Managing Color in a Mixed Production Platform Environment
Wednesday, August 12, 2009
Press release from the issuing companyAs the printing industry continues its transition from a purely craft-based art to a technology-based science, the role of industry standards has grown increasingly important. We have heard a great deal about JDF as a standard, and its ability to automate the production process is surely critical to the future survival and prosperity of almost any printing operation. But JDF alone will not be enough to ensure future success.
In large part, the craft element of print production revolves around the ability to produce quality printed output that meets the customer's expectation, usually by matching a contract proof. In the past, this was accomplished by an experienced press operator who continually adjusted the press and checked the press sheets to ensure that output was consistent and accurate. As presses become more automated, there is less need to manually adjust ink key settings during the run, once the press is up to color and sellable sheets matching the proof are being produced.
Harnessing Color Management
Increasingly, however, especially in larger shops (20+ employees), the production platform consists of presses from multiple vendors and even multiple technologies. And often color must be matched month to month for recurring projects. This complicates the color management process and is likely the reason that color management still emerges as one of the most critical concerns of printing operations, even though it is technically possible to "print by the numbers" using today's technology.
That's where another important standard comes into play. In 1966, a graphic arts task force was formed by the Graphic Communications Association (GCA) to develop general guidelines and recommendations that could be used as a reference source across the industry for quality color printing. With the support from representatives of IPA and GATF, the GRACoL Committee developed printing guidelines that have since become de facto standards in many pressrooms.
Since standards can be difficult to understand and implement, IDEAlliance has taken the process a step further by publishing a methodology called G7, which allows print service providers to calibrate proofing devices, printing presses, or any other CMYK device to the GRACoL 7 specifications. Yet it still can be difficult for a busy printing operation to find the time and skills to execute against these guidelines and specifications. Many are seeking outside help to get them on the road to compliance with GRACoL 7 specifications. One such resource is La Crosse Litho Supply.
Getting Help with Implementing G7 Specifications
A premier distributor for industry-leading vendors in the commercial printing industry for more than 30 years, La Crosse Litho Supply LLC provides services and solutions, such as digital prepress, computer-to-plate and color management. The company has been working with the G7 methodology since 2003, and remains closely linked to GRACoL, including a seat on the GRACoL committee. Five members of the La Crosse Litho team have achieved G7 Certified Expert status and are leveraging their knowledge to train printers, creatives and prepress houses in the G7 method, and are authorized to act as certification agents for the IDEAlliance Master Printers or Proof Professionals Program.
La Crosse Litho works with its clients to assess the current state, and composes a customized training program designed to meet the operation's specific needs. La Crosse Litho Director of Technology, Matt Fehn, has also published a book titled Introduction to G7 and the New Color of 2006, which the graphic solutions provider supplies to its customers as part of the training process. We spoke to two La Crosse Litho customers who have taken advantage of this program to get a better idea of the difference this approach has made in their businesses.
Freedom of Choice at Angel Lithographing
Angel Lithographing, located in Sturtevant, Wisconsin, is a second-generation family business that was founded in 1947 and has 25 employees. Having recently acquired three new presses, the firm decided to engage La Crosse Litho to assist in calibrating the platform and ensuring that a repeatable process was in place. Angel's production platform consists of two 40-inch presses, an 8-color Komori perfecter with a coater, and a 2-color Miller perfecter, along with a Presstek 34DI digital offset press. "Between the Komori and the DI press," says Dick Angel, Owner, "we made a huge technological leap from the 20-year-old presses we had before. There has been a learning curve for us, but we are getting better all the time." Part of that improvement is attributable to the work Angel Litho has done with La Crosse Litho. Angel ads, "We wanted to be able to interchangeably use our presses, especially for work that has multiple components, without any risk of quality differences. We plan to pursue our G7 Master certification as well."
La Crosse Litho spent three days on-site calibrating the Komori, the Presstek DI press and the company's Epson proofer. Angel Litho staff has a written process to follow that allows them to troubleshoot any issues and maintain the G7 curves over time. La Crosse Litho is available to assist when necessary.
Angel Litho is now well-positioned to use the combination of the Presstek 34DI press and its 40-inch Komori to be more competitive. By using the DI press for short runs and dedicating the Komori to long runs, both presses operate at maximum efficiency. "We generally run quantities of 5,000 or less on the DI press," he says, "but the decision is often based on a combination of run lengths, page sizes and page counts. We do our estimates both ways to determine the most economical production method, and it has given us tremendous flexibility."
Plant Manager Carl Christensen adds, "Many times we print a long run on the Komori and the customer comes back for a few hundred more. We can produce those on the Presstek DI without any worries about color matching. Likewise, we use the two presses together. For example, we might run a catalog cover on the Presstek and the body on the Komori; the colors must match. In addition, this process ensures that our Epson proofer is calibrated to the presses as well."
Christensen also points out that the G7 process has meant faster makereadies for Angel Litho, which translates to saved time and less waste.
Implementing the G7 process has ensured that regardless of which press is used, the customer is guaranteed a product that meets or exceeds expectations, and Angel Litho is assured that it is operating its production platform in the most efficient manner possible.
Cost Savings and Productivity Gains at Pro Print, Inc.
Another La Crosse Litho client is Pro Print, Inc., owned by Scott Cooke and Creston Dorothy. Pro Print was founded in the spring of 1977 as a small, quick-print shop on the west end of Duluth, Minnesota. The business grew quickly and currently occupies a new, state-of-the-art, 26,000 square foot printing facility built in 2008 in Duluth's Airpark. Pro Print currently employs 41 people and produces high-quality work for customers in the upper Midwest and from coast to coast. Pro Print has two Shinohara 23x29" presses, a 4-color and a 5-color, as well as three 2-color presses, a Xerox DocuColor 260 toner-based digital device, and a Presstek 52DI digital offset press.
"We originally started the G7 process with La Crosse Litho several years ago when we acquired our Shinohara 5-color press," says Ed Hendrickson, Vice President of Operations. "We do a great deal of publication printing, and we needed to ensure that we could produce accurate color month to month without the need for a hardcopy proof each month." Hendrickson explains that clients were increasingly reluctant to pay the costs and incur the time associated with shipping hardcopy proofs back and forth. "We can't be overnighting proofs all the time between Duluth and New York, or wherever the client is located. It just doesn't make sense anymore. Especially with our publication clients, we get approval on a hardcopy proof early on, and then use RAMPAGE Remote as a remote proofing solution from that point forward. We rarely ever get negative feedback on the results."
According to Hendrickson, La Crosse Litho originally spent about three days on site setting up the initial process. All of Pro Print's CMYK devices are included, and La Crosse Litho returns once every six months or so to validate the calibration. "They have been great to work with," says Hendrickson. "If there is a problem, they help us trouble shoot it. But we have target densities to work to as well as our gray balance settings. We are very careful with our plate imager to ensure it is calibrated; we simply apply the G7 curve and it appears to stay consistent."
This approach has allowed Pro Print to easily move work among CMYK devices depending on a number of criteria, as well as to mix and match different parts of a single job among presses. Hendrickson comments, "We routinely produce runs of 100 to 5,000 on the Presstek 52DI. But depending on the workload on our 4- and 5-color Shinoharas, we may run 10,000 on the Presstek DI press. We also often run publication covers on the DI press with the inside of the publication being produced on one of the Shinoharas, and that works well for us."
According to Hendrickson, some of the publication runs can take several days. "For shorter commercial work, we had to break in to the publication runs, and that was simply not an efficient way to operate," he says. "That is what led us to acquiring the Presstek 52DI press. We also use the press for short runs that require folding on a hard line because of its precise front-to-back registration. The DocuColor has up to a 1.5 mm swing in registration on each side of the sheet, which can cause as much as a 3 mm variation front to back. In addition, toner often cracks when the piece is folded. The Presstek DI press has allowed us to handle this type of work economically as well."
Both of these firms have gained significant advantage from implementing the G7 process across a mixed production portfolio. They are also good examples of companies that have crafted a production platform that allows them to competitively produce the widest possible range of customer work while offering maximum flexibility for workload balancing. By including a Presstek DI press in the G7 mix, these larger printers have been able to make their conventional offset presses more efficient while accommodating the increasingly shorter runs and faster turn times demanded by today's market.
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