Color Management--Degrees of Separation
Homespun color-managed workflows can save production time and consumables costs. The trick is finding the right set of technologies and practices that work best to meet the needs of your production schedule—and your clients.
BY MARIE RANOIA ALONSO
Controlling the intricacies of color management and ICC profiling in any print production workflow is the equivalent of trying to control the weather and the tides—then reach a standard agreement on the color hues and tonal properties of both. Each printing operation has its own approach to managing color—its own method of predicting the tides, calculating varying weather patterns and pinpointing the color gamuts of each.
Color management is science and experience; emerging technology and prediction. No one commercial printing organization will have the exact color benchmark, same approach to ICC profiling, opinion of Hexachrome, calibration routine, not to mention the technologies that make all of the above possible and the same levels of in-house color expertise.
Color management is like a fingerprint for any commercial printing operation—from one printer to the next, no two will have the exact same color-managed workflow, with the same approach to managing and communicating accurate color from device to device. "Perhaps it is understandable that so many live with inconsistent color output devices—getting a handle on consistency for every color output device in a given workflow is a seemingly daunting task," suggests Bruce L. Myers, corporate accounts manager at X-Rite. Myers also teaches color reproduction at New York University's Center for Graphic Communications Management and Technology.
"It is said that color consistency is no easy feat, due to the wide array of devices utilized. Color output devices on the desktop can take the form of monitors, small thermal-wax, ink-jet and dye-sublimation printers," Myers states. "Large-format printers are utilized as one-off and short-run printing output devices, and in some cases as proofers for other devices."
The subjective nature of color evaluation compounds the perceived problems—often driving critics to throw up their hands and give up on the hope of ever receiving the consistency that is desired.
For example, many commercial printers are fans of the International Color Consortium (ICC) and recognize ICC profiles as the only viable building blocks for delivering consistent color from device to device in today's printing environment. ICC profiles, they contend, allow them to calibrate monitors, scanners and a gamut of output devices to ensure correct color throughout a print job.
Why is this significant?
All monitors see color differently, as do input and output devices. ICC profiles provide commercial printers the opportunity to reduce some of the discrepancies from device to device. For example, chasing consistent color in any print production workflow can be a task likened to that of a German Shepherd chasing its tail while wearing roller skates on its paws—and balancing a glossary of color terms on its head as it barks the National Anthem.
Get the picture? Too many variables.
The most intelligent way to predict color, edit color and reproduce color is to reduce or eliminate as many of the color variables as possible in the workflow. ICC profiles help design firms, as well as prepress and print production professionals, in this task.
Using ICC profiles gives creative professionals the ability to predict color and to communicate it more efficiently from person to person, device to device, in a print production workflow. An ICC profile describes the manner in which a color device displays color and its color gamut.
An interesting case profile of color control and calibration linked to ICC profiling is Bloomington Offset Process Inc. (BOPI), a family owned, 50-plus-year-old printer that, in the past five years, has invested millions upon millions of dollars in modernizing its prepress and pressroom facilities. One of BOPI's top areas of concentration is color management and the incorporation of ICC profiles.
"ICC profiles work great for the printer. They can work great for the client, as well, if the client really wants to work with the printer and understand the printer's workflow," states Paul Macfarlane, director of sales and marketing at BOPI.
Five years ago, the Bloomington, IL, printer was chiefly a two- and four-color operation. During 1998, a six-color MAN Roland 700 was purchased. BOPI also installed a Polaroid PolaProof and started using this as its contract color proof solution with clients. At this time, BOPI was still outputting film for its workflow; however, it saw the key to a successful launch of CTP would be educating customers about the PolaProof proofing solution.
"File integrity and contract color were the issues for ourselves and our clients, especially in light of our growing technology investments," Mcfarlane continues. "The Rampage RIP system provided the file integrity and, throughout 1998 and into 1999, BOPI showed its clients that the PolaProof was far more accurate to the press sheet than our former proof."
As BOPI continued to grow its technology portfolio, a second MAN Roland 700 was installed 12 months after the first. An Agfa Galileo digital platesetter was installed in February of this year. "Fully realizing all the great benefits that all this equipment had to offer necessitated a complete assessment of the company's color production routine and dot calibration," Macfarlane explains.
BOPI's approach was that everything in the production process should be tied to the final output device. A Statistical Process Control (SPC) team was created with members from all areas of production involved. Their objective: Measure and control the dot at all points to achieve the almost insurmountable—color management.
Connecting the Dots
Step one for BOPI's zealous Statistical Process Control team would be to get BOPI's ink manufacturer involved. The team commissioned BOPI's ink manufacturers with matching the pigments in the PolaProof ink sheets so that the proof and press sheet were even closer. A spectrophotometer was used to measure the L*a*b readings on the scanning station monitor, the proof, the plate and the press sheet. Adjustments were made and ICC profiles were used to get the differential of all the dots at all stages.
"We had total control of the dot at all stages of the process. The L*a*b reading told us the opacity, hue and saturation at each stage and the ICC profiling allowed us to compensate for each output device," Macfarlane explains. "Once we had the pigments in the inks and ink sheets matching, we used ICC profiling to compensate for the difference in the dry ink sheets and the wet press inks."
When BOPI had a measure on the dot gain of the press, they adjusted the dot on the plate and proof to compensate. "We can now show the client a proof with the dots within 2 percent of where the press will be— with no discernable difference in color—drastically reducing time spent on press checks," Macfarlane reports. "Clients who used to press check most of their work now sign off on the PolaProof with confidence. This gives us much more flexibility with scheduling."
BOPI's ultimate intention is to have the client's devices ICC profiled into their presses. One client has worked with BOPI and has output a supplied test file on their internal printer. BOPI has used the same equipment to measure this output and has created an Apple ColorSync profile on the client's computer monitor and an ICC profile for their printer that matches BOPI's presses.
"This client also sends files via BOPI's FTP site and, between them, they are now using FTP file transfer to soft proof jobs," Macfarlane states. "We PDF the RIPed data and the client downloads this from our site. Because they are now part of our closed-loop workflow, we can go straight to plates without producing a physical proof."
For those colors outside the CMYK gamut, BOPI has utilized Pantone's Hexachrome for stochastic screening. "Stochastic screening takes us one stage further than the elliptical dot and has allowed us to produce the full Hexachrome color gamut," Macfarlane adds. "With ICC profiles, we can accurately proof Hexachrome with the same accuracy that we now proof CMYK jobs."
As prepress manager at Hagerstown, MD-based HBP—an $11.5 million, digital prepress savvy general commercial printer specializing in short-run work—it is Rich Dunklee's duty to oversee the company's linear process approach. Controlling color is a hybrid system—part automated technology and part craft, relying on the color expertise of HBP prepress personnel.
At present, Dunklee and the prepress team at HBP are finding ICC-based color and the team of technologies in HBP's prepress department have merged to create a tight-loop color network. Dunklee estimates HBP's linear process color control produces an annual savings of $200,000 in consumables costs alone, hundreds of hours each month saved in scanning time and increased pressroom operations.
Starting with a benchmark—in HBP's case, the analog proofing technology of the Fuji Color-Art—HBP creates calibrations for each of its prepress devices, including scanners, digital proofers and monitors. HBP, like most progressive commercial printers, finds selecting one of its devices as a color benchmark allows for more consistent and controllable color production.
For Dunklee, the artful combining of ICC profiles, CreoScitex's EverSmart Supreme flatbed scanning, Fujifilm's Color-Art analog proofing, Apple ColorSync and Adobe technologies—in the form of Adobe Photoshop 5.5 and also the increasing use of Adobe's Portable Document Format (PDF)—play a critical role in HBP's ability to control and deliver consistent color. "Finding the right tools and implementing a linear-based, color-managed workflow is a necessity for production savings and high quality," Dunklee reports.
BOPI's and HBP's approaches to ICC profiles and color management are but two. Each printing company must establish its own benchmarks for color, agree on its own utilization of ICC profiles and invest in the software and hardware technologies that best allow for delivering consistent color throughout the entire workflow.
ICC in Action: Harlequin is HIPP
Technology Profile: Harlequin Color Production Solutions (HCPS) is a unique set of color process control software options for Harlequin's ScriptWorks RIP management system.
Built around the latest industry standards and the concept of device-independent color processing, Harlequin Color Production Solutions (HCPS) is targeting to solve real-world color reproduction problems—chiefly with the launch of its ICC profile processor, which accepts ICC profiles from a wide variety of sources.
With HCPS, color process control resulting in accurate, consistent and predictable color reproduction can be managed automatically and without the use of expensive, proprietary systems. ScriptWorks OEMs can select from two optional HCPS modules: Harlequin Full Color System (HFCS) or Harlequin ICC Profile Processor (HIPP).
HCPS provides full support for industry standard ICC profiles, including device link profiles and workflows, while avoiding dependence on the generic, base-level color management capabilities implemented in various computer operating systems.
Both HCPS optional modules can process files containing embedded ICC profiles and can reprocess files that have been color processed in a front-end application. HCPS allows device independence early in the process and device dependence later in the workflow when it is more appropriate. It also means maximum flexibility in handling last-minute changes and corrections. In-RIP color management gives ScriptWorks users the flexibility to respond to the ever-changing demands and last-minute changes required of them in color production workflows.
Harlequin has continued to enhance and evolve its Harlequin Color Production Solutions since the introduction of HFCS in May 1995. As its name implies, HFCS offers an extensive set of color process control features in the HCPS suite, including fully configurable, in-RIP color calibration capabilities based on the device, image and color reproduction process used. HFCS allows users to custom define rendering intent for file contents on an object basis—text, logos, photographs—and also provides adjustments to accommodate ultimate viewing conditions, a selection of black generation strategies and varying paper backgrounds. HFCS can use Harlequin format device profiles, created using the HFCS color management tools, as well as ICC profiles and device links.
With the growing acceptance of the ICC profile format as a primary color management tool, Harlequin introduced the HIPP option as an easier-to-use and fully ICC-compliant subset of the extended feature set in HFCS. Widely recognized as an industry standard, ICC profiles contain specific color transformation data and, in most cases, input and output or device-link profiles.
While still providing many of the color management features of HFCS, HIPP uses ICC profiles exclusively and does not include the same level of color management customization as HFCS. HIPP accepts ICC profiles available from a wide variety of sources, including Harlequin's OEMs, printer manufacturers and other third parties.
Pantone's New Colors
Pantone is never short on colorful news. Recently, the company had 147 new shades of information—the newest version of PANTONE Graphics Color Systems for the graphic design and printing industry. The PANTONE MATCHING SYSTEM, Pantone's flagship product and the industry color standard for the past 37 years, along with the company's process color selector and solid-to-process color reference products, has undergone significant improvements including new colors, new paper stocks and a bold new presentation.
"We have made substantive changes to our color guides and chip books to provide greater utility across a variety of media," reports Richard Herbert, executive vice president of Pantone. "By offering more colors and new paper stocks preferred by designers and printers, the new generation of PANTONE Graphics Color Systems products has been redesigned to address the changing needs and trends of the graphics community."
Pantone conducted extensive research and interviews with current design, prepress and print product users to develop its new line of solid PANTONE MATCHING SYSTEM color reference guides and chip books. To give the design community more current, user-friendly and informative color communication tools, Pantone added the requested 147 new colors plus seven metallics, a whiter, brighter paper stock and a new matte coated paper edition.
Sweeping enhancements have been made in the areas of color and paper stock. The 147 new colors Pantone is debuting include additions to the yellow, orange, red, purple, blue, green, brown and gray families. The conversion to the desired cleaner, brighter paper stock allows colors to be presented in their purest form. Research has found that whiter stocks are more commonly used today by designers who do not want to inhibit color in their designs. The addition of a matte coated version reflects the prevalence of matte coated usage for annual reports and corporate pieces where a more subdued and sophisticated presentation is desired.
For more information, visit www.pantone.com.