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Publishers Press--A ColorSync Pioneer

September 2000
BY HOWARD FENTON


Anyone familiar with Publishers Press will not be surprised that it was the first company to express interest in, pursue and pioneer entrance into the GATF/Apple ColorSync Registry. The registry outlines tolerances for acceptable quality control specifications for the implementation of color management technology, as specified by the Graphic Arts Technical Foundation (GATF).

Publishers Press is a family owned company originally created in 1866, now operating under the fifth generation of the Simon family. Printing giant Frank E. Simon ran the company from 1946 to 1990 and is responsible for redirecting the company to its niche of short-run publications. At the helm today are brothers Nicholas X. Simon, president, and Michael J. Simon, executive vice president.

Michael Simon, who has been spearheading the ColorSync Registry effort, admits that one of the initial motivations for the process was marketing. "Our market is magazine printing, which is tremendously competitive. Just because we can print high quality and fast is not enough. To stay ahead of the competition, we need to show that we are the pioneers in implementing the latest and greatest technology. That is why we adopted TQM [Total Quality Management] and SPC [Statistical Process Control], and why we were the first to print a four-color magazine computer-to-plate [CTP] without using film."

Publishers operates two plants in Kentucky: the original facility in Shepherdsville and the Lebanon Junction plant, which was built in 1990. While Simon sees the registry as a marketing tool, he greatly supports his staff in production who see it as a way to improve the quality and consistency of the printed product.

According to Tim Haley, general manager of prepress services at Lebanon Junction, "With two plants so closely positioned, we have work going back and forth constantly. We need a way to ensure consistency, not only from day to day, but from one piece of equipment to another, no matter their location."

A Little History
Dan Millsap, electronic prepress digitizing and imaging manager at Shepherdsville, cautiously initiated the original conversations with his staff and Simon. In 1998, Millsap attended a seminar at Graph Expo in Chicago and saw a presentation. The presentation was conducted by GATF's Rich Adams and Dave Hunter from Pilot Marketing Group, two pioneers in the development of the GATF Registry.

In 1997, Apple and GATF began talking about ways to make color management technologies more accessible to printers. As a result, the GATF/Apple ColorSync Registry was developed under the Apple ColorSync-funded Chair from 1997-1999, which was held by GATF research scientist Richard Adams.

Three objectives where planned for the ColorSync Chair. The first was to produce a book on color management for printers, which was published in 1997. The second was hands-on workshops at GATF, which have been offered since 1998. The final objective was the ColorSync Registry, which was rolled out early in 1999 and was designed to train and test both consultants and companies.

The registry specifications were created by GATF staff specializing in quality control and by independent consultants specializing in color management. It was modeled after the Total Production Maintenance program created by Ken Rizzo, a GATF senior technical consultant, and the international ISO 9000 specification.

After Millsap saw the GATF presentation at Graph Expo, he explained to others at Publishers Press what he witnessed. "One of the points made in that presentation was that companies could use less expensive and/or less experienced staff to achieve results typically achieved from more expensive equipment and more experienced staff," he recalls.

At or around this time, Larry Blanton, a long-time Publishers staff member, was appointed color management system (CMS) coordinator. In addition to his scanning and technical service experience, Blanton also had strong relationships with almost every department that would be affected by the CMS implementation.

One of the challenges for Blanton was deciphering the fact from fiction. "When we decided to pursue color management, we started attending seminars. As we attended more and more of these seminars, we discovered that many experts had conflicting opinions about what it was and how to start. Many limited their discussions to profile creation, while a few talked about the importance of quality control," he explains. "As we talked more to the staff at GATF, we discovered their focus on quality control was consistent with our own philosophies. As we learned more about the registry, we decided to pursue it."

Blanton's tenure and long-term relationships with department managers at Publishers was an invaluable asset to the implementation. Like the ISO 9000 specification, one of the critical aspects of the registry is not only checking equipment, but also documenting that the equipment was checked. Michael Simon decided that Blanton would be responsible for monitoring the documentation that would have to be performed by each department.

According to Blanton, "Once we made the decision to pursue the ColorSync Registry, Michael Simon called a meeting and explained to everyone that our next technology challenge was to master color management. He told each department that they needed to supply me with the information I needed, and not the other way around. Fortunately, over the years I have worked with most of the people responsible for the departments. That made everything much easier."

Easy Implementation
Since Publishers already had extensive quality control inspection steps in place, the implementation was relatively easy. According to Bobby Miller, prepress manager at Shepherdsville, preparing for the audit process was not that difficult.

"We were already doing most of the things required to pass the registry," Miller explains. "Most of the steps in the workflow use targets and check for calibration. The only thing we may not have done well is document the results. For example, every Monday we run a target and test our traditional, film-based proofs. In the past, we would take this printed target and put it away in a file. The audit, however, requires better documentation of our checks. We have since added a database of this information for additional statistical process control efforts."

Of course, the quality control checks for the traditional, analog processes are better defined than those for digital equipment. One of the challenges for many companies using CTP technology is how to check the quality of the resulting plates. In this case, however, how to use digital targets and measure plate performance were the challenges. Using densitometers to measure plate performance has been controversial because of the impact of the grain of the plate on the measurement. According to Ray Hep-ner, process technician of CTP production, "We learned some tough lessons about the importance of quality control checks six years ago when we began with CTP."

Publishers was the CTP pioneer. The 84-page, May 1994 issue of Sports Car International, published by SCI Publishing in Novato, CA, has claimed a unique place in the history of printing. It was the first four-color magazine in the world printed on a web offset press from plates imaged entirely without film. No single plate was made from photographic film.

Hepner believes it was those pioneering efforts that taught some invaluable lessons to Publishers. "At first we had no idea how important or how critical QC measurements would be for the CTP process. We almost never made a bad plate with our conventional process. When we created our first plates utilizing our CTP process, our technology and expertise were very limited in the area of QC. We often learned of a bad plate only as the job was pulled from the press."

Today, the quality control procedures for the platesetters are second to none. According to Hepner, some platesetter manufacturers jokingly complain that Publishers' specifications are too strict. "Some vendors say that our quality control procedures for our platesetters are too tight," Hepner reports. "We don't agree. When we first started with the Mitsubishi plate, there was a 6 percent or 7 percent latent image from plate to plate. That's when we stopped believing the vendors and started paying attention to what GATF was saying. The only way we can feel comfortable with our quality—across all three shifts, all equipment and both plants—is to exceed the toughest specifications."

As reported by other staff members at Publishers, most of the tests required by the ColorSync Registry were already being used. For example, in the Specifications for Compliance Document, the platesetter calibration should be checked once every week and a consistency (fall-off) test run every six months. At Publishers, the black plate is measured and the results databased on every page, which considerably exceeds the once-a-week check required.

The only check required that was not already being performed at Publishers was the GATF plate fall-off test. In the GATF Specifications for Compliance Document, both 25 percent and 75 percent tints are output, and the densities measured. There are specific tolerances for each piece of equipment that must be within range to achieve certain quality levels of certification. For example, in the CTP fall-off test, the density cannot exceed two units (e.g., a targeted 25 could be 23 or 27) for the platinum-, five units for gold-, and seven units for silver-level accreditation.

The registry specifications call for quality control in prepress equipment and procedures, as well as for presses. According to Joe Sohm, director of research and development of pressroom operations, this did not present a problem for Publishers. "Based on GATF's definition of color management, we have been practicing color management in the pressroom for years. We just didn't call it that.

"We have color bars on all materials. We have scheduled weekly, monthly and yearly maintenance on our presses, and it is documented. We use a Tobias SDT system to maintain a closed-loop calibration," Sohm explains. "In addition, we have all the systems calibrated to Status T, as well as cross-calibrated. There were very few things we had to do differently for the registry. The only change was that we had to post the target ink densities of each press in the viewing area and start to run tests to create press profiles."

Unexpected Benefits
While preparing for the registry audit, Publishers discovered two problems. One issue was relating to press, the other to prepress. According to Sohm, "In preparing for the audit, we were concerned that our rollers might need to be adjusted. We discovered this was true. The good news was that our press crews were capable of making the adjustments. The best news: We found that after we made the roller adjustments, our densities were coming up much faster."

The other discovery was totally unexpected. Publishers has four Fuji Celsis scanners at the Shepherdsville plant and one at the Lebanon Junction facility. Every week all the scanners were tested for calibration and adjusted, if required. However, when the scanners were tested for acceptable drift and consistency between scanners, a problem was discovered.

The implementation of color management rests on the successful use of profiles and consistent performance of the equipment. Inaccurate profiles or inconsistent equipment diminishes the advantages of color management. Profiles allow different equipment (i.e., monitors, scanners, proofers) to produce similar results and all equipment to target specific press conditions. In a typical company, profiles are created for scanners, monitors and digital proofers.

In some companies, the profiles for these different devices are created by staff in those departments. An interesting approach by Publishers was to have one person dedicated to the creation and maintenance of profiles for all equipment and in both plants. This person is Carl Logsdon, color process analyst.

Logsdon was the first staff member to research and test profile creation and usage at Publishers. It was during this research and testing that Logsdon first suspected a problem with the scanners. "When I started using color management, I learned that it's not plug-and-play—the way I hear it described in many seminars. You can't just expect to start using this technology and have it work. When I suspected consistency problems with the scanners, I called Don Hutcheson. It was Don who recommended that Phil Cruise, a graphic quality consultant, travel from England to fix them because no one in the United States understood the problem."

According to Dan Millsap, "We had no idea that the four scanners were not all working consistently. We calibrated each scanner according to the manufacturer's specifications, but when we had Don look at them, we found that they were producing different results.

"Later, we learned that the color correctors suspected that something was wrong," he admits. "The color correctors could identify a particular scanner by the type of problem they encountered in the scans. Phil Cruise was able to repair the scanners and have them all perform the same and consistently with each other."

Even without implementing the color management profiles, the discovery of scanner problems has increased the quality and decreased the cost of scanning. "After discovering the problem and repairing the scanners, we are seeing our rescan percentages drop," Logsdon reports. "I can't say if the drop is because of the scanner problem we discovered or a result of the greater emphasis on process evaluation in the scanner area. But, I can say that it was during the pursuit of the GATF specifications that our rescan percentages dropped from 10 percent to 3 percent. Considering that we make more than 7,000 scans a month, that is a significant savings."

What's Next?
Improvements to quality control procedures, and implementation of new technology such as color management or CTP, is an ongoing process. For Publishers, passing the registry audit is not an ending, but a beginning. "The next step I am thinking about is how to train our technical representatives so that they can converse intelligently with all of our clients about the capabilities, as well as the limitations, of color management technology," Blanton describes.

"Obviously, we also want to profile all of our presses, but with 20 presses that will be time-consuming," he continues. "We need to do more research into which of our presses prints similar enough to share profiles."

Joe Sohm has one idea for the generic profiles. "One possible way to categorize our profiles may be by dampening systems. We may use one profile for the presses that use Dahlgren dampening systems and separate profiles for other common technologies."

About the Author
Howard "Howie" Fenton is the senior technical consultant of digital technology at the Graphic Arts Technical Foundation and is the author of the Specifications for Compliance Document used in the GATF/Apple ColorSync Registry. More information about the registry is posted on the GATF home page at www.gatf.org. Readers with specific questions about becoming a certified registry, can contact Fenton at (800) 910-GATF, ext. 605, or HowieAtPre@aol.com.
 

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