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Keys to Color Management

(May 2008) posted on Mon May 12, 2008

Twelve critical factors in implementing a successful color strategy.

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By Stephen Beals

It’s a view seconded by David Hunter of software supplier Alwan Color. "What is your tolerance? How close is close enough?" asks Hunter. "You can spend $300 or $8000 [on a solution]-they may look the same from a check box standpoint, but the relative quality is night and day. The math that goes into the profile affects the accuracy of the results." He shows clients sample prints that are off by a specific Delta E factor as a color tolerance exercise. They look at color patches side by side and evaluate how much color variance they can live with. They determine, "Can I live with a 4 Delta E difference or is 8 Delta E good enough? If you can live with an 8 Delta E variance, then a $300 system might work. Everyone wants a Delta E of 1, but no one can afford to do it," he says.

It’s important to consider all of the variables that impact color, stresses Sarah Smith, color consultant for New Vision Systems of Greenville, South Carolina. "The most obvious variables are the media or substrate, the inkset, the resolution, and all other printer settings in the RIP software. Less obvious variables are laminates or coatings applied to the print, the version of firmware that was used, and even temperature and humidity."

Two: Assess the Stability of Output Devices

A second concern is related to the first: What color controls are available in the individual output devices-and how stable are they? There can be a wide variance in device stability depending on the age, ink types, and media types used. Clearly, the more stable the device, the easier it is to keep under control, and devices with built-in calibration features can help keep the process under better control.

"The foundation of a good color-managed workflow is a calibrated (aka "linearized") printer and an accurate ICC profile of that printer with the appropriate substrate and inks," says Smith. "To do this properly, a user needs good RIP software (to control the printer, apply the linearization and ICC profile, and offer workflow solutions such as proofing) and a spectrophotometer (to measure color data). These are the basics."