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Color Management on a Shoestring Budget

(January 2009) posted on Thu Jan 29, 2009

A little color management is better than none at all.

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By Stephen Beals

Another option is the Datacolor Spyder3 Print. Folks have been using the inexpensive Spyder for a number of years for monitor calibration, but Datacolor is now into its third generation of Spyder models. Listed for the same price as the ColorMunki (also $499 MSRP), it does have the advantage of unlimited installations. The overall quality of the two devices is quite similar, with the Spyder3 Print being marketed to a more professional audience. Users who are not familiar at all with color calibration and profiling could face frustration with the Spyder3 Print package. Reviewers report it is a bit more complicated to set up, but it also has some added functionality for more experienced users. I have used the Spyder2 monitor-calibration unit and found it simple to use, and the Spyder3 is said to be an improvement over its predecessor. The Spyder2 Express is still available for monitor calibration only ($79 retail).

The Spyder3 Print package is actually two separate instruments (unlike the Color Munki, which is a combination device); you get both a Datacolor Spyder3 for monitor calibration and a Datacolor 1005 Spectrocolorimeter for printer calibration and profiling. Also available is a Spyder3 Elite Studio product, which includes a step up for the monitor calibration to the Spyder3 Elite (the difference is software) and a protective aluminum carrying case. That package runs an extra $100 ($599 MSRP). Datacolor does not have photo- and design-specific software packages at this point.

Stay on top with scheduled maintenance
Implementing a color-management solution, however, is only going to have value for printers who maintain all of their devices and monitors on a regular basis. It is certainly recommended that monitors be calibrated at least weekly (some folks do it daily since the process takes only a couple of minutes or so). Printer calibration takes a bit longer, but weekly calibration is recommended. Once you have a running record of how much different output devices tend to drift over time, appropriate adjustments in the maintenance schedule can be made. Some printing devices definitely tend to drift more than others.

The point is that all devices change over time, and the only way to keep color synchronized is through regular calibration. Failing to maintain a proper schedule is the primary reason that color-management systems fail to work. It’s not hardware or software; it’s production schedules that get so backed up operators don’t feel they can take the time to go through the process, no matter how quick and simple it is.

The easiest way around this is to mandate a regular schedule for calibration and stick to that schedule. It’s very easy in a production environment to let the scheduled maintenance slide, but this often leads to spending hours troubleshooting problems that could have been prevented by spending a few minutes running a calibration. Software in these devices can warn you when you are past the mandated period between calibrations, but it’s easy to ignore.


Now that plant-wide color management systems are available for the shoestring budget, what are you waiting for?