Tips on color management and how to 'get it right' for your customer.
By Jared Smith
RGB, CMYK, ICC profiles, linearization, ink limits, deltas, calibration, G7, neutral printing, gray balance, etc. Whatever happened to the good old days, when you could load in ink and paper, hit the print button, and everyone was happy? I might be exaggerating a bit here, but I do remember a time when it seemed less confusing when it came to thinking about color.
Now, color is not necessarily tricky on its own. The challenges arise, however, when you begin bringing in different substrates to print on using output devices that feature various print technologies. Combine those factors with differing inksets, file types, RIP software, and even climates, and the process can get way beyond tricky. Unless, that is, you have at least a basic understanding about what’s truly going on, and how all of this can affect the color in your shop’s graphics.
What is ‘accurate’ color?
In order to start unwinding the color-management conundrum, we first need to get a few things straight. Let’s begin with the concept of “accurate color.” Accurate color simply means that your final output (the printed media) is an accurate representation of the color as based on an industry standard (GRACol, SWOP, FOGRA, etc.). Accurate color does not mean it necessarily matches the color the designer saw on his screen, or that it’s any type of “color match.” Achieving accurate color only means that your final output is within a specific industry standard with regards to color difference (Delta E).
For example, let’s say you’re working with a calibrated monitor and you send a file to the RIP that portrays a person with a sunburn. That output, if accurate, should show a sunburn. If the client comments that the person looks too sunburned, you can reply with confidence that the photo does indeed contain that sunburn but, for a fee, your creative team can adjust the color in their file.
You should always be in a position in which your equipment, including your monitors, is more calibrated than your customer’s. In fact, it’s entirely possible that the first accurate representation of your customer’s file will be on your monitor and your output. It’s very likely that your customer, using their uncalibrated monitor, has never even seen an accurate representation of the color values of their own file.