Color naming

Manage customer color/quality needs across multiple print platforms

The most critical and difficult part of a print job, of course, is the beginning. A product promotion has been designed and created, the cases completed, and now it’s time to produce the work. Normally this is a tight deadline. The challenge? These media will need to be printed on multiple platform types, with different substrates, and on devices using different pigments. And possibly in different facilities, located in different countries. Oh, and the client would like the color to be as consistent as possible across all platforms.

It seems almost impossible, doesn’t it? But it does – with proper planning and taking the time to explain and visually show the customer what they can expect at the end.

There are a large number of print providers, all with varying levels of expertise, service, and quality. Producing work in a single installation on multiple devices can be a challenge; producing it in various facilities, with different suppliers, is even more so. Choosing a vendor based on how they manage their color workflow in the event that they need to use multiple output devices to produce a client’s work is paramount.

Enter the G7 methodology. This method was invented to do just that: to create a common appearance between various output devices and installations. By calibrating devices based on tone and a shared neutral appearance, parts printed on various platforms will share a similar appearance. The ISO/PAS 15339 standard, based on the G7 shared neutral aspect, has common data sets based specifically on different substrate types and printing conditions. All for one purpose, to create that similar look.

Various printing technologies will reproduce colors differently due to their native ink sets and imaging technologies. G7 enables a common appearance shared across all print process platforms.

Brand image and common imagery

Many companies use brand (or spot) colors as part of their brand identity. These colors are considered essential to the image that a company conveys. The association between the color(s) and the company is one that brand owners want to be very close. Ideally, they want their colors to automatically create an unconscious connection between the consumer, the company and its products.

Think colors like Kodak Yellow or Coke Red. These colors are effectively “memory colors” in the consumer’s mind, making them think of the company without seeing the name or knowing the product. Therefore, brand owners value the consistent reproduction of their brand color(s).

Reproducing brand colors, as well as other graphics and images, can sometimes present challenges, especially when the inks used on a particular device are used for both. For conventional printing processes (offset, flexo, gravure, etc.), brand colors can often be reproduced via separate spot colors in dedicated print units, while full color (CMYK) graphics are printed separately. However, in packaging applications in particular, it is not uncommon for spot colors and process colors to interact to achieve a particular color or effect. But the fact is that the brand colors can be processed separately and more easily.

When it comes to digital printing technologies, in some ways it may seem more complicated, but in others it is simpler. For example, most digital printing processes use primarily (or only) CMYK colorants (inks, toners, etc.), or they use extended gamut primaries (orange, green, and/or purple), and may even have the option of using a spot color. This may make reproduction of all graphics, including brand colors, more difficult. But the good news is that with good color management and good coordination between devices and processes, everything can be managed by software. Brand colors can be colorimetrically specified (L*a*b* values) so that various devices can reproduce them accurately.

But one of the most important things to consider, especially when trying to match brand colors, is understanding the color capabilities (or color gamut) of any system and its ability to accurately match the target colors. And, when multiple technologies are used to produce various printed parts, it is important to know which device has the smallest color gamut so that decisions can be made on how to reproduce color across all devices.

Old approaches to color management on various devices were cumbersome and inefficient, leading to unpredictable results.

The Realities of Exact Color Matching

At this point, the customer should see contract proofs that represent the color that will be achievable from any particular device on a given substrate. This is when customer questions or concerns may arise. Say, for example, that five samples are laid side by side for comparison. They represent the five different devices on five different substrates. The reality: Not all of them will match exactly.

Uncoated press sheet will appear slightly undersaturated due to the nature of the media it is printed on. Simply put, the physical nature of an uncoated media cannot build up the ink film thickness of a coated media, visually showing more color due to a higher level of saturation. But the gray balance, tonality and color shades will be comparable.

An about-face to this scenario would be the additional color that can be derived from a large format inkjet printer. These devices normally have a much wider color gamut than a traditional offset press. Show the client that it is possible to get more colors for their banners, static windows and POP media, while maintaining a common look with the same images from other output devices.

Solutions to manage color on all devices

As previously described, different devices with different dyes and on different substrates can potentially produce a wide range of colors from the same graphics. Therefore, in order to achieve similar colors across all of these platforms, graphics may need to be color adjusted. This can take the form of manual computer editing, which can be arduous, time-consuming, and ultimately not yield the best results. Or, newer software-based approaches can automatically adjust file colors very quickly, accurately, and objectively – and thus not be left to subjective adjustments associated with an individual.

Basically, these systems seek to understand the “source” (original device color output and condition, including substrate) and the “destination” (target device color output and condition, including substrate). Then the PDF files are simply dropped into a hot folder where, pixel by pixel and element by element, the graphics are converted from one condition to another. The L*a*b* color space is used to convert each element of a set of CMYK values ​​to a new set of CMYK values, so that you can get the color from the original device (the source) on the new device (the target).

Again, it automates the process, gets great results, and does it consistently regardless of the software operator. In fact, this software can be integrated directly into an automated workflow, so no keystrokes are needed, once everything is set up. Various solutions include ColorHub from Alwan, Zepra from ColorLogic, ColorServer from GMG and PressMatcher from Oris.

A color-managed workflow aligns all input and output devices using the CIELAB profile connection space so color can be
reproduced accurately and consistently across various platforms.

Long term color control

When print vendors are chosen for long-term production needs, a system that monitors a job’s color parameters during production should be used to help ensure color consistency. There are cloud-based systems that allow the customer to track the consistency of a job in real time while it is in production. Print quality settings are pre-determined by the facility and the customer.

Identifying and agreeing on targets and tolerances takes the guesswork out of the equation and enables the print facility to support color-critical and non-color-critical jobs. This saves time and money for both the facility and the customer. Expectations can be consistently met and color consistency can be built into every job!