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Color, Managed

(February 2005) posted on Mon Feb 07, 2005

A little time, a little software, and a couple of pieces of equipment add up to better-looking equip

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With so many current workflows ending with a digital print
as the final product (rather than as a step on the way to a
press, as in the past), working with RGB profiles may be the
best choice for many printing applications. But then, as indicated
earlier, most drivers are only set up to handle the manufacturer's
ink and paper. If you want to use third-party inks or
media, you'll need to deal with a RIP, which means working
with a CMYK profile. The RIP gives you control over the channels
and curves, but you'll need to know how to use that control
to get a good profile.

Depending on which RIP or printer you own, you may wind
up using a profiling tool that's specially designed for your output
device. Fujifilm, for instance, offers the ColourKit Profiler
Suite, a set of standalone software for making and editing profiles
that works with other manufacturer's hardware. But the
company also offers software that's specially tuned for its
FinalProof digital proofer"?"one step away from being a proprietary
tool," according to Eric Neumann, product development
manager of the Color Group for Enovation (Fujifilm's U.S. distributor).
In Neumann's opinion, "tools are becoming very specialized
by workflow manufacturer" to take advantage of specific
technology in RIPs and printers. This process isn't likely
to reach upstream to the design and photographic community,
though, who will still want easy, portable solutions.

An important note here: If you're going to produce a CMYK
profile for your digital printer, you need to have the right settings
on the printer to start with. Often, that means calibrating
the output to ensure it's consistent"?are you always getting
approximately the same ink densities and tonal values? Also
sometimes referred to as "linearizing" or "optimizing," calibration
will make sure, for instance, that the printer lays down a
50% dot when the image calls for one. "I went to one place, a
big sign printer, and they'd never even linearized," says Magnusson.
"Linearization is the very start of color-managing a
printer. Just by linearizing, they were amazed at the improvement
in their color."

Where's the proof?

Having good profiles for your monitor and printer means more
than just making sure that what you see is what you print. If
you're making proofs for a press or a remote device, you can link
your profiles to the profiles for those devices and have your
monitor or printer mimic their output.

An application that supports ICC profiles, such as Photoshop,
or your printer's RIP can translate the source color into a "deviceindependent"
color space and then back into the target output's
color space to make such a proof. Another choice is to use a product
such as Link-o-lator, made by Left Dakota, to create direct
CMYK-to-CMYK links, bypassing the device-independent space.
Left Dakota also has a new product called Ultralinks, which
makes RGB-to-CMYK conversions that, the company claims, are
better than those made with ICC profiles.

This article, due to its length, is just an outline of what you
need to do to get started implementing color management in
your workflow. But color-management software is easier to use
than ever, and the sensor devices are cheaper than ever, so
there's no better time to start improving your output.

Jake Widman is a frequent contributor to The Big Picture.

International Color Consortium
Back in 1993, eight industry vendors got together to create the
International Color Consortium. The idea was to establish a group
that would create, promote, and encourage the standardization
and evolution of an open, vendor-neutral, cross-platform, colormanagement
system architecture and components. The outcome
was, of course, the ICC profile specification, the first version
of which was released in the early 1990s.
The resultant ICC device profiles can be used to translate color
data created on one device into another device's native color
space. The format's acceptance by operating system vendors
allows end users to move profiles and images with embedded
profiles between different operating systems. And, it allows
users to be sure that their image will retain its color fidelity when
moved between systems and applications. Furthermore, it allows
a printer manufacturer to create a single profile for multiple operating
Today, the ICC ( comprises more than 70 members
and honorary members, and the ICC specification is widely
used. The group is now working to make the specification more
useful to various niches within the graphic arts. Current working
groups within the organization focus upon workflow, digital cinema,
architecture, and other specialties.