InfoTrends Survey Identifies Color Management Best Practices Among PSPs
Managing color for print service providers (PSPs) is akin to exercise for many people; they know it is good for them, but the stumbling blocks keep getting in the way. For color management, who can find the time to perform calibrations, create profiles and continually monitor output? Another common link between the two is the dizzying amount of information that often causes paralysis instead of action. What procedures and processes should I follow (e.g., G7, Fogra, or SWOP)?
Finally, a lack of a consistent schedule and plan, as with exercise, can cause those once small problems to build into more pressing issues. Print service providers need to be proactive in regards to managing color—not only to avoid the big operational problems, but to also benefit from the daily efficiency it affords.
In an effort to identify the current state of color management within printing operations, InfoTrends surveyed the readers of Printing Impressions. The survey is part of an ongoing partnership between InfoTrends and NAPCO Media to monitor emerging market trends. The latest survey, conducted in February, focused on identifying key business practices, investment decisions and technology impacts from 95 participants. The results point to where print service providers are finding success among the associated challenges of managing color in their operations.
PSPs overwhelmingly agreed on the reasons for managing color, with over two-thirds citing the repeatability of color for reprinted jobs and client brand colors, in addition to overall improvements in image quality. Printers also expect the amount of color-critical client work to increase by 14 percent during the next two years, which reinforces the need for proper procedures, staff competency and technology to meet those customer requirements.
Therein lies the problem. PSPs often lack adequate procedures, personnel and skillsets, or up-to-date technology to successfully implement a color management program. Indeed, three of the top five challenges are resource related (i.e., limited technical skills/infrastructure, lack of dedicated staff and the amount of time required).
Top Challenges for Color Management
While managing color is a multi-step process, calibration is a foundational procedure to establish the baseline printing characteristics of any device. Calibration does not have to be a time-consuming procedure. However, survey results show that most shops do not calibrate their equipment on a routine basis.
While digital color presses are among the easiest devices to calibrate (often requiring just minutes), more than half of the respondents do not calibrate them on at least a weekly basis. One explanation for this may be due to the fact that over 40 percent of respondents indicated that their prepress or press operators are responsible for color management, which is an add-on to their primary job responsibilities.
Not surprisingly, those primary responsibilities of preparing files for production and running them on the press take precedence over color concerns. PSPs could look to reduce the complexity and burden placed on existing staff for managing color through recent technology enhancements and by leveraging external professional services.
Who Manages Color in the Print Shop
Vendors of offset and digital equipment are continuing to integrate spectrophotometers to perform routine color procedures and to monitor the color quality throughout the job as it is printed. Calibrations, profile creation and quality control scans can happen automatically thanks to digital presses that are equipped with an in-line spectrophotometer. At least one cloud-based color management system can also leverage the in-line spectrophotometer to perform such procedures remotely without the presence of an operator (assuming the device is powered and ready).
Considering that this level of integration is available today, the next iteration of the technology may well evolve into automatic software-driven, proactive color monitoring and correction. Both of these technologies (i.e., in-line spectrophotometers and cloud-based color management systems) reduce the expertise and time needed within the printing operation, which are known bottlenecks for most shops in regards to color management.
Nevertheless, technology cannot solve every problem. In certain cases, engaging external experts can save time, money and frustration. Implementing a new color management program based on a certain process, such as G7, is an example that would typically require some level of external help. In fact, color certification was the third most used professional service behind color management system software training and proof-to-press color matching.
As a whole, professional services are underutilized as respondents, on average, spent more annually on color management software than services. PSPs should not overlook professional services as another option in the overall color management toolbox.
Print service providers can find benefits to actively managing color for their print operations. Accurate, reproducible color translates into work that is less likely to be rejected by the client and is less likely to need reprinting, thereby saving cost in labor and materials. Over 10 percent of respondents have also been able to attract new clients who demand exacting color for their brands and printed work. If these also sound beneficial to your operation, here are a few recommendations:
- Utilize outside services to supplement internal bandwidth and/or expertise.
- Look to adopt software and hardware that offers automation and reduces operator expertise.
- Designate an internal team to systematically and proactively perform maintenance (e.g., calibrations) and verify that output is within designated quality limits.
In the end, starting a color management program may be just like that exercise program – initially fraught with pain until you have built up your core; then it becomes second nature. PI