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Implementing color management

Oct 1, 2002 12:00 AM


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What is color management? Depending on whom you ask, it can mean anything from using a densitometer to calibrating monitors to eyeballing jobs against originals.

But the recently released International Color Consortium (ICC) (Reston, VA) specification, as well as supporting software and hardware tools, enable users to achieve more accurate color reproduction with less cost and effort. An ICC-developed, standard, color-managed workflow profiles input, display and output devices. When a file is processed through a color-managed system, users can precisely map color across different devices with potentially different characteristics such as color space, density and hue, and get the same measured color results.

CONDUCT A POWWOW

If you want to implement or extend an ICC-based color-managed workflow, start by sitting down with all of your process partners. You'll want to include key players in the prepress/premedia areas, and, in some cases, key customers and their design production team. Discuss the implementation plan, making sure to clarify goals and responsibilities.

Next, choose the tools for characterizing and calibrating your devices: a colorimeter for monitors and a spectrophotometer for the proof and print output. (See “Getting to color faster,” September 2002, p. 30.)

PROFILING INPUT DEVICES

When profiling, start with the input devices. When choosing a profiling package, consider what measuring devices are supported (you'll want some flexibility), the editing tools and included targets. While some users profile their scanners and cameras, others rely on monitor profiles since they are capturing the data in Adobe Photoshop or similar programs. Nonetheless, profiling your input device will probably reduce objective-based color corrections. (Some people aren't satisfied with objective, true color-to-color reproduction and choose to do their own subjective, creative intervention.)

Profiling input devices requires forethought. If profiling a scanner, for example, consider that the standard profiling targets are available in different configurations, including film and print bases and emulsion types. Also, since the resultant profile is somewhat affected by the individual colors used in the targets themselves, some specialty targets have been developed to address a variety of issues not covered by the standard IT8 target, such as flesh tones and high- or low-key originals.

Targets, both IT8 and specialty, can cost from $100 to more than $800. Profiling an input device is typically done by scanning or shooting the target, then letting the computer read through the specific profiling-application software and measure the target data against the predefined values.

Comprehensive profiling packages are offered by GretagMacbeth, Creo, Kodak Professional, Heidelberg and ITEC. Other packages are offered by Pictographics, Praxisoft, Monaco Systems and E-Color.

After you've profiled your input devices, you can profile your display. LCD devices had previously been difficult to profile — you wouldn't want to use a suction cup designed for a CRT on an LCD — but today, there are solutions for both types. Displays are typically profiled by loading software and placing the measuring device on a predefined space on the display. The measuring device reads the colors on the display, compares them to the predefined values in the software and writes a profile.

PROFILING PRESSES AND PROOFERS

Once you have profiled input and display devices, you can move on to output devices — namely presses and proofers. First, a target file is printed to the output device with color-management controls turned off. Next, this printed target file is measured with a spectrophotometer through the profiling software against the predefined values. (As with input devices, specialty targets are available in addition to the standard IT8 target.)

Before profiling devices, choose the ink and media that will serve as company standards for proofing. You can always change these, but you'll have to re-profile the device. This is a bigger issue when profiling a press, because a variety of papers are typically used. Some software packages allow users to adjust/edit profiles for paper changes without reprinting and completely re-profiling the press, but they vary in capability.

The first step in profiling an output device is to create a baseline. This baseline becomes your calibration or starting point. In the case of inkjet proofers, it can also serve as a means of limiting ink density or creating a good gray balance, but ultimately it determines a predefined zero point.

After output devices have been profiled, editing is usually required. Some profiling packages offer automatic editing tools; others have manual tools that might be familiar to a drum-scanner operator, such as white point, black point, curves, gray balance, and wanted and unwanted color balance.

BEYOND PROFILING THE DEVICES

Implementing a color-managed workflow goes beyond profiling your devices, however. Once you have the profiles, you have to set up your production applications and clarify the roles of any outside process partners. Your ability to keep the settings in line is directly proportional to the number of workstations you have to manage. Solutions include ICC-aware RIPs, workflow servers and color-managed hot-folder solutions.

When setting up any of these processing solutions, you must select your target device. This could be as simple as SWOP, but if you are looking for a closer match to final press output, you might choose a press or the pressroom itself. Some people may hesitate to profile a pressroom with a wide range of presses, since each may print differently. Nonetheless, while the presses may be different, in most cases the ink hue sets are the same, enabling you to work with a common profile and, in extreme conditions, adjust for dot gain during the platemaking process. Also, you're probably using a single analog or digital-proofing system with fairly generic SWOP characteristics to create proofs for all of your equipment. So, for many operations, profiling the actual press inks represents an improvement from the status quo. (But before you create a pressroom profile, ensure that all the presses are running the same ink set.)

Color management can go beyond process colors. In fact, a real benefit of a color-managed workflow is that you can not only achieve a better Pantone match, but also specify non-Pantone colors by using a spectrophotometer and reading any swatch. If you are working with Hexachrome in an RGB image workflow, many of the newer profiling software packages do support this type of image processing. Color management enables you to start with a scan or digital-camera capture and maximize the reproduction with Hexachrome.

If your clients do their own image capture, color correction and proofing, share your pressroom profiles so their expectations reflect the output from your presses. Consider helping your clients implement their own color-managed workflows.

Successful color management requires regular and open communication. Each department plays a critical role. In the pressroom, factors such as proper maintenance, density and dot control, ink and water balance, and quality substrates all impact color management. In the prepress area, machine calibration is essential.

The advantages of implementing a color-managed workflow go well beyond just achieving a closer color match from design expectation through press output. Other benefits include reduced proof cycles, faster press makereadies and higher customer satisfaction.

Getting to color faster

For more on color management, see “Getting to color faster,” September 2002, p. 30. The article reviews the latest press-makeready developments and also features a sidebar that highlights manual and automated color-measurement devices from Beta Industries (Carlstadt, NJ); GretagMacbeth (New Windsor, NY); Tobias Associates (Warminister, PA) and X-Rite (Grandville, MI). Find it online at americanprinter.com.

Color-management news

REVISED ICC SPEC AVAILABLE

The International Color Consortium (ICC) (Reston, VA) has issued a major revision of its specification to eliminate ambiguities about output consistency and interoperability of different profiles and Color Management Modules (CMMs). Ambiguities in the previous version of the specification could sometimes allow producers of color profiles for specific devices to interpret the reference space differently. Thus, some color profiles from different vendors could be inconsistent, and some CMMs could interpret similar profiles in different ways.

The new spec — designated ICC.1:2001-12, Format for Color Profiles — can be downloaded free of charge at color.org.

BROWN INSTALLS COLORPROOF SYSTEM

Blanchard Systems (New Orleans) has installed its Vortex proofing solution, powered by a GMG (Tuebingen, Germany) ColorProof system, at the Woodstock, IL, location of Brown Printing.

ColorProof is a color-management software system that calibrates inkjet proofing engines to produce digital-contract color proofs, color-matched to a printing press. It was integrated along with server hardware from Blanchard Systems as part of a complete Vortex proofing solution. The system was installed to help linearize proofs to create color profiles of the Woodstock presses, and to provide customer contract proofs using less-expensive inkjet technology.

The GMG ColorProof system consists of the ColorProof basic software, which includes color engine, profile editor and RIP, and output modules for various printing devices. The core element is a 4-D color-transformation engine, which reportedly ensures the highest possible contract-proof quality on a variety of output devices. To calibrate the system, all standard color targets can be automatically measured, using a colorimeter. Device-independent color profiles can be stored, which, when combined with the system's linearization tools, enables it to be used for remote-proofing applications.

GMG ColorProof supports all standard spot-color systems up to 64 individual color channels, and is compatible with standard ICC profiles, which can be combined with GMG profiles. The GMG ColorProof system features a variety of workflow capabilities, and handles a range of file formats, including TIFF-IT, DCS, PostScript and PDF (up to level 1.4).
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COLOR-MATCHING PROOFING TECHNOLOGY

Fuji Photo Film U.S.A.'s (Hanover Park, IL) new color-matching technology, MatchCertified, enables the company's FinalProof and PictroProof to match printing conditions and ink sets at an accuracy level said to be impossible with competitive proofing devices. Unlike other color-management systems for digital proofing devices that weigh all colors equally, MatchCertified creates color look-up tables (LUTs) based on human visual-perception characteristics. Added importance is given to difficult-to-match colors, such as neutrals, flesh tones and “memory” colors.

Once a MatchCertified LUT is produced and verified, Fujifilm will produce a MatchCertified logo for use in the non-printing area of a FinalProof or PictroProof. This seal assures printers' customers that the proof will match on press. The standard MatchCertified LUTs that ship with FinalProof are: commercial CR-T3 standard dot gain, commercial CR-T4 low dot gain and a SWOP-certified LUT.

In addition, one custom MatchCertified LUT will be performed for each FinalProof at no cost. Additional LUTs can be purchased for $2,500 each.
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COLOR-MANAGEMENT SOFTWARE

Monaco Systems Inc.'s (Andover, MA) MonacoProfiler 4.5 includes support for Microsoft Windows 98/2000/ME/XP and upcoming support for Macintosh OS X. It provides an integrated solution for creating ICC profiles for input devices, monitors and color output devices, including printing presses and digital proofing systems.

CMYK and multichannel output profiles reportedly give reds, greens and yellows more shape and detail. Oranges have increased saturation and shape, and RGB output profiles have improved reds. Users can manipulate lightness, saturation and individual color curves, as well as change the way color is transformed from the printer's color space into L*a*b color space.

MonacoProfiler supports X-Rite's Spectrofiler scanning spectrophotometer, the original GretagMacbeth ColorChecker target, the Eye-One UV spectrophotometer and the reflective Hutchcolor target.
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COLORIMETER INTERFACE

Wasatch Computer Technology has engineered a new interface for GretagMacbeth's Eye-One colorimeter. When linked with Wasatch SoftRIP 4.4 RIP and print-management software, the color-measurement device can be used to scan ink limit and linearization targets during the printer calibration process. Once color is recorded through Eye-One, SoftRIP's SpotOn utility can automatically store it in the SoftRIP color database, allowing it to be output directly through any ICC profile specified. The Eye-One colorimeter is also used within the SoftRIP ICC workflow to create ICC profiles with third-party profiling software. The interface is included in the most recent update of SoftRIP 4.4, and can be obtained at no charge by users with a current service contract.
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MULTISITE SPECTRODENSITOMETER

X-Rite's (Grandville, MI) 939 portable 0∞/45∞ spectrodensitometer targets multisite and multi-unit users. It features a high-resolution, 31-point spectral engine that reportedly yields an average agreement of 0.15 delta-E and a maximum of 0.30 delta-E. The spectrodensitometer can store more than 3,000 color references and samples, and is said to be easy to calibrate for either black-and-white or color validation. It is fully supported by the company's Color Master software. Optional changeable aperture sizes (4 mm, 8 mm and 16 mm) enable the user to test small and large samples. The new model is compatible with its predecessor, the 938 spectrodensitometer, and includes a data-interface emulation mode.
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SUPPORT FOR DESIGNJET 10/20PS PRINTERS

CGS Publishing Technologies International (Minneapolis), manufacturer of the ORIS Digital Proofing System, has added the newly SWOP-certified Hewlett-Packard DesignJet 10/20ps table-top printers to its supported inkjet proofing devices.

ORIS Color Tuner software, driving any inkjet printer, reportedly provides the exact degree of color controls required to enable the user to match the printing press. The system also includes selective color controls for the fine-tuning of individual CMYK and spot colors, easy printer linearization and fully automatic color calibration.

The ORIS Digital Proofing System already includes full support for Epson Stylus Pro models 5000, 5500, 7000, 7500, 9000, 9500 and 10000. All devices incorporate the CGS six-color ink set.
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HANDHELD SPECTROCOLORIMETER

Pantone's (Carlstadt, NJ) Color Cue portable spectrocolorimeter is programmed with Pantone Matching System data. It accelerates the color-management workflow by identifying the closest Pantone color of any flat surface and provides reproduction formulas for four-color process printing, Hexachrome six-color printing and Web design. The device is said to be the size of a miniature flashlight; it is powered by a standard 9-volt battery.
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FOUR COLOR-MEASUREMENT KITS

Beta Industries (Carlstadt, NJ) has designed four press-kit systems, each containing a color densitometer, a Betacolor viewer and a custom gray-balance color bar. The kits reportedly cost about the same as standalone densitometers from other manufacturers. System 1 includes a Betacolor S1 densitometer for basic density measurements. System 2's S2 densitometer measures density and dot gain, and is optimized for the two-color press. System 4 includes a Betacolor S4 densitometer with advanced features for the four-color press. System 7 includes a Betacolor 2000 spectrodensitometer, reportedly with true seven-color densitometer functions and spectrophotometer measurements.
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