By Melissa Donovan
Color remains important as organizations reduce print runs and move to digital. Print providers and manufacturers are pushed by customer demand to hit specific colors.
“The importance of color consistency, accuracy, and quality can’t be overemphasized in today’s competitive marketplace, where brands have stringent requirements for color across all of their imaging technologies,” shares Chris Yanko, workflow solutions manager – North America, Xeikon America, Inc.
To meet these expectations, print providers remain up to date on the latest tools and trends, from digital presses with built-in color management capabilities to third-party software and hardware products and tutorials on how to achieve the highest quality color.
Color will play a critical role in the future of digital print. Today’s standards continue to change, but color remains an integral part of the digital print equation.
Color management expectations keep pace with digital. As technology evolves, so too must color capabilities. According to Rich Egert, GM, strategic technology provider business group, OKI Data Americas, color management is what separates digital production printers from color office printers.
“The market accepts digital printing and understands what it can do. Color management expectations have changed as boundaries have expanded. Digital color printing is no longer limited to a four-color process. As capabilities increase, so too will the need for color control and management,” he explains.
Color is a differentiator when done correctly. Not only does it provide high-quality work that showcases what a print provider can achieve, it also saves time and money. Dawn Nye, solutions and services marketing manager, Konica Minolta Business Solutions U.S.A., Inc., believes that the newest tools help eliminate guesswork, subjective eye balling of color, and reliance on a patchwork of measurement tools and profile settings from multiple software solutions.
“Consistent color matching between presses, job sites, and prints helps Hewlett-Packard (HP) customers provide brands with the highest print quality, while also reducing waste and improving turnaround time,” agrees Rolando Martinez, category manager – commercial segments and HP Indigo 10000, HP Indigo and inkjet press solutions, Americas, HP.
In regards to the latest applications to be run on digital presses, such as labels and packaging, color is more important than ever. “As label quality increases, brand managers are pushing for more creative imagery,” explains Michael Pruitt, SurePress product manager, Epson America Inc.
“Color is a critical concern in many label and packaging applications. As systems have matured and resolutions continue to increase, there is no longer room for inaccurate color,” adds Victor Gomez, labels and packaging web printing, Durst Image Technology US, LLC.
With media compatibility at an all-time high, color consistency across multiple substrates is an important consideration. “Marketing service providers often provide everything from banners to coffee mugs. It is difficult to achieve a common look and feel if a marketing campaign branches out into many different types of media,” shares Toby Saalfeld, US director, color management, Ricoh Americas Corporation.
“Color matching is becoming more important with customers as they try to achieve consistency and conformity across branded materials using various print methods,” adheres Mario Calatayud, label software manager, iSys Label.
Brand owners recognize the importance color has on a buyer, explains William Li, color technology manager, Kodak. “If you think about all of the products in a supermarket, you realize that impact is still strong. Incorrect or inconsistent color has a brand impact and can drive a buyer to choose some other product, whether the product is printed material, a printed package, or even if the printed material serves as signage,” he continues.
Below we provide some examples of tools offered or recommended by leading digital press manufacturers.
Colordyne Technologies offers both RIP and color management software for its line of digital label printers. The software aids in creating color profiles that meet varying color requirements for different applications.
Canon U.S.A., Inc.’s imagePRESS models include an in-RIP color management system, which features a Pantone-certified color library. Océ PRISMAprepare is a makeready software with integrated color editing tools that allow users to easily edit and manage spot colors, and make required image and tonal adjustments on incoming files.
Durst works with Esko RIP software to ensure color management control on the Durst Tau 330 UV inkjet digital web press. All media is linearized using a spectrophotometer, so files are RIPped to the color characteristics of each media. An optional Nikka inline section system verifies color consistency on the fly.
Epson provides color management tools on the printer drivers and spot colors found on its Epson SurePress digital label press. Additionally, a Wasatch RIP and photo spectrometer aid in managing color.
Fujifilm North America Corporation offers ColorPath Sync, fully integrated with Fujifilm XMF Workflow—which drives the J Press. ColorPath Sync manages color across different devices, media, and print processes. It features an easy-to-use Web interface that provides a step-by-step method to optimize the color of a given device and media.
The HP Indigo 10000 Digital Press, HP Indigo 7800 Digital Press, and HP Indigo WS6800 Digital Press all offer automated, on-press color management with an inline spectrophotometer. On press, ICC profiles can be generated that account for substrate definition, press condition, and inks. HP also recommends using solutions from GMG and X-Rite to generate ICC profiles for any HP Indigo digital press.
iSys developed its own color management software for its digital label printers. The software packages, EDGE2Print and APEX2Print, utilize a Harlequin-based RIP with standard color profiles embedded in the software or users can create their own based on individual need.
Kodak promotes its Kodak Colorflow and Kodak Spotless software. The same technology is embedded in its digital front end (DFE) solution, Kodak Creo Server.
The Konica Minolta Color Care Suite is an IDEAlliance Certified G7 Print Media Software solution for color management. The suite is based on the latest international standards such as ISO 12647-8, 15311, and 15339. In addition, the company provides the Konica Minolta FD-5BT handheld spectodensitometer. The instrument can act as a standalone device or in conjunction with Color Care software.
OKI Data offers software tools from outside vendors to manage color output on its line of digital production printers. These include solutions from EFI and Global Graphics. Additionally, select OKI Data devices deliver color matching accuracy powered by embedded Pantone support.
Ricoh works with partners to offer its customers color management tools in conjunction with its presses. RIPs from Kodak and EFI, handheld spectrophotometers from X-Rite, profiling solutions from X-Rite and EFI, and solutions from CGS are all offered to the company’s press operators.
Valloy Incorporation recommends X-Rite and Barbieri Electronic. X-Rite Colorport is bundled on its presses for linearization. Internal ICC profiling software is not included.
Xeikon ColorControl is a cloud-based color management tool that profiles presses and creates optimized color tables tuned to specific substrates. These profiles are installed on the Xeikon X-800 DFE, which allows them to be applied to any incoming job.
Staying Inside the Lines
With the number of tools available—both on and off press—print providers are continuously challenged to expand and adapt their color management skills to meet the newest trends. Many opportunities are available to improve color skill sets.
Egert says it is critical that print providers improve their color management knowledge—hiring or training employees will impact results.
“The best way is to invest in advanced training for your team so they can handle any of the most complex production hurdles. Ideally, you want your team to be able to excel at color management and achieve the best performance from your technology, without any loss of production time,” explains Xeikon’s Yanko.
Many digital press manufacturers offer hands-on training in some capacity to educate customers on the newest advancements in color management. For example, HP offers one-on-one consulting with a color management expert who visits a print provider’s location, calibrates the presses, builds ICC profiles, and trains operators.
Konica Minolta also offers professional on-site instruction with the purchase of Konica Minolta Color Care.
Durst provides on- and off-site training as part of the first year Tau 330 press warranty and after sales support.
Xeikon hosts production training courses to enhance color management skills.
Ricoh offers color management classes and one-on-one sessions with IDEAlliance-certified Color Management Professional Masters and G7 experts.
Outside of the manufacturer, affinity groups, higher education, and trade associations provide opportunity for learning including RIT’s Print Applications Lab, IDEAlliance, and PIA.
Li notes that understanding the color relationships between different output devices—identifying the device and its color management capabilities—is the first step to managing color. If this is achieved, then it is not necessary to become an expert in color science.
G7 plays a role in maintaining color requirements, however many vendors point out that G7 is more of a calibration than a certification or standard.
“G7 manages the gray balance and tonal reproduction of a device. It should be thought of as a calibration, ensuring that the print device is printing in a standardized manner. Color management should be used in conjunction with G7 to achieve the desired color standard,” explains Martinez.
Egert admits that G7 can be a bit restrictive. “It stifles innovation as its focus is on traditional CMYK printing on white paper. Digital printing is different and doesn’t subscribe to the same rules/parameters. G7 doesn’t account for printing on colored stock, pearlescent/opalescent papers, or utilizing colors beyond CMYK.”
From a marketing aspect, Saalfeld sees G7 as beneficial, but only for the right kind of printer. “After successful qualification, a print provider can advertise as a G7 master printer, using the logo on business cards, point of purchase signs, their Web site, and anywhere else they advertise. However, the marketing aspect only applies to businesses that can effectively market themselves.”
Besides G7, other considerations can or must be met when it comes to color. GRACoL, SWOP3, and SWOP5 are color print standards or specifications, according to Martinez, that specify the color result of the print.
“These specifications represent a defined color space. If a device can’t reproduce all of the specified colors, then it is not capable of producing that level of specification. G7 on the other hand can be achieved on almost any device because it is about making sure that certain CMYK combinations appear as neutral grey when printed,” adds Saalfeld.
When it comes to labels and packaging, Gomez points to FTA’s Flexographic Image Reproduction Specifications & Tolerances as another guide to measure color against.
Another certification is the IDEAlliance Digital Press Certification. “It certifies the capabilities of commercial digital production presses to meet specific print standards including GRACoL specification. It considers the entire press system, including the DFE, print engine, and paper,” explains Brian Dollard, director, product marketing Business Imaging Solutions Group, Canon U.S.A., Inc.
Overcoming the Color Challenge
Proper color management is critical to a print provider’s reputation. Buyers expect consistent, high-quality results and those that are not up to the challenge are in a position to lose customers to those that are. From the use of integrated, on-press solutions to sophisticated RIPs, print providers can hone their color management skills.
Perhaps it helps to view color in the form of an analogy. “In many ways, color is like the steering on a car. When is the last time you’ve really thought about how the steering system in your car keeps you on the road and going where you’re going? And yet, if anything breaks down in the steering, you can be sure you don’t be driving that car for awhile, to say the least,” explains Li.
One does not have to be a color scientist, but it is important to recognize the color capabilities of your digital presses. As run lengths shorten and print buyers realize the possibilities of printing to almost anything, color matching across a variety of media becomes a challenge. Many tools and associations can help ensure you achieve the correct color. dps
Jul2014, DPS Magazine