Commentary & Analysis
Color Management: Manage the Process, Not Just The File
By James Mauro November 9,
By WhatTheyThink Staff
Published: November 9, 2005
By James Mauro November 9, 2005 -- What makes a direct mail piece effective? What makes a package unique? Why do we reach for one brand and not another on the grocer's shelf? The answer, in part, is color. Integrated color process management is, arguably, the linchpin of a comprehensive, computer-integrated workflow. The transformation of an idea into a printed piece begins with the designer's aesthetic connection to that idea and ends with a printed product manufactured to specifications, at the lowest practical cost, under optimal conditions, by the right provider. Like life, the creative process seldom unfolds according to plan. There's no such leeway in the output-oriented world of printing, where reliance on trial-and-error can place the provider at a competitive disadvantage. Increasingly, the need for faster makeready and on-time delivery, coupled with reductions in cost and waste, have placed a premium on predictable results and comparable quality across the board, independent of location or device. If color consistency is an invaluable means of preserving the integrity of certain high-value brands, and if the behavior of different inks, substrates, blankets and plates can profoundly influence the printed result, then integrated color process management is, arguably, the linchpin of a comprehensive, computer-integrated workflow. The higher the value of the brand asset, the more critical color becomes Of the many technical challenges faced by printers, color process management is among the most critical. It is certainly the most complex. When printers and converters speak of "high-quality printing," the term is virtually synonymous with "color critical" printing, defined primarily as the ability to reproduce color accurately and consistently, regardless of inks, coatings, substrates, blankets, plates and other variables. The higher the value of the brand asset, the more critical color becomes. The requirements for the high-end sheetfed offset production of cosmetic, automobile or liquor advertising, for example, will differ from those for less brand-sensitive items, and the differences will directly affect the economics involved. Absolute Requirements Because the color spaces of printing presses vary according to ink, inking sequences and paper grade, printing to standards is difficult without reliable color process management. When it comes to color, proof, plate and print must deliver identical results. However, because it is now possible to print on virtually anything --from paper and plastics to corrugated cartons and shrink-wrap film-- the level of technical expertise needed to produce consistent, saleable results from press to press, process to process and job to job is considerable. Customers may deliver data and proofs that leave printers struggling with color specifications that are difficult to reproduce on press. Once these jobs enter the workflow, many factors influence color, such as dot gain based on a new range of inks, printing substrates, blankets, the type and trapping performance of the printing plate. Many factors influence color, such as dot gain based on a new range of inks, printing substrates, blankets, the type and trapping performance of the printing plate. For quality-oriented printers, the implementation of a color workflow designed to achieve maximum color fidelity and productivity from prepress to press is essential. From the standpoint of the press, this solution also must deliver reliability and stability in inking. Without the benefit of comprehensive process control, the pressman can attempt to "tweak" the ink zone openings manually; however, this contingency can prove inefficient and loaded with the potential for error. The need to account for color requirements at every stage of production is the difference between a color-managed file and a color-controlled workflow. Only by linking the press and prepress stages can printers respond quickly to changes in print conditions without resorting to manual adjustment. A "closed-loop" is said to exist when presetting, measuring, calibration and profiling are integrated into a cycle that leads straight to the press and the desired inking result. The presence of an automated "control loop" between prepress and press enables printers to: Achieve minimal makeready time and waste Satisfy demanding color management requirements Produce consistent, reliable high-quality printing Come up to color fast when changing jobs Produce accurate matches between proofs and print Ensure consistent makeready independent of paper and ink Closing the Loop A color-controlled workflow will leverage sophisticated press control and high-tech color management to enable consistent color reproduction throughout the job â€“ regardless of print conditions and other variables. An approach that combines a thorough knowledge of both color and process forms a fully integrated approach to workflow management. The need to account for color requirements at every stage of production is the difference between a color-managed file and a color-controlled workflow For example, a new development here at Heidelberg called Prinect Color Solutions provides a closed-loop color controlled workflow. It is designed to reduce press makeready; maintain color fidelity and consistency throughout runs; and ensure the closest possible match between proof and press based on ICC standard profiles. This makes it possible to achieve color ï¬?delity throughout the workï¬‚ow by viewing color from the perspective of the press. This means integrating the "ï¬?ngerprint" of the printing press into the prepress stage so that any change in print conditions will result in automatic adjustments to the proof and printing plate. This is the first technology of its kind to provide measurable reductions in press makeready and consistency between proofs and press sheets and provide an innovative link between prepress and press systems. The solution leverages other Prinect technologies like the CP2000 Center press console, the Image Control quality measurement system and the Printready workflow system with new technologies and specialized techniques to yield superior results. At the heart of the color-controlled workflow are specially designed "MiniSpots," which automatically detect changes in dot gain, then locate and scan these targets spectrophotometrically . The dot gain measurements are compared to house standards, and, if necessary, recommendations are made to automatically adjust plate curves and ICC profiles for future jobs. The process significantly reduces makeready time and waste, especially during job changeovers. Heidelberg has documented production time savings of up to four hours because the system enables the press operator to monitor the press and react to changing printing conditions while the press is in production, versus taking the press out of production to optimize it for new paper stocks, for example. Standardizing and streamlining the printing process in this way places the press and its capabilities squarely at the center of a color-controlled workflow --precisely where they belong.