Color accuracy and consistency are essential to brand management. Designers and consumer product companies want color reproduction they can rely on. The struggle is ongoing but there are improved software and hardware tools available that work with profiles to automatically calibrate prepress workflows, proofing systems, and the press run itself. Color by the numbers is working today.
It’s significant that these tools are “talking” to each other as never before so that a project—from design to finishing—can meet standards like SWOP and GRACoL. CIP3 and CIP4 compatibility now joins prepress and press in ways that bridge islands of automation and promote color accuracy.
“The big thing in packaging is the different substrates and different inks,” says David Hunter, principal of Pilot Marketing in Minneapolis. “The challenge is to reproduce brand colors consistently across multiple substrates and in multiple combinations.”
Pilot Marketing, founded by Hunter in 1994, is a national organization that helps software companies build awareness of their technologies in the reseller channel. In addition, according to vendors in the field, interest in color management tools and standards is moving upstream. While they all agree that the majority of their customers are prepress houses and converters, they see a budding trend of interest in color management and standards like FIRST, GRACoL, and SWOP among designers and consumer product companies.
James Summers, president of GMG Americas, sees brand managers within consumer product companies buying some of his company’s products. “They want to shorten their time to market and are interested in color management for brand identity purposes. It’s a matter of quality control,” he says. “They’re coming to us and asking, ‘How do we work better with prepress companies?’ It’s happening much faster than I thought it would.”
Hunter also notes that there is more interest upstream in color management software and standards, for example the intelligent software from Alwan Color Expertise—one of their manufacturing partners. Larry Moore, EskoArtwork’s technical resource manager, says that some design houses have “taken the plunge” with his company’s prepress workflow products.
Upstream products of interest
EskoArtwork’s Kaleidoscope is a device-independent color engine that’s been around for over 15 years but is updated regularly so it remains cutting-edge. It is the underlying color management structure for EskoArtwork products from desktop plug-ins to RIPing. Today it is part of FlexProof for inkjet proofing, PackEdge, a packaging preproduction editor, Equinox, an extended gamut printing solution, and more.
According to Moore, Kaleidoscope has changed quite a bit recently. “It is more user-friendly and intuitive,” he says. “There are new features pertaining to modeling, for example variables for different printing processes.” Its color management combines CMYK (colorimetric) profiles with patented special color (spectral) profiles developed through its InkProfiling technology. Special colors are individually profiled and stored in a database. What’s new here, Moore explains, is that it now offers easy-to-use algorithms that make adding new ink readings much easier. “Kaleidoscope can also store and export ICC profiles,” Moore says. “However, the profiles we use in the product contain a lot more data.”
GMG has always supported the packaging space. Summers explains that their products span proofing, prototyping, and pressroom controls. “The introduction of the wide-gamut inkjet printers from Epson, especially with its new ability to reproduce white, and HP and Canon mean that all the top aqueous inkjet suppliers have offerings in this space. This is very helpful in producing proofs for expanded gamut printing as well as being able to hit files with CMYK and spot colors,” he says.
Greater color accuracy from expanded gamut inkjets printing with UV inks is also changing the face of prototyping. “People want to prototype new ideas,” Summers says. “With UV inkjet that can print on the actual substrate that will be used, such as sheet metal, cardboard, and clear materials, you can make a realistic prototype. Before you could inkjet onto a box but it was ‘kind-of-but-not-really.’”
In fact, he reports that in Europe, companies are using the UV inkjet output for final products. To date there have been reports of limited-edition beer kegs on sheet aluminum, cookie and chocolate packages to name a few. GMG showed this capability at Print 09 with a combination of its ColorServer and SmartProfiler driving a Mimaki inkjet device.
Litho press wonders
Many offset press manufacturers in the packaging space—Heidelberg, KBA, Komori, Mitsubishi—also build machines with color management consoles and inline color controls. For example, KBA North America in Dallas recently announced that Boehmer Box, a specialist in the offset printing of paperboard packaging based in Kitchener, Ontario, is installing a new Rapida 142 56" six-color sheetfed press. It is equipped with the company’s Densitronic Pro, a combined density and color measuring system. Deviations from defined target densities, color values and other quality parameters (dot gain, trapping, etc.) are recognized and displayed. With integration for online control, the density and spectral deviations are converted into corrective adjustments for the individual ink keys. The Densitronic Pro controls the density and spectral parameters of each sheet by measuring along control strips or directly on the image.
A Heidelberg customer, Diamond Packaging in Rochester, NY, exemplifies how significant inline color control is. Diamond recently installed a state-of-the-art, UV-capable, eight-color Heidelberg Speedmaster XL 105 in a special configuration. The 15-station lineup on the press is: a flexo unit followed by two drying units, then eight litho units, an extended delivery unit, another flexo unit, and two more dryers. The arrangement lets the company produce high-gloss applications with dispersion or other coatings, in addition to gold, silver or other special effects.
With customers in the cosmetic, health and personal care, pharmaceutical, nutraceutical and food and confectionery industries, color reproduction is critical at Diamond. All three of its Heidelberg presses have the Prinect Press Center control console and the Prinect Inpress Control inline color and register control system.
“We use the color management console on all three presses,” says Dave Rydell, Diamond’s vice president of technology development. “It’s a great system and we are very reliant on it.” Rydell describes how color management in the pressroom has enabled them to handle client colors more efficiently. “We used to save jobs,” he says, “but finding the right job to repeat certain colors took a lot of time. Now, when we get customer approvals, we save the color as in L*a*b* for a color formula. Now we can call up colors out of our library and add new colors as well.”
In prepress, the company uses a workflow system that feeds the press control console with CIP 4 data. For proofing Diamond works with the Kodak Veris inkjet proofer and proofs and prints to the SWOP standard for #3 grade proofing stock. “Color management is a huge piece of the puzzle for us but we’re using a closed-loop system successfully,” Rydell says. “And, without it, we couldn’t manage the decorative capabilities of the new press.”
More pressroom controls
For color control in the pressroom, GMG offers the software solutions PrintControl and RapidCheck to standardize reproduction. PrintControl allows for standardizing printing presses. RapidCheck lets the printer knows whether his press is operating within a defined standard.
From Alwan, there’s Print Standardizer, a software application which Pilot Marketing’s Dave Hunter says reports back into prepress that the press is printing as expected so that people can be assured that the end result is matching the target reference or specification. It supports six inline press devices like the ones found on certain Heidelberg and KBA machines. “It can also take data from the image and automate the platesetter. It represents a closed loop from prepress to press back to prepress.”
Hunter explains that in a G7 implementation, which he recommends, plate curves are built for a press. “How often the company updates the plate curves after they’re built is important,” he says. Alwan averages the pressroom conditions and updates the plate curve to compensate for inherent movement in the press. He also notes that converters using flexography are beginning to implement G7.
Larry Moore from EskoArtwork notes that for years there haven’t been a lot of successful standards for color reproduction like GRACoL and SWOP in the packaging world. Now, a process called near neutral calibration that is within compliance to the G7 method is “one of the hottest topics pertaining to color right now.” His company, as well as GMG, supports it in their products. “Some flexo printers adhere to FIRST,” Moore says, “but for some designers today, G7 seems to be the more acceptable solution.”
CIP4, although used in discussions as if it were a standard, is actually a group of vendors, consultants, and end-users in printing and associated sectors, covering a variety of equipment, software, peripherals, and processes. Members participate in focused working groups to define future versions of JDF, to study user requirements, and to design a JDF SDK. JDF is a comprehensive XML-based file format proposed as an industry standard for end-to-end job ticket specifications. It is designed to streamline information exchange between different applications and systems. More information is available at www.cip4.org.
Standards for All?
GRACoL (General Requirements for Applications in Commercial Offset Lithography) is a set of specifications for commercial printing developed by the GRACoL committee, a member of IDEAlliance. Definitions below are from IDEAlliance materials.
G7 is the methodology used to meet these specifications. The G7 proof-to-print process is based on the principles of digital imaging, spectrophotometry and computer-to-plate technologies and is a simple calibration process that allows printers to achieve a visual match between their proofing and printing methods.
G7 utilizes one of the implementation methods of the new ISO 10128 standard for near-neutral calibration. A key benefit of G7 is that it is device independent. The G7 neutral print density curve (NPDC), gray balance definitions and calibration methodology are the same for any imaging technology, regardless of substrate, colorants, screening technologies, etc.
•SWOP Specifications for Web Offset Publications
•FIRST Flexographic Image Reproduction Specifications