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Getting your colour act together – Print 21 feature

Thursday, 04 August 2005
By Print 21 Online Article

The accelerating evolution of the printing industry from a local craft-based operation to a networked global manufacturing industry brings with it the challenge of achieving standardised printing. Printers have always considered their own skill to be the final arbiter of how the printed page should look. Operators on the same press working a different shift and printing the same job will exercise their prerogative of making the ‘red a little richer and cutting back on the yellow’ if they think it produces a better print. Even if the supplied proof tells them differently, many printers, especially the highly skilled, are unable to resist the urge to improve the result. While this type of individual craftsmanship may sometimes achieve an exceptional result, more often than not all it does is introduce a variation between different parts of the print run and a result that is at odds with the proof.

This variation becomes critical when dealing with products that are being produced internationally for global corporations, or even jobs done at discrete printing sites within the same market. Achieving a uniform, standardised result is essential and no amount of individual flair from the printers will balance the scales if the job is not according to specifications.

Printing to agency specifications

During a recent visit to Australia, Kurt Fuchsenthaler, from MAN Roland in Germany, was preaching the need for standardisation in offset printing. He brought stories of how in Europe and the USA advertising agencies are insisting that printers adhere to recognised standards. They are qualifying printers by insisting they print the agency’s own test sheets and anyone that cannot match is eliminated. These criteria are increasingly based on ISO standards. There are seven graphic technology standards developed by the Geneva-based organisation ranging from such items as ISO 2846-1, colour and transparency of ink sets for four-colour printing – to ISO 14981, optic, geometrical and metrological requirements for reflection densitometers for graphic arts use.

(Spreading the good word on print standardisation: Kurt Fuchsenthaler (left) came from Germany to meet with printers and John Hansen, general manager print, IPP Print & Pack)

Fuchsenthaler’s message is that these standards are coming, like it or not. Although Australian advertising agencies have not yet begun to qualify printers in this way he maintains it is only a matter of time. While his speciality is colour management, he promotes the philosophy of complete quality management of all work processes from layout to printing. This requires proper press settings; proper guidelines for inking, substrates and inks, as well as calibration of the systems used in layout and prepress to confirm to corresponding production run standards.

During his visit, which was sponsored by IPP Print & Pack, he urged printers to embrace the concept of standardisation in order to be ready when the agencies begin to relay the instructions from their global client headquarters. He extolled the advantages at the press of reliable and fast matching of the prints to the optimised colour originals, off-press proofs and press proofs with less inking unit control and less material consumption. It also delivers less colour variation and high production run quality with reduced idle time.

Rendering the intent of ICC profiles

Developing standards for production processes for the graphic arts is not a simple matter. For instance, graphic technology colour standardisation is based on ICC profiles, but in the quest for open colour management systems it is easy for users who don’t have the necessary know-how to quickly get out of their depth. In order to make the colour settings for software applications, the user has to assign the colour fingerprint for every device and the ICC profile of the output standards. Then the colour management module calculates the profile tables of each device for output of the data. This makes the rendering intent (the manner in which data in different colour spaces are converted and compressed), especially important.

Rendering intent is a new term introduced by the ICC and means that the reproduction of colours may be chosen specifically depending on the intended purpose of the reproduction. Generally speaking the development of ICC colour management systems is still in its infancy. Different manufacturers work with different (not published) algorithms, which, especially with colour space transformations, lead to different results – standardisation doesn’t yet go far enough.

But just because it is not easy doesn’t mean that printers should not start paying attention to ICC-based colour management. CMYK and RGB-based colour workflows are already supported quite well, but L*a*b*-based workflows still have a way to go. Now is a good time to start.

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