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The Money of Color

(September 2010) posted on Mon Aug 30, 2010

Getting the best color for your money.

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By Jared Smith

We spend a lot of money on printers and ink, so why can’t the color just magically come out correct every time? It sure would be nice if it did. I know we all have experienced this magical accurate color at some point, usually the first day you install a new printer. So what changes? Why can’t the red I got yesterday just come out as the same red today? Why does it all have to be so difficult?

When our company first began with an aqueous HP2500 back in 1997, we loaded paper and ink, selected the paper type, and hit “print” from Adobe Illustrator. At the time, we were mostly printing high-res photo paper to make one-day golf signs; we would use 3M Super 77 spray glue to mount unlaminated 600-dpi posters to Coroplast (talk about the wrong way to do things!). Over time, we changed to using a solvent printer with a RIP to print on pressure-sensitive vinyl, then laminate and mount. As we got “smarter” about production, however, it seemed that our color began getting worse. This was also about the time that we began obtaining clients that had print jobs with critical color.

After I decided I was fed up with reprinting these slow, expensive jobs because something was wrong with the color, I came into the shop one weekend to create some color profiles. Turning to a reference book to pursue this task, I followed its step-by-step procedures on how to build a media profile. At one point, I was asked to compare one of the outputs I created and adjust the “variable dot gain slider to the number corresponding with the desired look in chart 3a.” After looking everywhere for the variable dot gain slider, I came to the realization that my printer was not a variable dot printer! I had spent four hours on this, only to find out that all of my work was for nothing. It was extremely frustrating.