bp default image

Freeman Decorating Sets Up Remote Proofing System

To help manage expectations for packages of trade-show graphics

Big Picture

Each year Freeman Decorating Company helps produce about 3800 trade shows with 450,000 exhibitors. For event organizers and their clients, Freeman's graphic design and production team creates packages of graphics that range from basic informational signs to supersized, full-color murals and banners. Freeman's graphic team promotes its ability to match corporate brand and logo colors and give each event or exhibit a distinctive look.

Freeman's primary graphics-production facility in Chicago is equipped with three Vutek and Nur Salsa superwide solvent-system inkjet printers, a Mimaki JV4 inkjet printer for dye-sublimation, and various models of Encad NovaJet aqueous inkjet printers. In addition, 17 of Freeman's 24 branch offices throughout the US are also equipped with one or more Encad inkjet printers for the production of trade-show and event graphics.

Under the leadership of Operations Manager Harold Albaugh, Freeman Decorating recently set up a hard-copy remote-proofing system that uses Hewlett-Packard Designjet 10ps desktop inkjet proofers in each of Freeman's graphic-production sites. Each proofer is driven by the same Onyx PosterShop print-management software used to produce graphics on Freeman's diverse mix of aqueous, dye-sub, and solvent-system wide-format inkjet printers.

One goal of Freeman's remote-proofing system is to use the "freeman cmyk.icc" profile to help ensure that the wide-format inkjets at each graphics-production facility are outputting color the same way. During the hectic spring and fall trade-show seasons, big, multi-piece graphics packages are sometimes divided up, with files sent for output on the wide-format inkjet printers at Freeman's various branches. Any mismatches in colors are readily apparent when the various posters, signs and banners included in a graphics package are displayed near each other at an event or exhibit.

The other primary objective of Freeman's remote-proofing system is to manage customer expectations so clients don't experience any unpleasant surprises when the trade-show graphics are delivered and installed. Graphics printed with dye-based aqueous inks on glossy photobase media on an Encad NovaJet have a much wider color gamut than graphics printed with pigmented, solvent-based inks on banner material on Freeman's Nur Salsa or Vutek machines. Because Onyx PosterShop software can simulate Salsa, Vutek, and Encad output on the HP Designjet proofer, Freeman's account executives can now show clients in advance how significant the color differences might be. The reps can then give their clients this choice: Would they prefer to have the most vibrant colors possible on some of their graphics? Or do they want the colors on all of their graphics on different substrates to match? For clients who choose matched colors, Freeman's graphics-production technicians can compress the gamut of the Encad output to match that of the Vutek and Salsa devices.

Managing customer expectations can be particularly important if any of the graphics will be dye-sublimated onto fabrics or carpet, says Freeman graphic technician Elmedin "Memo" Nuhbegovic. Colors on dye-sub-printed fabrics and carpets typically appear much more muted than they appear on photobase media. Although Freeman's hard-copy proofing provides an early warning system of this situation, the simulated output from the Designjet proofer isn't an entirely accurate preview of how the finished job will look. The Designjet proofing device and Onyx software can only simulate the whiteness of the print substrate--not color-changing characteristics such as texture, surface reflectance, and variations in lighting within different exhibition halls. In fact, the color of dye-sub printed carpets can even vary depending on which way the carpet is vacuumed.

Freeman's development of a remote-proofing system follows the successful development of a system-wide color-managed workflow, that utilizes color-measuring instruments and software from GretagMacbeth. After several years of learning and trial-and-error experimentation, all of the scanners, monitors, and digital printing devices used by Freeman Decorating are now profiled and kept calibrated.

The need for color-management first became apparent a couple of years ago when Nuhbegovic noticed variations in Encad output at their Chicago facility: "We have several models of Encad printers, and if you use the same settings for each printer, it's amazing how different they are." Color management has enabled Freeman's graphics technicians to save a significant amount of money, because they are no longer wasting precious time and material trying to get the output to match. By using calibrated monitors to soft-proof during the design stage, Freeman's in-house designers now have a much more realistic view of how their projects will appear when output.

Freeman chose the HP Designjet proofer for its remote-proofing system because the economical, relatively stable inkjet-printing device has a color-gamut wide enough to simulate output from a variety range of other inkjet printers"?even the Encad NovaJets. The Designjet's self-calibration feature enables the printer to adjust to the changes in ambient temperature and humidity that commonly affect the color output of inkjet printers. But because this self-calibration feature works only when used with HP software and media, Freeman's graphic technicians plan to calibrate the inkjet proofers themselves.

Nuhbegovic advises each user of an inkjet printer at Freeman to print out a set of Pantone color patches on the first day the printer is calibrated, and then post the patches next to the printer. Before each major job is run on subsequent days and weeks, technicians are urged to reprint the test patches and visually compare the new patches to those posted next to the printer. When significant differences are apparent, it's time to recalibrate the printer.

To simplify the remote-proofing process, technicians in Freeman's Chicago office are currently compiling Onyx "QuickSets" of data that branch sites can use to instruct their HP proofers how to simulate graphic files to be output with the different types of inks and materials typically used on Freeman's Nur, Salsa, Encad, and Mimaki equipment. The QuickSets utilize Freeman's custom color palette, which incorporates data on how the different lighting used in popular convention halls affects the look of commonly used Pantone? colors.

The graphics pros at Freeman Decorating don't view hard-copy remote proofing as a cure-all for all types of printing workflows. As Nuhbegovic points out, "On the production side, we can only do half the job." Profile data sent to designers is meaningless if the designers aren't using calibrated equipment. He believes designers and other creatives need a higher level of color-management training and commitment before remote proofing becomes more widely accepted during the late stages of graphics production.

But at Freeman Decorating, where graphics absolutely, positively must be delivered in time for the opening of each and every trade-show, remote proofing now provides a way to keep a multitude of clients better informed about how graphics produced on different machines and materials will look when printed. (Freeman Decorating: www.freemanco.com)

View more from this Big Picture issue