By Olivia Cahoon
Many print providers now support multiple print technologies, including digital inkjet and toner devices, wide format, and traditional offset. Efficient color management is critical for consistently reproducing color across all platforms. “Print providers need color management software that renders color with precision to match industry references and produce consistent color over time,” explains John Henze, VP, marketing, EFI Fiery. Clients expect color precision, exact brand colors, and reprints that match the original print run. Color management software also helps print providers divide long or quick-turn runs across multiple digital print systems to meet deadlines.
Today’s print providers must split multi-part jobs into hybrid workflows across digital and conventional presses while maintaining proper color management.
Above: Ricoh partners with CGS, Oris, EFI, and Panton to provide suitable color management solutions based on customer needs.
In digital print environments, color management software creates a baseline calibration for a specific paper stock, provides color tables that allow presses to match references for process color and spot colors, and verifies accurate color. “Print companies also need tools to re-calibrate a print system regularly to maintain consistency and to verify that color precision today still matches the precision of the original match to the reference,” says Henze.
John Scott Thorburn, senior analyst, BISG Production Solutions, Canon U.S.A. Inc., believes that color management software for digital print must create an accurate map of the full range of colors that each printer and paper combination are capable of producing under repeatable setup conditions.
According to Bob Raus, North American category manager, HP Inc., many digital print providers use spectrophotometers to capture data, identify variation, and adjust while the press is running. He believes it helps ensure color consistency from the first to last image within a press run.
Usability is also a key design criterion. “Color management tools are fast and can automate the color measurement process while increasing predictability and color accuracy,” explains Thorburn.
While color accuracy is important to most—if not all industries—branding, fashion, and corporate highly rely on it. Print providers must be sure that a specific color will be the same on a customer’s business card, corporate brochure, and trade show signage—requiring sophisticated color consistency across substrates and devices.
“Brands are especially sensitive to color accuracy, so labels and packaging printers and converters have the highest requirement for color accuracy followed by photo and commercial print,” says Raus. For example, the packaging market depends on accurate and consistent branding on different materials.
Jerry Sturnick, finishing and IntegratedPLUS Solutions strategy manager, Xerox Graphic Communication Business Group, says that commercial printers, in plants, and print for pays often provide a service to customers that require color accuracy and consistency across production sites, print engines, and time. “Whether it is the corporate logo, skin tone of a photo advertorial, or simply having a series of books on a shelf with matching spine colors, a good color management strategy with tools to support implementation is critical.”
Utilizing Mixed Technology
Color management software allows mixed technology print environments to achieve the color consistency throughout a print run and reproduce the same color at any time. It also provides a cost-effective solution for all print devices to have the same industry standard for achieving predictable color consistency and accuracy.
Toby Saalfeld, U.S. director, color management, Ricoh USA, Inc., believes that consistent color can end up being the difference between positive brand recognition and looking disorganized. “Picture a Coca-Cola billboard. If the background were a very dark or a very light red, you’d think there had been a printer error or it was a fake advertisement,” he explains.
According to Bill Papp, product manager, Document Data Solutions, LLC. (DDS), mixed technologies, or hybrid printing, combine the best of low-cost traditional offset printing with the benefits of high-speed, high-resolution digital inkjet. “Why buy a multi-million-dollar digital inkjet press when you can attach hybrid inkjet modules onto your existing equipment for 100 percent variable customization,” he asks.
Existing offset presses lay down the majority of the print while the inkjet modules add variable information in full process color only where needed. “Additionally, the customer’s existing post-processing equipment is reused, thus the savings are multiplied,” adds Papp.
Considerations for Mixed Technology
Printing environments that utilize mixed technologies may have trouble controlling color produced across multiple presses and over time. Raus believes that if an operator adjusts the press, the resulting color profile for that specific substrate can be captured using features that reproduce extracting color across multiple presses in multiple locations.
If a print provider’s device has its own color management software that doesn’t easily communicate with another device’s software, the provider will quickly discover it doesn’t have much of a color management system in place. “You can run into this with certain offset plate devices that don’t support ICC technology or hexachrome color that doesn’t fall within industry specifications for four-color printing,” explains Saalfeld. Device-agnostic solutions keep colors inline across the provider’s operation.
Jeffrey Collins, national manager color solutions, Konica Minolta, identifies other color solution challenges for mixed technology as lack of automation, software that’s too complex, difficult user interfaces, too many touch points, and no analytical dashboards for production and management decision making.
However, while standards and control technologies exist for color management, Raus says the ultimate decision of where to adjust is in the eye of the press operator or local approval agency.
To better serve clients, print providers must efficiently manage color expectations. Sturnick suggests doing this by providing proofs or reference sample prints of what a printer can cost effectively produce to establish a baseline. Prepress can also review the customer’s jobs. Providers should specify what file format they expect in order to obtain full control of meeting the customer’s expectations.
Juergen Roesch, product marketing manager, CGS Publishing Technologies, agrees and says that if there are difficulties in understanding the color communication language, a local proof of the customer’s data matched to the production standard settings can be created as a baseline before actual print production occurs.
Raus believes that managing customer color expectations comes down to showcasing the ability to hit the color in current and future situations. “Demonstrating technical expertise and internal process control are critical to earning business, building trust, and managing expectations,” he says.
Other methods for managing customer’s color expectations include understanding the customer’s quality criteria and tolerances for product acceptance. “Know your color reproduction and manufacturing capabilities, strengths, and weaknesses,” suggests Collins. Print providers can implement continual improvement and LEAN programs for better efficiency.
To ensure accuracy in digital print environments, color management software solutions are added to the print provider’s workflow.
According to Roesch, two types of color management products help the workflow and ensure quality protection—color management profiling software and quality control (QC) software. Color management profiling software brings various print engines into a targeted color space while QC software maintains print quality standards while in production.
Print providers select solutions that deliver high-quality color across production press portfolios and with consideration to the operator’s skill level. “Automation, operational simplicity, ongoing support, and fleet level capability of the color management software are key differentiators in making a selection,” says Sturnick.
Darrian Young, tFLOW product manager, Aleyant, believes the best solutions are embedded in the RIP. He says that setup is much quicker, it can be automated with an onboard spectrophotometer in the print device, and the calibration and maintenance is easier.
Michael J. Vrhel, color scientist, Artifex Software, suggests that at a minimum, print providers need a solution for creating ICC profiles from measured data and software for rendering incoming PDF and Postscript content in a color managed manner. ICC solutions should be able to print a measurement chart, measure the chart, and create the ICC profile.
Other color management solutions that can be added to the workflow include inline and desktop spectrophotometers, lighting tables, as well as color management databases.
The Future of Color
As color management becomes more important to customers and print providers, there is an increasing need for closed-loop color automation in pressrooms. Shorter press runs, a higher amount of jobs per day, and pressure for competitive pricing drives the need for more efficient color management solutions.
Better color management in the pressroom means shorter makeready times and higher profitability. Printers and press manufacturers across analog and digital print technologies seek a closed-loop color automation. Stephen Rankin, director, product development, Techkon USA, says, “we’re also seeing a desire to capture print color quality data throughout the press run for customer reports, traceability, and continued process improvements.”
Raus notes that unlike conventional presses, digital presses self-monitor and adjust to maintain color accuracy. Print providers take advantage of this capability by capturing and utilizing the information in cloud-based solutions to reproduce the same color on multiple presses.
In fact, Sturnick believes one of the latest trends in color management is to enable environments with mixed print technologies to monitor the results daily via a cloud-based web interface. “With the growth of inkjet technology, color management software adds simple methods for optimizing the balance between color quality and ink usage for best run cost,” he says.
While color management software has greatly improved with additions like cloud-based interfaces, there are still needs that haven’t been met in digital environments. Sturnick points out, to achieve automation of the entire process with error avoidance, color management solutions need greater access to digital front end (DFE) controls for profile selections and advanced press features like inline spectrophotometers and calibration.
Other problem areas include the more obscure effects of spectrally different observer configurations like different light sources, optical brighteners, and filter settings for measurements devices. “While the math embedded in the majority of tools can compensate for any of the mentioned effects, dealing with such settings can be challenging even to the most knowledgeable user,” explains Roesch.
Color Management Solutions
Aleyant offers ColorProSeries products RapidCheck, QualityControl, and PrintControlPro. PrintControlPro is suitable for conventional and digital printers, equipment and consumable manufacturers, and vendors. It features colorimetric determination of print density for the widest gamut and best color match. The PrintControlPro includes a substrate database to organize and assure the quality of all paper stocks. According to Young, Aleyant’s color management solution prices are included in its workflow solution.
Artifex Software’s Ghostscript is a page description language interpreter for leading page description languages like PDF, PostScript, and XPS. Ghostscript features a patented color management system, Graphic Object Dependent Color Management (GODCM), that provides flexibility for controlling color based on the graphic object type on the same page. “GODCM makes it possible to specify different destination ICC profiles and rendering intents for images, text, and vector graphics,” says Vrhel. It enables text to be readily printed with only K while grayscale images are printed with composite CMYK.
Canon U.S.A.’s PRISMAsync Color Print Server System 5.1 features a scheduler, remote manager, remote control, high-quality color, and media-based workflow. “PRISMAsync provides standard color profiles that have a very high-quality level straight out of the box,” says Thorburn. It allows the user to create tailor-made spot color libraries, custom trapping settings, and ICC-based color workflows. PRISMAsync 5.2 is expected to include PRISMAsync integration to the Canon imagePRESS C10000VP Series Inline Spectrophotometer. According to Thorburn, it includes easy and error-free color calibration and profile creation without additional tools required.
CGS Publishing Technologies offers the ORIS Color Tuner/Web, a web-based soft and hardcopy proofing software in one package. The web-based client architecture allows the software to be integrated within existing workflows. Also, the ORIS Flex Pack/Web is available as a custom-made, cost-effective solution for flexible package proofs and samples. Special printer drivers and software features for the LEC and VS Roland DGA printers cover the requirements for packaging design and production, allowing ORIS Color Turner/Web to produce color-accurate screens or halftone proofs.
DDS offers iDataPrint, a software system that provides a range of print engine technology. iDataPrint prints individually specific variable data in monochrome or color. The iDataPrint Color Profile Wizard allows users to color match and use image refinement. “DDS color inkjet print systems help ease the pain of color management by seamlessly accepting device link profiles created by standard commercially available profiling tools,” says Papp.
It integrates into network environments with real-time monitoring of jobs across multiple DDS equipped machines.
Version 5 of the EFI Fiery Color Profiler Suite allows users to create ICC printer profiles for CMYK or multichannel print systems up to eight colors. It is fully integrated with Fiery DFEs for toner and inkjet digital printers. According to Henze, its Printer Match module adds G7 calibration as part of the printer matching process, which provides a common reproducible color gamut across multiple Fiery driven print systems. “Print shops are now able to match multiple print systems with G7 calibration included,” he says.
The Fiery Color Profiler Suite also optimizes spot colors, performs color quality assurance, and matches colors across multiple presses in a digital production environment.
Konica Minolta offers the Accurio Pro Cloud Eye. It is a cloud-based color management and quality control software with G7 NPDC grey balance control, ICC profile, and device link profile creation. Collins says the Pro Cloud Eye is fully automated with the Konica Minolta Accurio Press using IQ-501 technology. The software’s dashboard monitors multiple presses and locations and includes a spot color library. The Pro Cloud Eye is designed for toner and ink savings with centralized quality control for hub-spoke operations.
HP’s PrintOS Substrate Manager captures, stores, retrieves, and manages custom color profiles to reproduce accurate color across multiple presses in one or more locations. The software uses cloud-based central management of substrate definitions and color profiles and is fully integrated to the HP PrintOS platform of cloud-based solutions. Stored on the PrintOS Substrate Manager application, HP Indigo Media Fingerprint definition files can be retrieved from PrintOS the next day or year to reproduce exact colors. Raus says that PrintOS Substrate Manager is included at no additional charge with an active HP Indigo press maintenance contract.
Ricoh partners with CGS Oris, EFI, Pantone, and X-Rite to provide suitable solutions based on the customer’s entire operational needs—whether it includes Ricoh printing equipment or not. According to Saalfeld, the cost ranges from $2,500 to $50,000. Functionality ranges from simple four-color ICC profiling to custom spot color management with CxF support and cloud-based quality control.
The Techkon ChromaQA 3.0 is a print color quality solution providing packaging and commercial printers with a set of tools designed to monitor the color quality of jobs on press. It’s designed to reduce re-makes and recognize ink and paper savings by detecting color problems early in the print production process. “The solution consists of a desktop client application that communicates with a cloud database to connect the ink kitchen, prepress, pressroom, and QA manager into a single unified workflow,” explains Rankin. It features built-in scorecards, Techkon InkCheck, ColorEnsure, G7 metrics, and Schawk! ColorDrive. The ChromaQA 3.0 is $2,500 per computer.
The Xerox IntegratedPLUS Automated Color Management software includes calibration, creation of ICC profiles, and spot color tables including cloud data analysis and monitoring. It provides a fleet-based approach that supports Xerox and non-Xerox print devices. “The Xerox IntegratedPLUS Automated Color Management Solution leverages our technology partnerships with CGS, CMI, and X-Rite combined with Xerox Professional Services to deliver a complete end-to-end solution from installation through ongoing production,” says Sturnick. The IntegratedPLUS software starts at $1,995 per year depending on printer count, site numbers, and required professional services.
Color management software allows print providers to ensure color accuracy on jobs printed on multiple devices. “Color management tools will continue to evolve in digital environments along with the diverse print technologies they must support,” says Sturnick.
The importance of color calibration and management is integral for many industries including commercial spaces that depend on accurate colors for precise branding. Proper color management allows efficient color calibration despite the equipment or the substrate used.
October 2017, DPS Magazine