Paul Hudson Talks Color Matching, Guiding Customers on Inkjet Output Quality, Costs
As the silos have broken down across the printing industry and firms no longer see themselves as exclusively lithographic or digital printing operations, the need to mix runs with materials that are produced both through offset and digital means continues to increase. That entails color matching to various degrees, from “pleasing” to “exact,” and any stops in-between.
Turn the clock back 10 or 12 years ago, and the idea of color digital output being within the same ZIP code as traditional ink-on-paper was not widely embraced. The printing quality was admirable, but no one would dare compare it to offset. Fast forward to 2016: While a trained eye can certainly still see the distinction between the two, the differences are no longer so obvious.
Today, color matching is an interesting proposition, as a growing number of shops employ offset, toner-based digital and production inkjet digital workflows. Certain jobs that call for a combination of methods can be challenging when brand colors are involved and/or very specific colors need to be “hit.” With moody substrates providing another variable to the equation, caveats abound.
In the last of a three-part series, Paul Hudson, CEO of Salt Lake City-based Hudson Printing, discusses how his commercial printing firm handles the color-matching process.
Paul Hudson wonders whether his company, and printers in general, has done a sufficient job in letting customers know they have the capability to color match different printing methods within a given project. Hudson notes his company doesn’t do the high degree of difficulty digital/offset mixture and laments that it is an unflexed muscle. Hudson Printing will print a magazine cover offset, with a digital element, such as an insert card or cover wrap, or an insert that will be polybagged with a printed piece.
Hudson Printing does a fair amount of color matching of digital output from its continuous-feed HP inkjet press and its cut-sheet HP Indigo. HP’s ElectroInk is different than inkjet ink, but Hudson surmises that the base colorants are similar enough to produce a very good color match between the pair.
Hudson points out that his shop may not be able to get the same density on inkjet that it does on the Indigo or on an offset press, but through color management, they’re able to create what he calls a “shared appearance” for commercial work on coated papers.
Even if one color gamut is smaller than the other, as long as there’s gray balance, the printer can arrive at a color that has roughly the same total values. On uncoated papers, Hudson Printing can match the GRACoL uncoated offset spec to well inside of one Delta E.
Hudson Printing is among the minority of printers that are doing commercial work on inkjet web presses rather than books or transactional jobs. Like his contemporaries, Hudson takes great pains to guide clients on what will and won’t work with inkjet from an output quality or cost feasibility standpoint.
“We’re very honest about where we think it might look a little different than offset,” Hudson says. “We are also honest about the advantages of introducing variable content into a project. Hopefully, those benefits outweigh the negatives of not being quite an exact match to offset. The people who get it, get it. People who understand inkjet will rave about it because we’re very good at doing color on inkjet. But if your only point of comparison is offset, depending on the paper, you may be disappointed today. But, it is getting better.”
Hudson Printing recently produced a calendar with the cover done on the HP Indigo and the body courtesy of inkjet, which was matched well. However, the customer made a mistake with the inside pages, which needed to be reprinted. The results were still amazing, with a consistent color bar on all of the pages.
It seems that the pivotal element to color printing, like expectations, is all about managing color.
“We think we can do a pretty good job, through color management,” Hudson notes. “We can create a nice, shared appearance. Being in control and color managing to a smaller gamut standard give us the ability to make the appearance similar, if not perfectly matching. To me, that’s the key component.” PI