't print correctly.

With the MicroPress, all you have to do is send the image. The color matching system does all the conversions for you, referencing the correct devices in the process.

Q&A--A Pantone Perspective On COLOR CONTROL

What new trends in color publishing does Pantone see emerging?

A big trend and one which will create a fundamental paradigm shift is the complete digital workflow.

The traditional and Internet publishing workflows are destined to merge. There will be content creators and publishers from a variety of different areas and each will create content that will be published in one form or another. The only differentiating factor will be quality—quality of content, resolution and color.

Digital creation of source imagery from Web site development and digital photography will proliferate the content being developed. As digital tools make their way down from the professional to the consumer, the number of publishers will expand geometrically.

A publisher will be loosely defined as anyone who creates content for distribution to someone else. With such a powerful capability in everyone's hands, it is imperative that the proper tools and controls are available and that people use them effectively.

On the production side, these digitally created bits of content will need to be reproduced or re-purposed in one or more mediums.

The most common example today is that a high-resolution photograph will be used in both a Web page and a catalog page. Wouldn't it be nice if, through a digital pipeline, the same image or layout could be automatically re-purposed? There are standards being proposed and promoted today that will enable this to happen, such as PDF and PGML.

Since Pantone does not consider itself a technology-dependent or platform-dependent company, we will provide color communication and control tools for whatever our customers require, regardless of the workflow or technology they are using.

What is the role of Hexachrome and how does Pantone see Hexachrome impacting the manipulation of color in the industry?

Hexachrome is a standardized, ultra-high-fidelity process printing system developed by Pantone that incorporates six ink colors as opposed to four. The six inks are modified, more vibrant versions of cyan, magenta and yellow with the addition of green and orange. Black is the sixth color.

Hexachrome expands the range of colors that can be printed using conventional printing presses, improves the realism and vividness of color reproduction and accurately reproduces almost twice the number of PANTONE colors that can be obtained using conventional four-color process printing.

Hexachrome was invented as a practical high-quality color reproduction system that leverages existing workflows and equipment. Pantone has succeeded in partnering with many of its licensees to provide an appropriate solution for every phase of the design through production workflow, including design and illustration software, color correction and separation capabilities, color proofing and an enhanced color ink set. With this infrastructure and industry-wide support in place, Hexachrome has become the de facto hifi color standard.



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