Is Your Color Optimized Across Platforms?


Well-known member
by Noel Ward, Editor@Large

Color is in demand in all types of documents, making color management a critical part of Digital Printing 5.0. Managing color on one device/press can be an easy task with the correct tools and processes. But managing color to ensure printed pages are consistent and repeatable across the different substrates and color gamuts of toner and inkjet can be a much bigger challenge. Properly implemented color management workflows can help achieve consistent color results across multiple devices. Although many end-customers are claiming satisfaction with “pleasing color,” two challenges are still in play.

One is spot colors, those specific PMS or other hues that may be critical for branding or just added impact. Some simply cannot be achieved no matter how creatively CMYK inks and specialized substrates are mixed. Some inkjet and toner presses that offer additional colors are closing the gap but not without adding costs.

The second challenge is equally important: achieving a press-to-press visual match, such as between wide-format printers and different presses, be they toner, inkjet or offset. Color management, especially the evolving G7® approach, is narrowing this gap. But G7 still requires training to be effective. The three videos described in my earlier articles provide some guidance but are only a starting point. You can find them here:

Keeping The Print Quality High Part One - Bringing The Press Up To Color

Keeping The Print Quality High Part Three - Changing Colors, Quickly & Efficiently

The third of five studies done on Canon’s behalf by NAPCO Media shows how various print providers are approaching—or not approaching—the challenges of color. Some blame their presses, others (more quietly) admit it’s a lack of internal standards, but only a minority have taken action to ensure reliable, accurate and predictable color. The report doesn’t say, but my guess is that the ones taking color seriously may well be more profitable, and may even be able to attract higher end work with better margins.

Mixed environments
The study showed that many organizations use both digital and offset printing. All commercial printer survey respondents reported owning at least one cut-sheet color toner production device. Others operate cut-sheet color inkjet devices (35%), sheet-fed offset presses (76%), and, web offset presses (32%). Additionally, four in ten of respondents’ shops have roll-fed wide-format printers and 32% have wide-format flatbed printers. This mix of environments and presses highlights a broad mix of production workflows, where colors from various devices need to match.

One would think that such a mix would make reliable color management a norm, but that is not the case. The study indicated that some 64% of participating shops are yet to implement such color standards or processes as G7 or GRACol, with two thirds (67%) calling color consistency a moderate or critical challenge. Meanwhile, respondents noted that clients expect the components of their print campaigns—from direct mail to signage—to match. And yet many print providers fail to address the problem. Go figure.

Why not Optimize?
Commercial printers said not knowing enough about specifications and how to implement them, plus uneven operator skills and uncertainty about the business and operational benefits were the top barriers to implementation of color management practices. I have found these same points coming up in my conversations with printers, and I wonder if it is because they fail to ask the right questions when buying presses and software or if their training is not as thorough as it might be. Color is not hard to understand, but like learning any skill, it takes some training, practice, using the right tools (such as spectrophotometers and color management software), making time for press calibration, and a willingness to ask questions.

A printing operation with the tools and trained staff that can perform calibrations on digital devices or make G7 plate curve adjustments for analog devices has the basic tools to start a color control program. Next come standard procedures for establishing baselines for printing devices, then measuring and monitoring device consistency over time. Doing so will help production staff “see” when a device needs to be recalibrated to bring it back into compliance. On the other hand, operations that fail to monitor how well their presses are running have no way of knowing when the device is starting to slip away from desired standards.

No matter what steps you take, be sure to involve all staff responsible when documenting your standard color management procedures. These should define the tolerances and steps required to keep each process in control. And don’t forget to review and update SOPs and related documentation on a regular basis, especially as new processes emerge and when new equipment is added.

The proof is in the print
Providing accurate consistent color is expected because marketers, brand owners, and print buyers demand consistent, repeatable color across all communications. Leveraging the advantages of Digital Printing 5.0 requires print providers implement all available tools and resources to optimize color across multiple platforms. For a closer and more detailed look at all the data, take a moment to download the report from this link: Print Planet |Canon White Paper Then begin planning your color management strategy with an eye to exceeding customer expectations.
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