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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

One thing that was pointed out clearly at the Color Management Booth at Graph Expo last year (sponsored by the Color Management Group), was a significant difference between the color rendering of different RIPs. Because of the different math that RIPs use for color conversion, eliminating redundant or multiple RIPs can prove helpful. Of course that’s not always possible since many machines come with a RIP. But often, the same RIP can run several devices, and if you go from five RIPs to two you are going to limit the challenges.

There is also a trend of printers with built-in color management, but these can also present a problem because they don’t use the same instruments or tables to make their readings or do their calculations.

A color server can be used to make sure you do all the color processing using one set of rules. Some companies also make RIPs that use the same math and allows users to put all of their jobs through the same color-management path. The key then is to turn off the color management in any other RIPs in your workflow so that all color management is centralized.

Upton also has a recommendation for RIPs that don’t produce the same results: "Convert by hand in Photoshop and then move that profile into the RIP and do the conversion there. Photoshop uses good profiles properly. If they don’t match, you know the RIP is what’s causing the problem," he says. But it’s not all bad news: "RIPs are supporting color management better than they ever did."

Twelve: An Ongoing Task

Monitoring the system and keeping all devices in calibration is the heart of color management. It is not, unfortunately, a "set it and forget it" proposition. The more often you calibrate, the better the results will be.

Implementing color management, "Is a change-it’s not what they are used to doing," says Summers. "If you think of it as a control process for manufacturing, you will be a lot more effective." If nothing else, "Just having calibrated monitors is a big help. Even if the monitors are wrong, but all of them are wrong by the same amount, that’s a first step."

Upton notes that finances are often a barrier. "The classic color-management problem is having to spend a bunch of money when they aren’t sure why they have to do it. But the bottom line is: Color management works."

"I think it comes down to perceptions, not necessarily realities," says Hunter. "For instance, one perception is that it does not make sense to profile every substrate so why do any, where the reality is many substrates react very similarly to ink/toner and so the trick is to find the ‘most average’ substrate and use that profile for all similar substrates; but very few people know how to do this. A big part of it is helping the customer figure out ‘how close is close enough.’ Once this is done, then it is easy to start averaging the effects of different substrates and determining standard ‘aim’ points that will work for all substrates."

"The same message applies to compensating for consistency," Hunter continues. "The perception is that you may need a full-time person overseeing the color control, but that’s not correct. As long as you can quantify ‘how close is close enough’ then you can determine maintenance schedules to keep all your devices in line."

Stephen Beals is a frequent contributor to The Big Picture magazine and a veteran in graphics prepress.