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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

That autumn, however, while touring one of the industry’s larger tradeshows, I came across a color-management consultant whose selling points included phrases like “stop wasting media,” “stop wasting time,” and “get perfect color.” Although I was convinced that these claims were impossible, I spoke to a company rep for a while. He informed me that there actually “was an exact science, it can seem impossible but it is possible with a little help.” The company even had a money-back guarantee. I decided to hire them as a consultant—basically to call their bluff. But, as it turned out, the results were one of the single most eye-opening experiences in my large-format digital printing career.

There is, indeed, a science to color management. You can get the color right. You can get repeatable results, and you can save a ton of money, time, and resources, by implementing the steps needed to get your equipment calibrated and the steps needed to keep it there. I am by no means a color expert and probably never will be. But I do now completely understand the concepts of how to get—and keep—accurate color for my company.

Pinpointing reasons for inaccuracy
Print devices don’t deliberately choose to print inaccurate color. If your color is inaccurate, there must be a reason. Here are the most common reasons for inaccurate color:

Media not profiled: Print media come in all shapes, sizes, and colors. They may all look white, but that is not the case. Color will always be affected by the color value of the “paper” you print on. It can “soak in” differently. It can “sit on top” differently.” It can “bleed out farther.” It can even change color based on how yellow, how blue, or even how white the material is.

Printhead issue: There are many nozzles per printhead that fire ink. They open and shut incredibly fast. The whole system is based on all of those firing correctly. When some of those nozzles are plugged with ink residue—usually from drying up or using poorly manufactured inks—the image or color you are trying to build will not appear accurate, because the “dots” won’t be where they should be.