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Colour Management Software

As the countryside bursts into life with the first signs of spring, Harriet Gordon considers the importance of managing your colour in the wide-format sector to ensure the highest quality result

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50 shades of colour

There are few things so directly evocative and emotive as colour. A certain shade, presented at the right time in the right way, can transport you to another place and time, can instantly induce emotions and feelings, or change the entire aspect of whatever it adorns. Colour, then, has to be one of the most important tools in a marketing firm’s repertoire. And controlling it, one of the most important jobs of a printer. Not only does colour determine the mood of a piece of print, it can also be the defining feature of a brand—no wonder, then, that consumers are becoming more demanding and less tolerant of even the slightest variation in shade.

These increasing expectations pose both a challenge and an opportunity for sign-makers. The challenge, of course, is meeting the exacting demands of clients, but if this can be achieved, it presents the opportunity of standing out from the crowd for the quality and control of your colour.

Be bold

Of course, print-service-providers cannot achieve such precision based on best practice alone. If you want to ensure top-quality, accurate colour every time, a commitment is also required from the manufacturers and suppliers of your kit.

Steve Collins, product marketing and channel manager at Agfa Graphics, explains the specific challenges facing the wide-format market when it comes to controlling colour: “It is important that we offer proper support to wide-format printers on colour management. These firms print on a wide variety of substrates and their requirements are totally different to the litho offset printers where only paper, cardboard or metal is used. In wide-format, we are asked to print onto all types of material: ceramics, glass, metal, plastic, paper, foils, fabrics... I could go on.

Steve Collins from Agfa Graphics says that the wide variety of substrates that sign-makers print on makes their colour management requirements totally different to litho offset printers

“It still remains a challenge to print colours consistently. There’s a lot of manual colour manipulation happening: by using sliders or pulling on curves, the colour saturation gets altered. These manual changes cannot be repeated and cause major challenges for consistent brand colour reprhoduction. All job preparation should be done up front: such as applying functions like tiling, nesting, cut path verification/creation, as well as (and especially), the colour set up.”

Enter Agfa’s complete, automated sign and display production hub: Asanti. Featuring Agfa Graphics’ award-winning colour management solution, Collins claims the workflow software can prevent errors and simplify the entire printing process.

Asanti is Agfa’s automated sign and display production hub, which includes an award-winning colour management solution

He continues: “Asanti, straight out-of-the-box, includes a set of certified CPM’s (calibrated printing modes). These include pre-defined colour profiles, screens, and calibration curves that are applicable to specific Agfa engines and for a particular printing quality. As a result of these certified CPMs the standard quality of the Agfa solution is already high.

Agfa’s Asanti includes a set of certified CPM’s (calibrated printing modes), which include pre-defined colour profiles, screens, and calibration curves

“To further improve this quality, Agfa offers its customers a patented technology to modify these certified CPMs within 15 minutes. During those 15 minutes, the customer is guided through a wizard to adapt the certified CPMs.

The result of the process is a significant improvement in grey balance reproduction and better colour output. This wizard includes an artificial intelligence engine: each time you run the wizard, it will focus on areas where the colour output is weaker than the previous routine.”

The magic touch

Another firm keen to work their magic on your colour management concerns is GMG Color. This family-owned company has serviced the graphics arts industry for over 30 years, as business development manager Paul Bromley explains: “GMG understands that the earlier we can control the colour space, the less waste will be incurred and the final results are less likely to be a surprise.

GMG understands that the earlier we can control the colour space, the less waste will be incurred and the final results are less likely to be a surprise

“Colour control within the wide-format marketplace is normally a simple task when working with one device and one material. The challenge creeps in when you have multiple devices or technologies and multiple substrate types, which is common place in the signage sector. If you are printing one job on foamex then the next on aluminum composite, the issue of whether to use the same profile on both substrates needs to be very carefully considered.

The white point may be totally different and the substrates may not accept the same laydown of ink. In this case, you should move to bespoke profiles for each substrate, which can then be easily adapted for the differing white point or coating of one batch of material to the next.”

Bromley continues: “GMG’s Color Server is helping multiple large-format printers get consistent colour output across a multitude of devices, technologies and substrates. The first job is always to interrogate the images and colour spaces assigned in the document: RGB images may sit within the file and may need converting pre-rip to avoid wasted time and money if spotted later in the printing process. Color Server intelligently spots the RGB or CMYK colour space and applies our industry-renowned MX4 conversion, ensuring we maintain the same visual perception of RGB but within the smaller CMYK colour space.”

Bromley highlights the most important aspect of workflow software: automation. The process he describes would normally be controlled by a pre-press team manually checking files or running them through a workflow solution. Automating this process, the time and cost (and potential errors) and manual labour are alleviated.

He continues: “GMG’s conversions allow for greater detail in shadow areas whilst also having the ability to achieve a neutral grey balance with ease, again due to the CMYK MX4 technology maintaining our purification of colour conversion without contamination of colours. Color Server doesn’t call in sick or need a lunchbreak and will happily process 500 files in exactly the same manner from File 1 to 500.”

Next in the process is proofing; GMG’s solution Color Proof comes pre-loaded with colour profiles of all common standards, so you can get started right away. Revealing his enthusiasm for effective colour management, GMG’s Bromley concludes: “Simple colour control is something that GMG pride ourselves on: a fantastic UK technical team backed by a very caring and pro-active helpdesk make the GMG range of products a rock solid investment that will happily ‘pay its way’ within any business, in a manner that is very easy to quantify.

“Making the process easy and repeatable gives great power to a business owner, so if staff move on, the system stays in place: all that is needed is a small re-training effort assisted by GMG. Most importantly, the business continues and the printed results remain sellable with minimum effort and disruption.”

Colour me happy

There is no doubt that colour control is an important topic in the wide-format industry right now and companies are taking notice. At the beginning of the year, OKI Systems launched its Color Painter E-64s, the new model in the Color Painter family, printers designed specifically with colour in mind.

OKI’s new Color Painter E-64s uses optical colour sensors designed to deliver the optimum level of colour for high-quality indoor and extra-durable outdoor applications

Using OKI’s high-pigment eco solvent SX ink, the firm claims that the Color Painter E-64s delivers the optimum level of colour for high-quality indoor and extra-durable outdoor applications at all print speeds. It includes technologies from higher-end models designed to ensure optimum results, including automatic printer adjustments using optical colour sensors, Smart Pass 4, Smart Nozzle Mapping 3, and Dynamic Dot Printing.

Frank Jänschke, general manager marketing for wide-format printers at OKI Europe, comments: “The Color Painter E-64s is a remarkable printer offering print businesses affordable entry to very profitable, high-precision, wide-format printing on a large spectrum of media which may have previously been unattainable.

“As an advanced and extremely versatile printer, packed with functionality, it successfully meets all the requirements in a field where commercial opportunities are expanding but must be seized quickly and effectively in order to maximise revenue.”

Looking to the future of colour management, GMG’s Bromley still sees room for improvement, predicting further developments in the pipeline that will continue to improve colour accuracy.

GMG Color’s Paul Bromley claims that the firm’s Color Server software is helping large-format printers achieve consistent colour output across a multitude of devices, technologies, and substrates

He explains: “Looking into measurement devices and also the challenge (or opportunity) of optical brighteners should also be considered. Ensuring consistent and repeatable print from day to day or week to week may not be an area of concern for all companies, but why wouldn’t you implement a simple process to control colour within your business?

“Substrates will always shift in colour, devices will always move from a stable point as the heads degrade and natural wear and tear occurs, operators will always tweak devices to achieve the best result which is often visual—a process to balance these issues is needed.

O Factoid: The human eye can distinguish about ten million different colours. O

“Indeed, it’s needed not only for colour measurement but also for profile building and PDF submission. Quicker ways to build profiles from minimal data would be a huge step forward, as would be developments in device and spectro integration, an area which is giving quick wins to businesses.

“The question the industry should really be asking now is how do we now take this to the next level? The next step is to be able to measure data once and then generate reports or even build a new profile, without stopping the device from its current workload.”

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