Color Management: Where We Are and Where We're Going
Industry veteran and color expert Ray Cheydleur spoke to X-Rite's European team about a wide range of topics that should be of concern to any commercial printer that wants to stay current on industry trends, improve color quality and consistency, and be aware of what’s next in the world of color.
What does Industry 4.0 mean in the world of printing and how did you see that reflected at drupa 2016?
Industry 4.0 can mean different things to different people but generally refers to the fourth industrial revolution, which incorporates trends in automation, data exchange, smart systems and the Internet of Things. Signs of this were all over drupa 2016, and I’m happy to say that X-Rite was right there in the thick of it with PantoneLIVE, ColorCert, CxF and Intellitrax 2 with closed loop press control.
With so much of the print industry transitioning to digital print processes, there is plenty of opportunity for smarter presses with smart front ends that can grab jobs and related specifications from the cloud, incorporate variable data and adjust specifications based on job criteria like substrates and printing technology, calibrate and color manage with embedded and nearline measurement systems, and then validate the result against the print specifier’s and/or brand owner’s intent.
More specifically, how do you see the Industry 4.0 concept applying to workflow automation and the automation of color management?
Industry 4.0 is the combination of multiple interconnected technologies, and in commercial print, these fall into 4 broad categories. We have solutions available in each of the categories from a variety of suppliers that can address this requirement. I’ll use examples from the X-Rite Pantone portfolio to give your readers a clearer idea of what I am talking about in each category.
- Tools for brand owners/designers. These provide access to precise digitized spectral color descriptions across substrates and printing technologies, and the ability to transmit them to the Cloud to share with supply chain stakeholders. Here you have tools like PantoneLIVE and standards such as CxF (more on that later) that allow seamless communication of color intent. Colorimeters like Pantone’s CAPSURE and spectrophotometers are important for capturing spectral values from inspirational items.
- The Cloud itself. It acts as a communication and delivery mechanism but also as a repository of data that can be used to validate production but also inform every player in the production cycle, acting as the hub for each participant. The ColorCert Suite of statistical process control tools plays a role here, as does PantoneLIVE. These offer input and output validation for insertion into the process as needed.
- Customizing content. Increasingly content is customized using variable data to transform static printed matter into content that is relevant to the target audience, even down to an audience of one. From a color perspective, customization can also refer to the ability to bring colors in from the real world, validating them against Pantone or other standard values. It can also refer to the need to customize ink formulas for specific substrates and/or print technologies. While X-Rite doesn’t really provide much in the way of variable data solutions, InkFormulation Software plays a role here in ensuring customized ink colors that will deliver the design intent based on the target substrate and printing technology. Pantone Studio is also a way to bring in customized colors from the real world and validate them against Pantone and other specified values. ICC profiles can act as a customization and transformation of the content to a specific output device.
- Hybrid output. Print doesn’t live in isolation, but rather, lives within a continuum of communication including social media, and other means of sharing and collaboration. Today we are already seeing content creation happening on smartphones and tablets using tools that can distribute work directly to a press or integrate content into desktop production. It is becoming more critical for color to be consistent across all devices and output formats, digital and physical, in order to assure consistent color across the entire workflow. To me, this is the most interesting piece. This is where PantoneLIVE plays a significant role, but also where we will see an expansion of ICC profiling using todays versions as well as the forthcoming iccMAX (discussed later) so that not only prepress monitors, proofers and presses are aligned, but also mobile devices so there is a consistent brand identify across all platforms. This is where applications like ColorTRUE and the i1 Publish family of products come into play.
What are the critical steps in any color-managed workflow?
Specific elements will vary from company to company and even job to job. But it starts with specification, choosing named colors or measuring real-world colors and bringing those colors into design. Next, a print-ready file with spectral color definitions is generated. Proofing devices must be calibrated and profiled prior to creating proofs. Prior to production, incoming materials, including ink and substrates, must be measured to ensure expected results. Finally, presses must be calibrated and either aligned with industry specifications or profiled, and printed output needs to be measured and monitored, with visual evaluation occurring under controlled lighting conditions. If all of these steps are followed, it takes the emotion out of color evaluation and ensures a repeatable final product that satisfies the brand owner and makes the printing operation proud.
How often should ICC profiles be updated? What are the various conditions that would require different ICC profiles and why is that important?
Anytime there is a change in either supplies or process, profiles need to be recreated or the situation that created the change needs to be corrected. In the case of digital presses, you may only need to calibrate the device to keep the profile valid. But sometimes the media or machine setup has changed enough that you will need to build a new profile. In the analog world, new ink or substrates, or starting a new printing condition such as compliance with G7 or FOGRA, may require a new profile, although if you calibrate correctly, the ICC profile should remain valid. The biggest issue we see is when all the right tools are in place but they are not well-managed. This can result in trying to fix “bad files or bad separations” rather than addressing the root cause of the color issue. It’s important to make sure you are managing to the goals you are aiming for – all of them, and not just part of them. Especially in an analog shop, it is common to analyze ink density and tone value, but you also need colorimetry and tolerance values as well or you aren’t managing the whole story and may drift out of control without knowing it
From a standards perspective, what are some of the most recent advances that help companies specify, communicate, measure, manage and track color throughout the print production workflow?
For communicating color, CxF is critical; originally developed by X-Rite and now incorporated as an international standard in ISO 17922, Parts 1 through 4, CxF provides a much easier way to validate color accuracy from a machine process standpoint. It has quickly been picked up across the industry. There is also a great deal of standards work happening relative to PDF, especially as it relates to specifying post-processing such as associated processing steps post printing. The G7 methodology (not a standard) is prevalent in North America and Asia, but also in some parts of Europe. But more important is the near neutral calibration method, the method that G7 uses. This is publicly available in CGATS TR015 and incorporated in in ISO/PAS 15339 Parts 1 and 2. The value here is that near neutral data sets can be applied across a wide range of printing technologies so that you are able to achieve a common appearance in hybrid manufacturing scenarios where multiple pieces from different printing technologies come together in a single job or project.
We are also seeing full-scale adoption of M1 measurement mode being encoded in FOGRA51, FOGRA52 and PSO as a result of ISO 12647-2, a common offset standard that has been updated from its earlier 2007 version.
Lastly, we are seeing new print standards such as ISO TS15311, Parts 1 and 2, that are adding more metrics than just measuring density and dots, but also including appearance metrics, such as resolution, mottle, registration and more. This is due to a need for testable, verifiable metrics that can be applied to any kind of print. Part 1 of the standard is a definition of the metrics, and more are being and will be added over the next couple years. For that reason, much of this work is in Technical Reports with standards expected in three years or so when things stabilize more. Part 2 of the standard pulls the metrics from Part 1 that are appropriate to commercial print. As new tests are developed, validated and implemented they are incorporated into Part 1 and then Part 2 gets updated.
We’ve talked a lot about standards. What about certification programs? How important is it for printing companies to attain industry certification?
Certifications are a conduit for organizations to implement ISO and country specific standards, encoding them in a way that makes it very straightforward as to what the expectations are for a particular industry segment. If a company is FOGRA, PSO or G7 certified, it validates that the company knows how to do certain types of activities, such as calibration, and can deliver a repeatable process. A further value is the level of trust that certification creates with customers. Customers can trust that the organization can deliver consistent results that meet industry standards. But it also carries a level of obligation to maintain these practices over time. Most certifications are related specifically to production. What is different about the Pantone Certified Printer Program is that it looks at the overall structure of the organization and its ability to produce high quality work. It also requires development and implementation of documented standard operating procedures and incorporates quarterly quality reviews to ensure continued compliance.
We’ve covered a lot of ground. What’s next for color-managed workflows?
We are in a very dynamic time, and there are many things underway. The most interesting are PQX, iccMAX, mobile control and new materials. I will touch on each briefly.
The first is Print Quality eXchange, or PQX. This was developed by IDEAlliance in a global effort and is now moving to ISO. It is the first of two parts of the production communication chain. PQX, which is closest to completion, is a standardized way of providing press room data to quality tracking systems. Why is this important? Consider a printer who is doing work for multiple brand owners, and each brand owner has its own required format for quality data. Brand owners don’t want to dig through data from 20 different suppliers in 20 different formats. They want a single, concise dashboard that manages all of their suppliers. With PQX, the printer can use whatever process control system is in place – such as X-Rite’s ColorCert or GMI or whatever, and the information will be transferred to the brand owner in the format her system wants to receive. Today, this can be accomplished with ColorCert ScoreCard Server, PQX allows printers to use their own choice of quality tracking and reporting across the entire customer base, while giving each customer the data in in a standardized format to drive the required reporting metrics of the customer. PRX (Print Requirements eXchange) will standardize communication in the other direction. It will be a standardized way for brands to send specification data down to the printer. Together, these will be very important for the industry and also tie in with Industry 4.0.
The second is iccMAX. This is the equivalent of ICC 5.0 and contains a number of things that will affect the print business, including ways to deal with non-traditional lighting. D50 daylight is the ISO lighting standard in commercial print, and today all of the ICC specifications are based on D50. But we are moving into a world where we will increasingly see LED lighting or for industrial applications, D65 daylight. iccMAX, at its core, can understand spectral values for all types of illumination. So you could have a measured spectral value, for example, for LED lighting for a big box store chain and be able to ensure that packaging and other materials show up right in their lighting, while perhaps another customer is using fluorescent lighting or only cares about color fidelity in daylight conditions. This will allow you to make the appropriate conversions to meet all those needs. One thing is clear: As we move from traditional fluorescent or incandescent lighting conditions to LED, product colors will shift in store. iccMAX is a way to address that. It also includes new ways to look at appearance effects such as varnish or metallics that go beyond any of the standards we have today. For a full rundown of iccMAX, a visit to color.org/iccMax is in order.
By mobile control, I am referring to the need to have color appear consistently across all devices and output. Mobile devices in particular are a challenge. We can calibrate them with ColorTRUE, but it’s application specific. What really needs to happen to get adoption is to get more control at the operating system level, like we have today with ICC profiles for a Mac or Windows computer. The goal is to be able to capture and communicate with a mobile device and be able to rely on color fidelity across the rest of the supply chain. There is also increasing demand to monitor the press room from mobile devices, and color fidelity is important there as well.
Finally, it’s not just ink or toner on paper anymore. We are seeing demand for a wide range of new materials, and embellishments such as the raised print or metallic effects that can be delivered with solutions from the likes of Scodix, HP Indigo and Kodak. And there is also a great deal going on with color in 3D printing as well. Over time, color managing 3D printers will become a higher priority.
Ray Cheydleur is a printing industry veteran of more than 20 years. In addition to his role as Portfolio Manager for Printing and Imaging Products at X-Rite Pantone, he is also Chairman of the U.S. Committee for Graphic Arts Technical Standards (CGATS), Chairman of the U.S. Technical Advisory Group to ISO TC130 for Graphic Arts Standards, and Vice Chair of the International Color Consortium for Color Management (ICC). One of the obvious links between all these areas is the need for clear communication with workflow with color critical issues always being part of the mix.