Ringing the changes: ISO 12647
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By Laurel Brunner
25 June 2012
Without standards none of this would be possible
In the 15 years or so since ISO 12647 was introduced much has changed in the graphic arts industry. This series of standards outlines process control requirements for achieving high-quality results across a range of printing methodologies. ISO 12647 states the minimum values for specifying a digital pre-press job so that a printed product's appearance can be quantified. The standard can be used as a tool to facilitate information interchange between print buyers, pre-press departments and printers. Its objective is to provide all participants in the supply chains of the various print market sectors with a set of guidelines for quality control. The parameters in the ISO 12647 series define the minimum visual characteristics and technical properties of a piece of print.
The ISO 12647 series covers all analogue printing technologies from flexo to gravure and is under the auspices of ISO TC130, the ISO technical committee responsible for graphics technology standards. This includes the PDF-X series, plus standards for inks and soft proofing. The targets and requirements of the ISO 12647 series are a means whereby printers can set up their presses to produce print with equivalent colour appearance.
ISO 12647 is a valuable tool for quality assurance and consistency across devices. The data from prints produced on ISO 12647 compliant presses can be used to create accurate ICC profiles, so that digital proofs can be produced to match the press. Data files meeting the minimum specifications in ISO 12647 should be suitable for producing accurate colour separations. The data should also be suitable to produce accurate proofs, either on press or on a digital proofing engine.
The only print method that is not addressed in the ISO 12647 series is digital printing, although a digital device can also be set up to meet 12647-2, the part in the series which outlines the requirements for offset lithography. Over 1,000 commercial printers have been certified for conformance to ISO 12647-2 which is by far the most widely used part of the series and the only part for which digital printers have been certified. This is curious because 12647-7, for proofing processes working directly from digital data, sort of works for digital engines. And 12647-8 is a watered-down version of part 7 for digital printing devices used for content checking.
Yet neither of these parts has the market support of 12647-2. The handful of digital printing companies certified to comply with ISO 12647-2 (sheet-fed offset) are primarily commercial digital printers but wide-format printing companies have also been certified for compliance. It seems that when it comes to quality control certifications, the market isn't waiting for ISO.
ISO 12647 is a process-specific series of standards written when digital printing and computer-to-plate production were still unproven and most printers had film-based production workflows. But the standard is not out of date just because digital presses are flooding into the market: most print is still produced conventionally.
The series has been reviewed over the years, but because of its film bias all the main parts of ISO 12647 are now undergoing a major overhaul. Output produced direct to press or plate presupposes that a printer is working with a fully digital workflow which, thanks to advances in digital pre-press technology, is the case in most developed markets. The goal is not to completely rewrite the series, but to bring its various parts in line with the modern computer-to-plate reality. The in-depth review, particularly of 12647-2, must inevitably beg an important question: to what extent should the ISO 12647 series address data management? This is a crucial consideration since it takes 12647 into workflow territory rather than confining it to output targets. And workflow territory now extends to include non-print media, so this is a very difficult question to answer. How best to develop the series depends on one's perspective. A print buyer might prefer a standard that focuses on data, whereas a printer might prefer target values.
In order to meet these diverse extremes and in tandem with the ISO 12647 revision, TC130 is working on a process-agnostic standard. ISO 15339 will be suitable for digital as well as analogue printing methods. It will also provide a tidy complement to the ISO 12647 series.
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