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How to Stop Chasing Color and Increase Profitability

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  • How to Stop Chasing Color and Increase Profitability

    By Noel Ward, Editor@Large

    Chances are, you’re seeing more and more jobs that require full color—it may be even most of the ones coming in, given the rapid increase in digital short-run printing. With that demand comes the need for color consistency, reliability and predictability, so you have to set and satisfy customer expectations for how colors will look on the printed page. And that is not always easy. Some familiar color reproduction challenges include:
    • Repeatability (matching previously printed colors)
    • Maintaining a neutral gray balance
    • Inability to match displays or proofs

    In addition, accurate color is especially important for “brand” colors and is further compounded by the use of different substrates, print engines and software providers. The result is a moving target that increases the cost of printing through added labor and the time required to ensure colors meet expectations while providing the predictability, consistency, and reliability you need.

    Further muddying the colors are the equipment and software offered by many providers who insist their approach presents you with color Nirvana—provided (of course) you invest in the machinery, software, costly training and certification for prepress staff and press operators—along with ongoing support fees. It seems ideal until you add up all the costs. Then you talk with your customers and find that at least for some, absolutely perfect color is not always absolutely necessary. But they nonetheless still expect that triumvirate of reliability, consistency, and predictability on every job they send you.

    Several Shades of Gray
    So how do you satisfy all those needs without a significant investment and a costly training burden on your design, prepress and press operators? A common answer these days is G7®, which can be made to seem very complicated even though it doesn’t have to be. It draws on the use of seven colors (hence the “7” its name), CMYK plus Red, Green and Blue, that are all used in the calibration process, and adds a spectrophotometric mid-tone gray balance and neutral print density curves (where the “G” comes from).

    Idealliance describes G7 as a means of specifying the application of grayscale for offset presses, toner-based digital printers or inkjet printers. G7 defines the two main visual attributes of gray: tonality, which makes up lightness and contrast; and balance, which supports neutrality. G7 can also serve as a universal calibration methodology for adjusting any press or printing system to a common neutral appearance, regardless of inks, substrate, or printing technology. Idealliance briefly describes G7 as
    • a method to ensure a similar appearance across multiple devices
    • a means for consistently hitting desired color targets
    • being designed to align all printing processes, substrates, and inks
    • a global specification for targeting gray balance
    G7 uses a recipe for implementing ISO printing standards by changing an image’s gray levels to match proofs and press output across multiple devices. Idealliance provides classes that certify printers’ prepress staff and press operators on G7 methodology.
    This is an excellent explanation, but in practice it can be a challenge to implement in today’s busy production environments. Several equipment and software vendors have developed G7-based color management solutions that help organizations with implementing G7. These can work well, but may require additional investments in software and hardware and a higher degree of onsite color expertise than many print providers are willing (or able) to provide. As a result, G7 is not always fully adopted by print providers, or when it is, may not be maintained or used in ways that provide the desired results. But there is a different and much simpler approach that offers a lot of value.

    Embedding G7
    The industry’s first embedded G7 solution, incorporated into Canon’s PRISMAsync Color Print Server, is available on the company’s imagePRESS line of color printers, including the imagePRESS C10000VP/C8000VP series, imagePRESS C850/C750 Series, and imagePRESS C650.

    Within this solution, a Canon imagePRESS digital color press with PRISMAsync are engineered to leverage G7 for achieving consistent, reliable and predictable color with minimal effort on the part of prepress staff or press operators. This happens because the embedded color calibration helps account for key variables, including characteristics of the press, the toner and the paper used.

    In addition, because it is built into PRISMAsync, Canon’s solution incurs no additional costs and is designed to be practical even for novice users. This removes the need of the more complex or costly systems to rely on prepress or press operator expertise. Yet at the same time it does not take your prepress staff and press operators out of the loop, but instead makes it easier and faster for them to evaluate and deliver the best possible images with less effort. The larger benefit is that your print shop can deliver color-critical jobs faster and more accurately, adding value for your customers and helping differentiate your business.

    The Eye Knows
    A key part of what makes G7 work is that the human eye is very sensitive to neutral gray shifts. This sensitivity provides a perceptual baseline of shared neutral appearance that helps minimize visual color variations. G7 uses a standard calibration process that provides color neutrality, print contrast and a neutral appearance that can be shared across multiple devices even when using different media, inks and toners. This way, images managed using G7 look the same when printed on different presses and output devices, both those in a print shop and elsewhere.

    G7 Benefits
    Simplifying G7 delivers the sought after triad of color consistency, reliability and predictability for print service providers, print buyers and brand owners alike. For print service providers G7:
    • Helps reduce waste by getting the “right” color faster.
    • Reduces setup time because less “fine-tuning” of colors is required.
    • Requires fewer reprints to meet customer expectations.
    • Shows customers your commitment to achieving color accuracy and quality

    Print buyers and brand owners typically have the highest standards when it comes to color and G7 delivers for them as well:
    • Helps communicate clients’ color expectations to the print provider and helps ensure proofs match the production run.
    • Can help ensure color matches across devices because many modern systems support G7.
    • Simplifies press checks because the variables affecting color have been reduced.

    G7 is a color strategy that can differentiate your business by making color management less complex both internally and externally. You’ve probably heard about it and may have looked at some of the options, but been uncomfortable with the investments of time and labor required. Now, with it embedded in Canon’s imagePRESS with PRISMAsync , it may be time to reevaluate G7 and how it may be a compelling fit for your business.

    • noelward
      #3
      noelward commented
      Editing a comment
      Color is like politics or religion. It matters more to some people than others.

      Color is like politics or religion. It matters more to some people than others.

      Color accuracy IS important, but although achieving perfect color was once the holy grail of print production, the world has changed. Color experts are right in noting that G7 is not color management, yet the process does serve a purpose, even if its use makes color gurus cringe.

      G7 is not a way to deliver perfect color, but a relatively simple way to deliver consistent “acceptable” color on multiple devices, part of the seemingly endless quest for press-to-press consistency.

      Color experts usually consider G7 to be bogus, and in terms of providing "perfect color" that’s true. But here’s the thing. The world is gravitating to “pleasing color” and “acceptable” quality on many applications. And for this G7 seems to do the job, especially when a job may be run on multiple presses. Will G7 match something managed by a color expert using say, GMG ColorProof? Nope, but when you consider that jobs coming off most toner boxes (such as the Canon machines mentioned in the article) are not normally color-critical, then working with gray scales to balance color is a reasonable approach.

      Let's look at this in the context of a simple example. It’s 4 PM on a Monday. You’re a printer with a customer’s personalized direct mail piece that has to go out to 3,000 people on Tuesday. The name and address have to be printed on the mailpiece as part of the job, which also has the recipient’s name inside. And this is just the first wave: the bigger mailing (78,750 pieces) of the same document goes out Friday, also personalized and with a varying set of offers. You’re figuring the short run can fit on your Canon C8000VP toner-based press, then the big run on your Canon i200 inkjet. There is no time or budget for color management to ensure the press output will be perfectly matched, and because the branding is not a critical matter, perfectly hitting the PMS 280 Blue in the customers’ logo is not an essential concern.

      Using G7, the same file can be run without much in the way of color changes on both machines without any additional ministrations by your in-house color expert. This is OK with your color guy because his time is being absorbed by the five 32-page full color brochures of high end real estate properties that have to be absolutely perfect before they land on your 8-color Speedmaster Friday afternoon. He really doesn’t need to think about a couple direct mail pieces that have a half-life of 3 days.

      In this instance, and many like it, “pleasing color” is all that matters. And if it can look pretty much the same on two different presses, all the better. In a world that is generally happy with “pleasing color,” G7 seems to be doing the job. Sure, it is NOT going to satisfy the brand police or many color gurus, but as a relatively simple way of providing acceptable color images on multiple devices it is a good approach.

    • gordo
      #4
      gordo commented
      Editing a comment
      It's one thing when vendor marketing puts a spin on product performance - it's quite another when that spin is coming from a standards/specifications group or apologist.

      You now say that "G7 is not a way to deliver perfect color, but a relatively simple way to deliver consistent “acceptable” color on multiple devices"
      That is still not correct and it certainly isn't what you originally posted.

      For example:

      On G7 leveraged for color: "a Canon imagePRESS digital color press with PRISMAsync are engineered to leverage G7 for achieving consistent, reliable and predictable color"

      On PRISMAsync leveraging G7 for color: "The larger benefit is that your print shop can deliver color-critical jobs faster and more accurately"

      "images managed using G7 look the same when printed on different presses and output devices," That is not what G7 claims. "Common appearance" does not equate to "look the same."

      Under "G7 Benefits"
      "Simplifying G7 delivers the sought after triad of color consistency, reliability and predictability
      Helps reduce waste by getting the “right” color faster.
      Reduces setup time because less “fine-tuning” of colors is required.
      Requires fewer reprints to meet customer expectations.
      Shows customers your commitment to achieving color accuracy and quality"

      G7 is for grey balance not color.

      None of the following is true:
      "Print buyers and brand owners typically have the highest standards when it comes to color and G7 delivers for them as well:
      Helps communicate clients’ color expectations to the print provider and helps ensure proofs match the production run.
      Can help ensure color matches across devices because many modern systems support G7.
      Simplifies press checks because the variables affecting color have been reduced."

      And neither is this:
      "G7 is a color strategy that can differentiate your business by making color management less complex"

      In your response you wrote:
      "Color experts usually consider G7 to be bogus, and in terms of providing "perfect color" that’s true"

      I don't know what you mean by "perfect color" and personally I have never heard that - but my experience may not reflect yours.

      Then you say that '“pleasing color” is all that matters.' and then you say "In a world that is generally happy with “pleasing color,” G7 seems to be doing the job." That is not what you were saying in your original post. And yet again you link G7 as a tool to deliver "acceptable" and/or "pleasing" color.

      If the print industry is to move forward as a deterministic, objectively verifiable manufacturing process then it must at least be based on clear definitions and descriptions of the methodology used to achieve that goal. It should also make use of objective specifications and tolerances. Lauding subjective criteria such as "pleasing" and "acceptable" and even "perfect" does not help to advance the industry towards those manufacturing goals.

    • Erik Nikkanen
      #5
      Erik Nikkanen commented
      Editing a comment
      Well said Gordon. I would have commented on this too but I am on a holiday trip to the UK and it is hard to write much on an old iPad.

      Yes, you rightfully put the issue in its proper context as a manufacturing problem. In that context, G7 is wasteful and is not predictable, so why is it being pushed so hard? IMO it is because there is no understanding of how to think in terms of the requirement of manufacturing which is to produce a consistent, repeatable and predictable product at low cost.

      They will never understand this. Possibly some group in the industry will just have to show them and lead them, but I don't see any group that is capable or even wants to think in any new direction. So what will continue is the constant lowering of expectations which is really only an excuse for not knowing what to do and for not wanting to try anything different.
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