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Divine intervention

Sep 1, 2005 12:00 AM


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Prepress

Matthews Packaging Graphics & Design (Pittsburgh) and Heidelberg (Kennesaw, GA) speak the same language—the language of color—thanks to Matthews PG&D’s multiple installations of Heidelberg’s PrintOpen color profiling software. According to operations manager Kevin Chop, Matthews PG&D’s Pittsburgh facility has been working with PrintOpen for the past three years, as have company facilities located in Alameda, CA, and St. Louis. The company currently is working to bring its Atlanta, Dallas and Kansas City, MO, facilities online with PrintOpen. The parent company, Matthews Intl., is a leading provider of prepress and imaging systems used by corrugated and flexible packaging manufacturers to reproduce text, graphics, logos, bar codes and other images and tooling on packaging materials. Chop says, “As a result of acquisition and diversification, Matthews has developed the capability to work with brand owners at different levels.”

Matthews PG&D provides creative design, prepress, digital asset management, 3-D renderings, digital photography and Web site development to the packaging industry and its end-users, primarily consumer product companies, converters and ad agency customers. The company provides early support and expertise in planning, developing and integrating media programs of all types.

A common thread
International Color Consortium (ICC) profiles provide the basis for what has become a standardized communication tool—a language of color. The importance of color profiling is based on the fact that process control and quality assurance are integral to the efficiency of the distributed production process that involves the calibration of individual devices and the definition and monitoring of all press parameters, such as paper and ink density. Once the properties of the various input and output processes have been defined, color management should be able to ensure communication among the various processes. With Heidelberg’s PrintOpen, says Chop, it can.

Matthews’ prepress specialties include color management (ICC profiling); development of brand owners’ color standards; digital workflows; digital photography; auto- and interactive trapping; digital proofing; calibrated film output; flexographic digital plates; high-resolution color scanning; and conventional, stochastic and hybrid screening. With PrintOpen, Chop says, “We can take color profiling way upstream to the planning and design stage in an effort to scrub time, labor and the potential for error from the project cycle.”

Matchmaker, matchmaker…
With 11 North American and eight European locations, Matthews Intl. has a global network of contacts that enables it to meet the needs of its brand-owner customers. Chop explains that Matthews PG&D occasionally provides “mock-ups color-managed to a particular print discipline or print environment,” as well as some design work. As a prepress and brand ownership manager, however, Matthews’ primary business is controlling the brand assets. The company works with ad agencies, manufacturers, printers and publishers to match the brand owner’s requirements the appropriate output discipline, from flexography to offset and screen-printing to gravure, based on the requirements of the brand owner, the value of packaging assets, and the technical requirements of the project at hand.

A typical example involves ensuring a pressure-sensitive label for a soft-drink bottle and its folding carton carrier are color-coordinated, regardless of the printing technology. In this instance, flexography is used for the pressure-sensitive label; gravure for the carrier. Matthews’ expertise with color management secures its niche.

Welcome to my space
The color spaces of printing presses can differ for many reasons, including different inks, paper grades or inking sequences. To ensure reliable color reproduction, all input units involved in the process must communicate in the correct colors with all output devices.

Color profiling ensures the accuracy of critical data needed for consistent and repeatable reproduction. “PrintOpen is extremely versatile,” Chop says. “We use it for flexo, offset, screen, gravure and all the sub-disciplines within each category.” PrintOpen is one of two components in Heidelberg’s Prinect Profile Toolbox. The other, Quality Monitor, fulfills process monitoring tasks and checks the color quality of proofs and prints. Matthews PG&D uses both components.

Brand owners perceive the value of Matthews’ involvement in terms of consistency, control and Matthews’ ability to keep tabs on its all-important brand assets. However, Chop says Matthews also recognizes that “most people in procurement want the proof, not the color details, even though they are important.” He adds, “We can educate everyone involved that device- and process-independent CIELab (color space) values can be achieved and applied.”

Chop explains that Matthews PG&D does not get involved in setting up a relationship between the brand owner and print provider, and makes no recommendations unless asked. Typically, says Chop, the brand owner/customer already will have chosen a print provider. “Once asked, however, Matthews gets the ball rolling by notifying the printer that it has a project coming in,” he says.

According to Chop, PrintOpen first generates a “print form” (fingerprint, characterization or test pattern), which is output via the selected flexographic, offset or gravure device. “By running a form on press, you’re taking a snapshot of the specific press environment, including the actual inks that will be used once the job is on press,” Chop says. “You then feed the printed result into PrintOpen, measure it spectrophotometrically, and use the result to calculate the ICC profiles for a selected press, based on the specific image content of a project.”

Matthews calibrates the presses and deploys a project-based team to oversee the customer’s job as it nears press time. “We’ve grown up from offering primarily prepress services,” Chop explains. “Consequently, we also look at the printer as our customer, and we can show the benefit of our involvement in accurate color management and enhanced proofing. We make the printer look good to the brand owner.”

What the eye can’t see
“Like beauty, color may exist in the eye of the beholder,” says Raymond Cassino, Heidelberg USA’s director of product management, Prepress. He explains that in a fiercely competitive market, a provider’s ability to win and retain customers often depends on having a reliable method for reproducing color.

The key is to look beyond the visual perception of individuals involved in the proofing process. Cassino explains, “Colors we see on a computer monitor are not an accurate representation of what will appear on paper. Monitor calibration (or lack of calibration) and ambient conditions (lighting, temperature) can significantly affect how color is perceived onscreen during the design and prepress stages. Further downstream, the color spaces of printing presses can vary according to type of ink, inking sequences and paper grade.”

Cassino advocates achieving reliable color reproduction by ensuring all input units can communicate the correct colors to all output devices. How? With a standardized, open, vendor-neutral color management system. “The need for [this] became clear when the growing popularity of desktop graphic programs took control of the image away from the printer or prepress house and made it available to everyone,” he says. “Unfortunately, these desktop tools could not guarantee the quality of file reproductions when it came to printing.”

In 1993, the Intl. Color Consortium (ICC) developed a set of image source standards designed to remove as much subjectivity as possible to help ensure predictable, repeatable color reproduction.

One focus of these standards is color profiling, which, as Cassino notes, is an important factor in process control, quality assurance and production efficiency. “ICC-based color management uses ‘profiles’ to tag images,” he explains. “From input to output, the process involves calibration of individual devices (proofing systems) and the definition and monitoring of all press parameters such as paper, ink, print density, etc. Once properties of the input and output processes have been defined, color management ensures communication among them.”

Increasing color consistency from print run to print run and process to process, as well as from one media type to the next, enables printers to preserve the integrity of their clients’ brands. “Color management affects the entire printing process—from label to folding carton carrier to POP displays—regardless of the print discipline involved (flexo, gravure, offset, etc.),” says Cassino.

Eliminating the guesswork
Cassino is quick to acknowledge the trickier aspects of color management, citing a number of problems including the use of uncalibrated input and output devices, and the process of converting images created in RGB or CIELab to CMYK for print applications. “These problems stem from a common source,” he says. “Designers, photographers, ad agencies and other file originators frequently create images that are incompatible with real-life press environments.”

Just as a user cannot judge color accurately on an uncalibrated monitor, Cassino explains, color cannot be reproduced accurately on an uncalibrated proofer or press. Instead, professional color management relies on the numeric values representing every pixel of an image. “This is the essence of color management and the value of color profiling,” he says. “If this offends some artistic sensibilities, it is a necessary precaution to take if the goal is to build a file that can be reproduced accurately on press.”

Dueling workflows
Understanding color management enables a person to choose the appropriate printing process (offset, flexo, gravure or screen) for a job. “By the same token,” Cassino says, “practical knowledge of printing processes—including the behavior of inks, coatings and substrates—is essential to effective color management.” High-end sheetfed offset production of color-critical materials—such as advertising for automobiles, cosmetics, textiles, or liquid or metal items—carries different requirements than ads for less brand-sensitive items. Says Cassino, “Brand sensitivity determines what the level of production and scrutiny is likely to be, and it will have a direct bearing on the economics involved.”

Today it is possible to print on virtually anything from plastics to corrugated cardboard. However, “A considerable level of technical sophistication is needed to produce saleable results from press to press and process to process,” Cassino cautions. “To avoid finger-pointing and temper tantrums, a printer can offer a high level of expertise in color management, and a color management expert can understand the possibilities inherent in choice of process.”

It helps to have the right tools. A number of user-friendly plug-ins are available to help reconcile prepress and print production workflows for maximum consistency. “As we have seen, however, an approach that combines a thorough knowledge of color and process will inform any fully integrated approach to workflow management,” says Cassino. “It is here, in the no man’s land between prepress and press, that proven, real-world experience can pay for itself.

Goodbye, trial-and-error
Chop is a former scanner operator who appreciates PrintOpen’s ability to match disparate color spaces at every stage of the project cycle. PrintOpen’s automatically generated monitor image, which reproduces the color impression of the image that will be seen in print, represents a tremendous time and labor savings vs. attempting to achieve the same result manually.

Color profiling yields color fidelity, fewer misprints, greater efficiency, waste reduction and lower costs over the long term. “If you are used to dealing with conventional separations, PrintOpen is a godsend,” Chop says. “Other tools are able to evaluate and edit color profiles, but PrintOpen is miles and miles ahead. It’s a thoroughly professional tool. It speaks the language of color separation.”

Visit Matthews Packaging Graphics & Design online at www.matthewsgsd.com. Learn more about Heidelberg’s Prinect Profile Toolbox and PrintOpen at



PrintOpen
Part of the Prinect Profile Toolbox, PrintOpen 5.1 generates ICC output profiles for color printers, color copiers, proofers and printing presses based on general print standards or individual requirements. It also can generate device link profiles, including functions for correcting the gray balance, gradation and dot gain. Once a test chart has been output, all major measuring devices can read it. A profile smoothing function detects and smoothes out fluctuations in the measurement data that are caused by different measuring devices.

PrintOpen measures real spectral values of the color fields. Values such as LAB, XYZ, CMYK or density values can be determined, then processed in a number of ways. PrintOpen corrects on a spectral basis fluorescent brighteners in papers that are interpreted as bluish cast by measuring devices and thus lead to errors in profile generation.



The ABCs of color management
Effective color management:

  • Controls the look and feel of graphics across multiple print disciplines.
  • Ensures the accuracy of critical data needed for consistent and repeatable reproduction, regardless of the output mode, substrate, inks and other variables.
  • Makes it easier to repurpose files for printing on a variety of devices under different ambient conditions in colors that match the original intent.
  • Specifies production conditions and defines applicable color standards.
Additional benefits include:
  • Cost and waste reduction (fewer misprints).
  • Greater efficiency and productivity (shorter make-readies).
  • Improved communication.
  • Customer satisfaction.
  • Greater reliability and consistency in print quality.
  • Accurate proofs.


Accuracy earns accolades
At Western Michigan University (WMU) (Kalamazoo, MI), Dr. Abhay Sharma performed an independent evaluation of current software products ranked by colorimetric accuracy. Results of the WMU comparative assessment were reported in, “Measuring the Quality of ICC Profiles and Color Management Software,” The Seybold Report, January 25, 2005. Of the nine printer profiles evaluated for the study, Heidelberg PrintOpen was said to create the most accurate color profile. According to the report: “The assessment of ICC profiles and color reproduction is complex, involving everything from color science, psychophysics and image analysis to ‘preferred’ reproduction styles. Our approach is to evaluate the accuracy of profiles using the colorimetric intent, which is used in many workflows to print and repurpose images and for soft and press proofing. Evaluations based on the colorimetric intent provide an indicative set of metric figures that can be used to make valid cross-vendor comparisons. …Heidelberg PrintOpen (sic) created the most accurate profile in our tests.”

Sharma reported Heidelberg achieved the lowest Delta E average derived from the printing and proofing profiles. Additionally, he notes, “PrintOpen now provides a mechanism to iteratively lower the (Delta E) figure even farther, although this option was not selected for the test.”

Dr. Abhay Sharma recently accepted a position as Chair of the School of Graphic Communications Management, Ryerson University (Toronto).

IPA—The Assn. of Graphic Solutions Providers recently sponsored a pair of Webinars examining the findings of the WMU report. See www.ipa.org/profile.