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Frank Romano on Color Management

Published on October 10, 2014

This week, Frank talks color. Color management, specifically. Today, with all the innovation and years of dealing with it, color management is still an issue. The main problem? No consistent standard.

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Discussion

By Michael Jahn on Oct 10, 2014

Wow.

No consistent standard ? I think there are a few like SWOP3, SWOP5 and GRACoL - but the folks you mentioned ( Create Space ) do not follow any of them.

As for monitors and displays - I do not think most folks really care about how my color looks like on screen, and even if they do, they are frustrated, mainly because we have no consumer level tools that would make them all the same or meet some condition, and even so, would you dumb them all down to simulate GRACoL ?

As far as on demand color printers such as create space, color concentric or lightning source, yes, they all print different. And they print different run to run ( do a 20 city book tour, order books to be delivered for each city, then collect them all and compare )

Unless you send PDF/X:2008 files with embedded output intent - and - the print service provider follows that color workflow and simulates your output intent - you will have inconsistent results.

We have standards. We just need to prep the PDF files as required, and insist the specification be followed.

That - is a tall order.

 

By Adam Dewitz on Oct 10, 2014

Here's Frank Cost's book on Amazon:
http://www.amazon.com/CreateSpace-Color-Comparator-Frank-Cost/dp/1497422701/

Here's a PDF of the book:
https://cias.rit.edu/media/uploads/faculty-f-projects/1104/documents/167/createspace-color-comparator.pdf

 

By Gordon Pritchard on Oct 11, 2014

WoooHooo - it's the 21st century and the solution to color communication is either Frank Cost's reflection of 19th century methology:
http://the-print-guide.blogspot.ca/2009/07/color-atlas-helping-designers-to.html
Or even going further further back to the methodology of prehysterical times?
http://the-print-guide.blogspot.ca/2009/11/wayback-view-how-color-was-taught.html

 

By Dov Isaacs on Oct 13, 2014

Frank Romano is right. There are major problems with color management with quite a bit of blame to go around.

Conceivably, consistent, reliable, and accurate color is possible, but there are too many “got'chas” in the end-to-end PDF print publishing workflow and industry ecosystem:

(1) If your content creator including those who amalgamate content into publications are clueless in terms of color management, understanding issues associated with color gamut, profiles, overprinting, transparency, etc., you contribute to major color problems.

(2) If you create a PDF file in which you effectively ruin color management possibilities and the ability to retarget to different printing or even display conditions (i.e. you use PDF/X-1a or PDF/X-3 instead of PDF/X-4 - leaving all colors in their original color spaces with ICC profiles, of course), you contribute to major color management problems.

(3) If you are a Luddite print service provider and you do foolish things such as discarding all ICC color profiles in a PDF file, editing all PDF files in Illustrator (to “fix them” and actually ruin them), and/or treat color management as just so much hooey, you contribute to major color management problems.

(4) If you are a print workflow software or RIP/DFE provider/vendor and you “differentiate your product into incompatibility” with “secret sauce” color management and enhancement features, you contribute to major color management problems.

(5) If you are a graphics arts instructor who fails to fully and adequately train their students in basis ICC color management and workflow, you contribute to color management problems.

(6) If you are an international expert of color management and standards for same and you talk over the heads of your real constituency, boring them with your evangelization of your latest theories and the newest and greatest color profiles du jour, you also contribute to color management problems.

I downloaded and looked at Frank Cost's PDF file. Ironically, it certainly does not follow principles recommended for reliable color management (despite having been created in InDesign, the PDF appears to have been mucked with by some third party product that flattened transparency and killed all device profiles). What it does do is show off the foibles of CreateSpace. One should be able to create such a book in InDesign, placing content with its original color space and ICC profiles, export as a PDF/X-4 file with no color conversions, and get reasonably good results assuming you checked for color gamut prior to PDF export! Even if the Output Intent profile didn't match the actual printing conditions, most modern RIPs/DFEs can very readily use Device Link profile technology to bridge that gap.

Quite frankly, in terms of color management, the industry as a whole is its own worst enemy! We've met the enemy and it is us!

- Dov

 

By Gordon Pritchard on Oct 13, 2014

Dov, as a major player at Adobe, which arguably holds most of the cards in this space (from authoring softawre to RIPs) what is Adobe doing to address this issue?

 

By Dov Isaacs on Oct 13, 2014

Gordon,

Adobe print workflow applications (Illustrator, Photoshop, InDesign, and Acrobat) as well as Adobe's PDF Print Engine RIP technology all support ICC color management (ON by default for the applications) without any “secret sauce.”

We are members of and directly participate in the ICC and ISO TC130 groups responsible for the color management standards and their use within PDF workflows.

However, I question your assertion that we at Adobe “hold most of the cards in this space” from the point of view that (a) we have no way to force content providers and print service providers to properly use color management or use it at all, (b) we cannot prevent third parties from adding “secret sauce” solutions to the workflow, and (c) there is a limit to how much educating Adobe can do without cooperation from the graphic arts education community, much of which has little expertise and/or experience in this area.

What do you think we should or could do?

 

By Gordon Pritchard on Oct 13, 2014

RE: "I question your assertion that we at Adobe “hold most of the cards in this space” from the point of view that

(a) we have no way to force content providers and print service providers to properly use color management or use it at all,"

• The way color management is currently implemented in authoring applications means that one has to be a color management expert in order to benefit from it. That gets reflected in your original points 1, 2, 3, 5, and 6

"(b) we cannot prevent third parties from adding “secret sauce” solutions to the workflow"

• Agreed. But perhaps something could be done within the apps that Adobe does control?

"(c) there is a limit to how much educating Adobe can do without cooperation from the graphic arts education community, much of which has little expertise and/or experience in this area."

Again reflected in your original points 1, 2, 3, 5, and 6. Also, based on my experience, educating the creative folks who use the software in technical matters such as color management is problematic - if not futile.

"What do you think we should or could do?"

Color management as it's currently implemented is similar to the controls that a driver needed to know how to use in order to drive a 1920s car (e.g. http://www.caranddriver.com/features/how-to-drive-a-ford-model-t ). But unlike the evolution of the automobile, we are adding more controls and more sophisticated ones, rather than eliminating them through automation. At the end of the day, most drivers just want to get from point A to point B. I.e. they want to get to a destination. And I believe that is also true for document creators. They just want to get to their chosen destination without all the complication.

So, would it be possible to automate the application of color management so that it is destination focussed rather than controls focussed? Or perhaps have that as an alternate workflow option so that sophisticated users could still fiddle with the controls if they so desired.

What I'm thinking of is something like a "destination" menu option that the user would use to select the destination of the document they're working on. The destination could be generic (newspaper, the web, sheetfed, etc.) or specific (Joe Blow's Print Shoppe). The authoring application would then apply, behind the scenes, the appropriate color management tags, profiles, whatevers based on the profile of that destination. If a destination tagged image is brought into a different application (say a PShop image into an InDesign page) the creative would be notified if there is a destination mismatch that the creative needs to resolve.

If creatives use an RGB environment then they could perhaps change the destination in their document and behind the scenes the authoring app would, behind the scenes, retag or do whatever is appropriate to purpose the document for the new destination.

It seems that all the components are in place (specified industry standard print conditions, profiles, and file output formats) but is dependent on the operator to bring the pieces together instead of the authoring software (which already has all this info built in). If the destination is non-standard, say Joe Blow's Print Shoppe, perhaps there could be some piece of software available for him to create a his own custom destination profile. So the creative might start with a generic destination profile - e.g. GRACoL, but once he knows he will be printing at Joe Blow's Print Shoppe he would then apply the Joe Blow's Print Shoppe destination profile and all the applicable changes needed would be automatically applied by the authoring app.

Just a thought.

 

By Frank Cost on Oct 13, 2014

I made the CreateSpace Color Comparator as a quick and dirty visual device to help my students understand the color rendering limitations of the printing process used by CreateSpace, which I believe is Indigo on unspecified Uncoated 60lb bright white paper. The PDF submitted to CreateSpace was written directly out of InDesign using the High Quality Print setting recommended by CreateSpace. For the most part, the CreateSpace process does a great job of rendering midtones and neutrals, but has the usual shortcomings when rendering bright saturated colors and shadow detail. I got tired of hearing the same complaints over and over again from students and colleagues who don't understand why print works the way it does. So I made the book as a way of alerting them to the realities of life. I gave them both the PDF that I submitted to CreateSpace, and a copy of the printed book, and invited them to compare the two. This seems to solve the problem. The complaining has stopped. It's not color management. It's color expectation management!

Frank Cost

 

By Dov Isaacs on Oct 14, 2014

@Gordon:

(a) WRT Adobe applications, by DEFAULT in Adobe applications, color management is ON and we synchronize applications to at least a reasonable set of default CMYK, RGB, and grayscale color spaces. And that default is easy to change. Our PDF exports are designed for optimal PDF export with color management. But as they say, “you can lead a horse to water, but you can't make it drink!”

If we wanted to further foolproof color management, we could force ALL PDF export to be PDF/X-4 and not allow any premature conversions to the final output working space (i.e., banish PDF/X-1a, PDF/X-3, PDF 1.3, etc.) as well as prevent creation of PDF via distillation of PostScript. For better or worse, many of our users who then later complain about color management being “difficult” would also complain if we made it impossible to produce retrograde PDF and PDF workflows.

(b) We have no “secret sauce” color management within our applications and we have no way of disabling such mishagoss later in the workflow. Sorry!

(c) One of the goals of modern color management and PDF/X-4 is to NOT force the user to create content that can only be rendered for a particular “destination.” The idea is to keep as much device independence and flexibility all the way to the RIP. Even if you submit content to Joe Blow's Print Shoppe, your PDF content should be able to be printed with any one of the technologies that Joe Blow has in house or outsources to including offset, digital, etc. Using your example, that GRACol profile should be maintained all the way to Joe Blow. The DeviceCMYK content in the PDF/X-4 file can readily by converted to the actual final CMYK space via device link profiles at the RIP. The ICC profile-tagged RGB can be directly converted to the final destination at the RIP. In most instances, the content creator should NEVER need to know the exact final print conditions. Content that is in a calibrated color space such as ICC profile-tagged RGB imagery should NEVER be prematurely converted to some final print condition CMYK color space. And the fact is that when a job is submitted, it is often not known what those conditions will be! (That is not to say that content designers/creators should not check gamut and other color issues against representative final printing conditions with tools in the creation and layout programs, but actual conversion should always be at the end-game!)

- Dov

 

By Dov Isaacs on Oct 14, 2014

@FrankCost:

The PDF that you submitted to CreateSpace may have been created with the “High Quality Print” settings, but the PDF you have published certainly does not represent that original PDF.

The fact that you need to jump through hoops to get decent output from CreateSpace is criminal. Assuming you do reasonable output preview in InDesign and export PDF/X-4 (making sure NOT to have it do any color conversions), you should get at least acceptable output from CreateSpace. If you extrapolate their apparent behavior to all such print services, we might as well totally scrap the concept of color managed PDF print publishing workflows!

- Dov

PS: More off-list.

 

By Gordon Pritchard on Oct 14, 2014

@Dov, so I think you're saying that as long as content creators leave the application defaults alone then there is no problem?
And in Frank Cost's example - he broke the integrity of the PDF by using High Quality Print setting recommended by CreateSpace rather than the default.

 

By Dov Isaacs on Oct 14, 2014

@Gordon:

Almost that! Choose the initial default color settings for the Creative Suite / Creative Cloud applications and synchronize and use then globally. For PDF export, the existing PDF/X-4 settings with your favorite output intent profile (matching the CS/CC default CMYK color space) should (famous last words) get you what you need for most all print publishing workflows.

Yes, there are exceptions and special conditions, but you can start simple and find quite a bit of success.

- Dov

 

By Dov Isaacs on Oct 14, 2014

@Gordon:

WRT/ Frank Cost and CreateSpace, I'll follow-up directly with Frank as to what actual settings were used, but when you look at the “specifications/suggestions” of many web-to-print outfits and how they vary all over the lot, you can see one of the major reasons why many think that color management itself is broken.

- Dov

 

By Julie Shaffer on Oct 19, 2014

It is fascinating (or horrifying) to me to see how many print providers still recommend on their websites that client's convert color to CMYK with absolutely no instruct how to do so.

This is a great discussion to take to the Color Conference 2014, December 6-9 at the Scottsdale Hilton with 40+ sessions covering all aspects of color management. This year we commissioned a study with Clemson University to show how several prominent online print providers handle PDF/X-4 files (will they honor output intent?) versus a CMYK version of the same file.

Join us! More info: cmc.printing.org

 

By Gordon Pritchard on Oct 20, 2014

One of the things that I've never seen in a color management book is a color flow chart that shows what happens as images and files go through the workflow. Some type of decision tree charts that would show the various configurations of embedded/ no enbedded profile in imgae, in page layout, in PDF, etc. I think that would go a long way to clarifying the process.

 

By Dov Isaacs on Oct 20, 2014

@Julie:

The same print service providers who recommend or even require conversion of everything to CMYK not only don't instruct as to WHAT CMYK to convert to or how to do it, but are often clueless themselves as to the whole process.

@Gordon:

Excellent idea. Not to get someone to write an understandable work on use of color management incorporating such decision tree charts and simple recommendations!

 

By Michael Riebesehl on Oct 21, 2014

Wow I absolutely love this discussion and bet that Frank knew what he was doing when he threw this topic out there. As a part time photographer myself I am a big fan of keeping the files in their source space as long as possible otherwise know as late binding.

Agree there are many players and places that can cause color to wrong and I guess that's why there are so many color consultants out there that make a living from this. I've always said it's better to repeatedly do things wrong than get it right once in a great while ;-).

As @JulieShaffer___ noted if you want to learn more come to the Color Management Conference #Color14 Where I will be color managing a pre conference class all the way from capture to print. Can't think of a better place to be or topic to cover!
Mike Riebesehl

 

By John Clifford on Oct 24, 2014

I'm an instructor at FIDM in LA and I teach design students how to prepare files for print production (the focus is on off-set litho, but I know better and cover silkscreen, and digital outputs as well).

The problem is that color management is difficult to describe. Devices must be calibrated for it to work. At school, the monitors in our graphics labs do not get calibrated at all, neither do our HP printers.

On top of that, I've only got 10 weeks to teach all of the prepress issues including image types (vector vs. raster), color, paper, folding, finishing and bindery, etc. I give one full 3-hour class to color and in that time I have to explain the differences between spot and process (they have no idea), how to read a pantone book, what a pantone book is, the difference between RGB and CMYK and color spaces. Getting into LAB conversion space is way beyond what I can do in that 3 hours.

Because I've been doing it for about 7 years now, in addition to continuing as a prepress consultant after 40+ years, I've seen and taught the changes from when NO US printers did color management so everything had to be PDF/X-1a (bulletproof as it's been described) to shops that now do color management but don't have APPE RIPs so need X3 to the growing number of printers with APPE RIPs so we can submit X4 files. I feel I have to teach students that PDF/X-1a as the lowest common denominator is the preferred format but that IF they can find a printer with APPE to then go the extra distance and use X4.

I'm sending students out into the world where they will have to deal with all kinds of situations. Do magazines accept ads as PDF/X4? My understanding was that most still require X-1a. I was at the Adobe/AOL-TimeWarner press conference at Print '05 when they announced that ads had to be a specific brand of X-1a and that the rollout at that time was going to take a little while because not all the printers had (at that time!) PDF workflows installed.

So what is the state of printing today? I need to understand what to tell these designers who really don't want to worry about this stuff.

 

By Michael Riebesehl on Oct 24, 2014

@JohnClifford
All of the xerox production presses support APPE so X4 is the way to go, we've been promoting this for some time. I'm Sure @Dov has an opinion or two on the PDF subject.
For designers I can completely relate to what you are saying not caring about the details "just make it work". Having written two books on this subject the best way to do this is to synchronize everything for them so they can just do what they do best with minimal instructions & not have to worry. Depending on the final output destination, color and pdf job options settings, these files can be imported to set up their color and pdf export. Generally the best print providers will do this for free to help themselves out on the receiving end.

 

By John Clifford on Oct 28, 2014

@Michael Riebesehl

Unless Xerox is suddenly in the offset business, it has little relationship to those who are sending files to offset press printers, the primary focus of my class. I'd love to hear Dov's thoughts on what I should be teaching as I've always respected him.

Again, I try to teach my students to "think output" and to use the settings that their printer can use to maximize their output. But until we have gone beyond the magic "tipping point" in printers adopting APPE, we still have to go with the lowest common denominator (PDF/X-1a) as the bulletproof format when you don't know what your printer is using or don't care to find out.

 

By Dov Isaacs on Oct 28, 2014

Someone use my name? :-)

The problem is that PDF/X-1a is absolutely NOT “bulletproof” unless you have absolutely no transparency in your original content and you know exactly what your output printing conditions are allowing you to manually convert all non-CMYK content to the correct CMYK color space. And of course, if you do this, you will have created a highly device-DEPENDENT PDF file. The print service provider has little freedom to choose a different print condition.

And if you are a print customer, you really should find out “what your printer is using” and if you don't, you pretty much deserve what you get. The fact is that APPE and comparable technology from Global Graphics have been powering RIPs/DFEs now for a decade. And even if one is printing PostScript to an older RIP/DFE (or even any desktop or network PostScript device) from Acrobat or even Adobe Reader, you will get much high quality and more reliable printing using a PDF/X-4 file to start with as opposed to PDF/X-1a.

PDF/X-1a (or even PDF/X-4 with all content converted to CMYK) is for Luddites!

- Dov

 

By Dov Isaacs on Oct 28, 2014

Just so that no one misunderstands my points of view, PDF/X-4 is not an all-purpose miracle worker.

This standard does NOT absolve the content producer from being responsible for content that will properly print, taking into account issues of overprint, transparency, color (including gamut, color contrast, etc.). What PDF/X-4 DOES is to provide a more effective, reliable, and consistent vehicle for transmission of properly-prepared content to the rendering device.

- Dov

 

By John Clifford on Oct 28, 2014

@Dov

OOh, spanked. But Dov, what do magazines want in ads? Again, in 05 when we were at that press conference, Time Warner wanted everything in a specific version of 1-a. Do they now accept 4? Just want to make sure I'm giving my students the tools they will need when they go out in the world. I just taught a class today and I stressed that they should always strive for the top level (4), but that they can ensure that they will get output at the lowest common denominator.

I did describe color management, the conversion to and from LAB, etc., but I'm sure I lost at least half of the class who where falling asleep.

It's tough because I insist that the printer clients I work with have APPE RIPs and encourage PDF/X-4, but for students I've got to face the reality that there ARE still a lot of the Luddites out there, like it or not.

 

By Eddy Hagen on Oct 29, 2014

Interesting discussion. :-)

But I'm missing one - very important - point: the quality of the ICC profile used to convert to CMYK (no matter where you are doing the conversion). Different ICC profiles have different renderings. And these can be *very* different. So don't blame the PDF! It's (in many cases) the ICC profile!

In case you don't have a clue what I'm talking about, please do the following: take 3 publicly available ICC profiles based on the same dataset (FOGRA39): the one form Adobe which is included in their applications (CoatedFogra39), the one from ECI (ISOcoated v2, download: http://www.eci.org/en/downloads) and one that we at VIGC created (Coated_Fogra39L_VIGC_260, download: http://www.color.org/registry/index.xalter). Now take a nice picture with some really vibrant blues and convert it with those three profiles. I'm quite sure that you will get three different results... although that the three profiles are for the same type of printing/substrate. One of them will probably turn blue into some kind of purple...
(in case you don't have a nice photo, you can download a sample set of three pictures (red, green and blue) from our website: http://www.vigc.org/vigc50-xcs/, they are part of a larger test suite, with 50 images, a test suite designed to check the renderings of profiles, of color management workflows)

And to make it even more interesting: now play with the different rendering intents (perceptual/relative colorimetric + BPC). The renderings that are calculated by the Adobe Color Engine (ACE), are based on information provided included in the ICC profiles, so don't blame the ACE in case of bad renderings, blame the profile.

So if you want to shoot at the pianist, please aim at the right pianist... ;-)

Eddy

 

By Dov Isaacs on Oct 29, 2014

@JohnClifford

(1) Looking at the portal for Time-Warner (actually Time Inc.) publications at , apparently their specs are a decade old, specifying only PDF/X-1a.

(2) We do have a “Chicken and Omelet” problem with regards to acceptance of PDF/X-4. If the publication doesn't say they accept it or in fact doesn't, content providers won't provide same. And if content providers don't demand ability to submit PDF/X-4 to gain higher quality output, the publications won't change their specifications. My guess is that if a just a handful (or maybe even one) major advertiser made it requirement that publishers of their ads accept fully color-managed PDF/X-4 with live transparency, the publications would suddenly find religion. Quite frankly, print publications can't afford to be such picky prima donnas these days!

(3) Teaching and learning is tough! Both educators and students need to live with that. (There was plenty that I needed to learn as an undergraduate electrical engineering student at MIT that really wasn't “fun” but it was necessary to learn!) Perhaps the challenge is to interleave teaching of color management in with their design training in a creative way such that they graphically (pun intended, of course) see the results of proper and improper/missing color management. Also teach your students to have backbones! (Note that if wasn't for graduating computer science students demanding use of newer programming languages, we'd still be using FORTRAN and COBOL for all applications!) And while you are doing educating, educate the printers and publishers as well. Every time I have such a situation, I use it as an opportunity to upgrade the skills and standards of the printers and publishers I'm working with. Amazingly, once they see the benefits (which doesn't take long), they become hooked.

- Dov

 

By Dov Isaacs on Oct 29, 2014

FYI, the portal for Time publications is at http://direct2time.timeinc.com/.

- Dov

 

By Dov Isaacs on Oct 29, 2014

Eddy Hagen makes excellent points that strongly argue for “late binding” to the final, destination color space.

In PDF/X-4 workflows, typically a standard CMYK color space is specified (and profile embedded) for the output intent. CMYK is best used in such content for black text and vector graphics where true, pure colorants are expected for the final output. Very often, the actual printing conditions do vary from that PDF/X-4 output intent. Most advanced PDF workflows allow for substitution of that profile with another CMYK color space profile allowing the tagged RGB content to be converted at RIP time to the correct CMYK color space and with constraints available for color conversion, the CMYK may either be used as-is or converted by device link profiles with constraints on pure colorants to the correct final color space.

But if you force the content provider to convert tagged RGB imagery to some arbitrary CMYK color space before or as part of the PDF/X-1a conversion, your flexibility in terms of fixing the color from that RGB imagery is much more limited.

- Dov

 

By Frank Cost on Oct 29, 2014

Hey guys, this is beginning to sound like an argument in the Roman Catholic Curia just before Luther nailed up his 95 theses. My head started smoking after reading Dov's middle paragraph above. I will continue to read these comments with a fire extinguisher at my side.

 

By Dov Isaacs on Oct 29, 2014

@FrankCost:

“Roman Catholic Curia just before Luther nailed up his 95 theses?” Obviously something very non-kosher that I simply will never really understand.

But please don't worry, this discussion is not part of a Cost reduction plan! :-)

- Dov

 

By John Clifford on Oct 30, 2014

Thanks Dov,

I said AOL-TimeWarner because that's who they were in 2005. At that time they had just made the decision to move from Tiff/IT to PDF. They were the ones who made PDF/X a standard that everyone else had to follow. But even at that time, they complained that a lot of their printers were having to upgrade their RIPs from PostScript Level 2 to the "new" Level 3 and TW was touting their committment to see that their printers were using the latest equipment. My guess is that in the past 10 years PS3 is as far as many of them have gone. But that's just a guess based on the absolute push it took to get them to Level 3 and how much they complained about the costs involved.

Yes, teaching is hard. The class is required but the students aren't happy about it. The most rewarding thing is when I talk with former students who tell me that the info in my course is what they use every day and they wish they had "stayed awake" or "paid more attention."

 

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