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Taking the Mystery Out of Expanded Gamut Printing

Published on January 31, 2017

Idealliance's Tim Baechle visits with Senior Editor Cary Sherburne to take some of the confusion out of expanded gamut printing, also known as extended color gamut and fixed color palette printing. He also talks about Idealliance's X-CMYK initiative for expanded gamut with four-color printing and the process of using a fixed palette of CMYK/OGV inks.

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By Gordon Pritchard on Feb 01, 2017

Just to set the record straight. Expanded gamut printing has been a production tool since before 1995 and Hexachrome. For example, Harald Kuppers' color atlas published in 1975 used a 7-color process. Linotype-Hell demo'd their 7 color process at drupa 1990, Scitex and DuPont in 1994, Indigo in '95, etc. i 1994, Dupont HyperColor and Visu/ICISS provided "Big Gamut" (CMYK/CMYK) profiles for separations and proofing.
Hexachrome, because it came from Pantone, had greater print specifier mind share but was certainly not the first, or only, vendor offering such a production solution in 1995. BTW, Pantone abandoned Hexachrome some 20 years ago.
On a sidebar, running standard CMYK at higher solid ink densities like iDealiance is doing - rather than adding extra hues to the ink set - was formalized and promoted by Creo back in 1997 and possibly not so formally by others even earlier. Unlike iDealliance's approach, Creo's method was halftone screening agnostic.


By Robert Godwin on Feb 02, 2017

How difficult is it to manage a seven color process over a four color process? A well run litho press is 5dE. Epson proofers, for instance, run pretty close to 1dE. I have seen press operators chase color for a client to get a sign off. It is difficult to imagine how long an acceptable press sheet would take with the fixed palette cmyk/ogv. I do see a value for folded cartons, but.... Controlling the process? I am pretty sure that most print buyers/art directors who spend time at a press check do not truly understand the scope of variance in an offset press run from the first sheet, to the middle sheet, to the end sheet.

Expanded color seems like more of an upsell than a value add for most commercial work.


By Cary Sherburne on Feb 02, 2017

I'm hearing operations are achieving 2dE with 7 color fixed palette when combined with a process control tool like ColorCert but this is in flexo more than offset


By John Seymour on Feb 02, 2017


It is a bit counter-intuitive, but the stability of CMYKOGV is actually a bit better than CMYK.

One thing that helps is that the separations never (or almost never) use more than three inks at any point in the image.

Another thing that helps is that the inks are closer together in hue angle. If you mix an orange and magenta to get a red, the wildest possible hue shift would be from orange to magenta. If you make a red with yellow and magenta, the hue shift is perhaps twice as much.

Matt Furr did a press test when he was at Clemson that bore this out. He presented a paper on that at TAGA.


By John Seymour on Feb 02, 2017


Impressive list... but you missed a few. ;)

There were two notable efforts well before Kuppers' work, for which he filed a patent in 1989 (US Patent #4,878,977).

Hallmark started work on expanding the gamut with additional inks started in 1960, and printed cards with their version in 1962. They used some fluorescent inks, and added pink and light cyan. Obviously, these are important colors for greeting cards. (This is from a TAGA presentation in 2000 by Karl Guyler.)

A patent was filed in 1968 by Schoichi Shimada of Dainippon Screen (“Apparatus for production of color separation records”, US Patent #3,555,262). The patent used OGV as an example, but the patent wasn't limited to those colors.

I would agree with Tim, though, that the process really took off commercially in the time period 1994 to 1995 when technology caught up with opportunity -- desktop publishing coupled with digital plate setters allowed for a more complicated color separation process. As evidence, there were four patents filed in a one year period.

In October of 1994, Kodak filed for a patent for an “extra-quaternary” (beyond four) printing process (US Patent #5,563,724). The technology eventually led to what is called Kodak Spotless color separation process.

US Patent #5,751,326 (“Color printing process and product”) was filed October of 1995 by Mathew Bernasconi of Opaltone. Opaltone is still in the business, but I believe it is mostly in use in digital printing.

Two of the companies you mentioned filed for patents on expanded gamut during this time period. Pantone filed their patent for Hexachrome (US Patent #5,734,800) in November of 1994, and Linotype-Hell filed US Patent #5,687,300 in March of 1995.


By Robert Godwin on Feb 02, 2017

John, what about the cost factor of make ready and clean up? Raising the cost means raising the value of the result. I have seen how good an expanded gamut can be, but again, those were samples made to impress.
Is this commercially viable, or really just a niche approach. If adopted in packaging, the cost increase would be a factor throughout the life of the product. What brand manager is going to try to sell that?


By Gordon Pritchard on Feb 02, 2017

For clarity's sake...iDealliance is pursuing two routes to expanded gamut printing; using standard 4/C inks and running at higher than standard solid ink densities - that's the XCMYK covered in the video - and adding additional inks with standard CMYK inks to expand the gamut. That approach appears to be one that they will investigate in the future.

These two approaches (XCMYK and CMYK+) are distinct technically as well as commercially and should not be muddled together in discussions of expanded gamut printing.

Running conventional CMYK inks at higher SIDs in order to expand the gamut is a very simple and practical method to implement for any commercial printshop. It enables the shop to easily offer their customers a standardized custom print characteristic option in addition to an industry standard print characteristic (e.g. ISO 12647-2). That in turn provides the print shop with a competitive advantage at very little additional cost. This method is typically used to enhance imagery in presswork. That being said, the route taken by iDealliance - in particular the use of FM screening is, IMHO, problematic. If you run standard CMYK inks at higher SIDs the on press color stability is the same as at standard SIDs. The ability to shift color with SID moves (which is a bad idea anyway) is however reduced. The use of FM screening rather that AM/XM will increase on press color stability and reduce the ability to shift color with SID moves. The use of an ICC profile made from FM presswork (the iDealliance approach) can be problematic if used for AM/XM screened presswork.

Adding one or more ink hues to a standard CMYK inkset is the other popular expanded gamut method.

This method is mostly used in labels and packaging and is most often used to replace spot colors with screen tint builds rather than to enhance imagery (although that's also done). Printing this way provides dramatic production efficiencies and cost reductions and benefits both the print shop as as well as their clients. It fundamentally changes the printer/client relationship to the benefit of both. FM screening is more popular in an offset environment for this type of work with AM/XM primarily used in flexo.


By John Seymour on Feb 02, 2017


There is very strong business case for spot color replacement when you use that extra gamut to print colors that would normally be blended in the ink kitchen. CMYKOGV can be used to print something like 90% of the Pantone book.

The big benefit is that you don't need to clean out the CMYKOGV print units. And of course, you don't wind up with all the inventory of leftovers.

Several major packaging printers have told me that they have switched over to printing almost exclusively CMYKOGV, and are saving a lot of money.


By Cary Sherburne on Feb 02, 2017

But one of the big advantages to fixed color palette is that you don't have to change inks or wash up between jobs, plus ganging and faster run up to color. That reduces cost big time according to people that are using it. overall, they say, it reduces cost. big names in CPG and beverages are specifying this, and in the end, it almost doesn't matter ... if files can be converted to fixed palette using something like Equinox, if the color is accurate, I don't think the brand owners will really care. Some converters have already gone completely to fixed palette.


By Robert Godwin on Feb 02, 2017

So, if it in fact reduces cost, improves quality, and if you are washing up less, then it also faster, what is the holdup in more comprehensive adoption?
Cheaper, better and faster is 3 for 3 of the magic formula. What am I, or more accurately commercial printers, missing here?


By Gordon Pritchard on Feb 02, 2017

Thanks John for mentioning Creo/Kodak Spotless. I was on its development team at Creo. For some reason, while so much talk is going on in the industry about expanded gamut printing, Kodak appears to be quiet about their solution. :-(


By Gordon Pritchard on Feb 02, 2017

@ Robert Godwin - see my post about the different methods and applications.


By John Seymour on Feb 02, 2017


There is no doubt that the names are confusing a lot of people! But the two approaches are not necessarily mutually exclusive. Don Hutcheson's vision is for the two to be used together to make an even bigger gamut.

I agree that FM screening requires tighter process control and some presses just can't hold the tiny dots. But, the gamut benefit is that it "puffs out" the gamut so that you add in some pastels that normally wouldn't be available with CMYK.

So, I think perhaps there are three separate techniques that can work in tandem - running higher densities on CMYK, adding OGV, and running FM.


By Cary Sherburne on Feb 02, 2017

It seems to me that there is faster adoption of CMYKOVG in Europe. But I have done a couple of case studies here with big names (that need to remain anonymous, but think CPG and beverages) plus a major multi site converter, and they are fully on board with CMYK/OVG and reaping the benefits


By Gordon Pritchard on Feb 02, 2017

@John - I agreed that the two approaches are not mutually exclusive, however from a production and applications point of view they are very different.

In the first case the 4/C printer is simply upping their SIDs with no other changes to their production process (if you discount FM screening). In the second case you're looking at presses with more than four units, and greater complexity in prepress and sales/marketing, and in most cases I've been involved with, ink formulation issues for the extra colors (which are not necessarily OGV).

The problem with specifying FM screening in a standard is that it reduces the potential market size that can adopt the standard.


By John Seymour on Feb 02, 2017


One of the big holdups is simple inertia. It takes time and effort to change.

There are a few drawbacks to spot color replacement that might be objectionable to brand owners.

1) If the spot color is a pastel, it will be replaced by a halftone tint. The graininess of this might be a problem.

2) I said that CMYKOGV is inherently more stable than printing the same color with CMYK. But... subtle distinction here... A spot color by itself will show somewhat less variation on press than a CMYKOGV build of that color. And the variation of the single ink spot color will generally be in the direction of strength and not in the direction of hue shift.

3) There still are 10% of spot colors you can't print. You can play with this a bit by using red instead of orange or blue instead of violet, depending upon your product mix.

4) Moire patterns can be an issue with the screening, particularly in builds that include violet. (Note - I don't know for sure how different software deals with this.)

5) Speaking of software, it will likely take some work to find a collection of software that makes it all play together.


By Gordon Pritchard on Feb 02, 2017

@Cary, extended gamut printing has been heavily used around the world for labels and packaging. You hit the nail on the head when you wrote: "But I have done a couple of case studies here with big names (that need to remain anonymous, but think CPG and beverages) plus a major multi site converter" When I was marketing Spotless printing at Creo/Kodak I could not get any of our customers to do testimonials - they wanted to keep what they were doing a secret.


By Robert Godwin on Feb 02, 2017

BTW, great discussion here. Who knew!?!?


By Cary Sherburne on Feb 02, 2017

@gordon, so true and so sad. I have been trying to get an interview with a larger converter in the Dallas area for a long time, no luck. The beverage company presented at FTA but wouldn't put anything in writing. At least on the CPG, beverage and multi-site converter, we were able to get the story and use it anonymously. Not as powerful but still gets the word out there.

@John, besides something like Spotless or Equinox, some good ink formulation software helps! Interesting about the suggested addition of red ... also important to note the reduction in ink leftovers/waste ...


By Cary Sherburne on Feb 02, 2017

@Robert, happy to see the discussion. I have had an ECG article on the back burner for a while. Now I am inspired to go back at it again.


By Gordon Pritchard on Feb 02, 2017

@Cary - Contact me offline at pritchardgordon @ gmail (dot) com and I'll give you the name of a large label/packaging printer who used to provide me with samples of their expanded gamut work to use at trade shows and training events (I helped set them up back in the day). They've done hundreds of thousands of labels this way and advertise their process under their own brand so they are somewhat public about it - so they might talk to you.


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