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Back to Basics

Colour Management

Colour management systems ensure that you can promise consistent, accurate colour, every time. Summer Brooks talks to those pioneering quality colour management systems

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How have the requirements for colour management changed and how can print companies ensure they are offering consistent, quality colour?

A renaissance of colour

Pantone’s Colour of the Year was revealed to be an ‘animating and life-affirming coral hue’ in the form of PANTONE 16-1546 Living Coral, which the company says was chosen to offer a nurturing relief from the ‘onslaught of digital technology’. Whilst digital technologies in print are making colour management easier for print companies, everyone is still striving to achieve higher accuracy than before. In the world of print, keeping colour consistent is paramount to retaining clients.

Every production press from Xerox includes built-in advanced colour process controls to help print-service-providers (PSPs) deliver consistent and “confident” colour. Kevin O’Donnell, Xerox’s head of marketing for graphic communications and production systems, says that the firm’s software solutions work with existing workflows to “maximise predication and accurate colour output”.

The Xerox Colour C60/C70 printer offers a choice of print servers to allow users to boost colour management

He comments: “Colour is critical to any business; it can improve recognition, change perceptions and add confidence to brands and products. So, printers must prove they can produce consistent output across print runs, reduce waste and increase capacity at the same cost, or risk losing contracts. PSPs need the right quality colour management in place to meet these ever-increasing industry standards and differentiate themselves in a competitive market.”

Factoid: The International Color Consortium was formed in 1993 by eight vendors (Adobe, Agfa, Apple, Kodak, Microsoft, Silicon Graphics, Sun Microsystems, and Taligent) to create an open, vendor-neutral colour management system .  O

O’Donnell has bore witness to many changes in the industry over the years and colour management is no exception. “In the early days of the ICC [International Color Consortium], media was not fabricated with optical brightener, which resulted in a standardised colorimetric reading where the white point of the destination process was used to define what was perceived as neutral,” he comments. “Yet media containing optical brighteners is increasingly popular and makes matching colour between substrates more difficult. For several years now, CMI – such as Xerox SaaS Colour Management – has successfully provided its users with the ability to create a new type of ICC profile: one that accommodates the white point and dynamic range differences of paper using simulation profiles.”

The print standard

Heidelberg UK’s head of colour services, Paul Chamberlain, says that for brands and marketeers, there is no happy medium when it comes to colour accuracy. “Brands and marketeers cannot and will not accept compromise when it comes to colour,” he says. “Top quality and repeatability are expected and many tenders today from end users and print management companies demand evidence of colour management credentials. Having certification – which applies to a specific press – or a full print colour management audit and implementation across the press room can be a real advantage.”

Brands and marketeers cannot and will not accept compromise when it comes to colour

It is becoming an expected standard within the industry, and many print companies are already certified. The ISO 12647-2 certification has become the universal quality reference for offset printing, but recently more digital print companies have also started to adopt the certification.  It signifies to companies outside of the industry that when it comes to colour quality, they can rest assured the certified company has the systems in place to deliver consistent colour across all prints. “We can also supply information on different screening methods, colour tools – software and hardware – and have the expertise to look at the behaviour not only of the presses but the screening, paper and consumables used as well in a quest for the very best colour,” Chamberlain adds.

Creation Reprographics committed to eliminating the use of solvent in its production line to reduce its environmental impact

Creation Reprographics is a specialist packaging artwork, reprographics, plate and screen producer based in Daventry. The company works with a number of converters in the label and flexible packaging sectors to turn brand designs into end products. Matt Francklow, managing director of the firm, says that in the world of packaging, colour is king. “Colour management is, at the end of the day, core to everything we do,” he comments. “Ensuring we deliver consistent, stand out graphic designs across multiple substrates and multiple printing lines, wherever and whenever they run jobs. Fundamentally, we operate two central colour management solutions from GMG and Esko to manage this process. From our experience, these solutions have proved to be the most comprehensive and adaptable, allowing us to offer consistency and quality to our customers.”

Driving sustainable practices

Francklow adds that whilst colour consistency is what every print company is trying to achieve, the need for sustainable process has driven innovation within colour management systems. “We find that many of our customers are aiming to combine strong sustainability credentials with robust colour management. One of the most effective ways to innovate in this field has been fixed colour palette printing, also known as extended gamut, which replaces the need for spot colour inks by using a fixed ink set, most commonly CMYK or CMYK/OGV. The key to continually innovating in colour management is being able to offer flexibility and impactful design while limiting the need for extraneous colours and waste, which is not always as simple as it may seem when a brand has a wide range of spot colours in their brand palette.”

The key to continually innovating in colour management is being able to offer flexibility and impactful design while limiting the need for extraneous colours and waste

Francklow continues: “The technology driving colour management has undergone somewhat of a renaissance as the need for responsible, sustainable processes has increased. We’ve seen growing digitalisation accompanied by a sharp incline in the use of spectrophotometers on the press and in the ink department.

“By measuring light wave frequencies directly from the substrate, we are afforded levels of accuracy and consistency that previously weren’t possible; we can therefore colour match under more variable conditions than ever before. We use this to linearise our print set-ups today and maintain strong, impactful colour laydown consistently and accurately.”

O’Donnell of Xerox says that by automating the process, print companies can guarantee consistency, speed and
accuracy, whilst releasing time back to the print business that could be better spent in other areas. “As customers add an ever-increasing number of product variants to their repertoire, print-service-providers must keep pace with shorter packaging or label lifecycles. This in turn complicates the production process – as jobs get smaller, inefficiencies in the print process can become exposed. With smaller run lengths, more jobs need to be pushed too, which can increase the cost of production. At the same time, there is increasing pressure to meet customer demand for high quality print products at a quick turnaround.”

He warns that companies considering a new system need to ensure it can work with existing systems or replaces them completely. “It can also be challenging to introduce a new system to multiple existing systems,” adds O’Donnell. “As solutions become more complex, the resources to properly run a new solution are stretched and operators struggle to evolve their skillset. Added to these challenges is the fact that printing in colour adds incremental cost in comparison black and white. The print marketplace is as competitive as ever, and price
pressure continues to rise.”

Pushing the boundaries

Francklow comments: “Colour management technology doesn’t stay still for long, and it’s our role to make sure our customers can take advantage of software and hardware developments that keep them ahead of the game. The rapid advances in plate technology have ensured a colour gamut that has been previously unobtainable within flexographic print in order to compete with gravure and litho printing. One of the key challenges for all businesses in terms of colour management is consistently pushing the boundaries of fixed colour palette printing and giving every print process the same impact and definition that gravure printing has.

The aim of colour management is to ensure colour remains the same from run to run, and from site to site

“Converting a range of products for a brand, with perhaps over 50 spot colours, into a fixed colour printing system can be executed easily in theory, but the reality of operating a flexo press can be very different and create inconsistencies not considered. From managing aniloxes, doctor blades, ink formulations, substrates and so on, the inconsistencies that can be introduced into the system that have to be managed to retain the success of the fixed palette process can be considerable and that is always the challenge for the modern printer.”

Heidelberg has run its own ISO12647-2 certification scheme for some time, which involves auditing and implementing a colour monitoring process on each press that is to be certified. Heidelberg UK’s Print Colour Club currently has 26 member companies which have one or more presses certified. Whilst there is yet to be a standard defined for digital print due the vast range of technologies at play, Heidelberg says it is able to provide advice that enables digital to “emulate the controls achievable in litho”.

Heidelberg has been running its own certification scheme for some time, as the company is a member of the ICC

“The name Heidelberg and colour quality are synonymous and are important whether the customer is running litho or digital presses,” says Chamberlain. “Indeed, the fact that Heidelberg has its own Digital Front End and the colour-know how has been crucial for the strong Versafire EP and EV sales in the UK.”

Colour management should be seamlessly automated within the workflow

O’Donnell adds that printers should assess how well any new software integrates with the broader workflow already in place, and once set up “colour management should be seamlessly automated within the workflow,” he adds.

Francklow concludes: “Consistency is king, and a robust strategy begins in the pressroom. From dot gain correction to sequencing, a fast make-ready must never compromise colour consistency. Operationally, in practice this is achieved through strict controls and procedures that unlock job-to-job repeatability. At Creation, we understand the need for a holistic approach during colour management and the impact it has in each stage of the design and reprographics process – and how critical it is to bringing packaging to life. We also spend a lot of time with our clients ensuring their expectations are understood and managed based on their chosen converter’s production capability. This extra effort in building relationships and communications can make the difference in delivering colour management excellence.”

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