Colour me right
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By Sophie Matthews-Paul
7 June 2011
CGS Oris Color Tuner // Web combines colour management, high-speed output and proofing-specific media
No-one will dispute that a big minefield in today's wide-format production lies in getting the colour right. An area with which print service providers from the graphic arts sector should be well acquainted, this capability has tended to fall short of the mark in digital ink-jet for the display side of the market.
In fairness, many of today's users have come from the sign industry where matching shades was never a problem; for vinyl-cut jobs the end customer simply picked what he wanted from a swatch book and knew that's how his order would reproduce. Likewise, there are manufacturers who have developed their own ink-jet engines where colour matching really wasn't top of the list of options when they were bringing their machines to market. Armed with a large portfolio of profiles, these were purported to be sufficient to meet the requirements of end customers. Additionally, colour can be a bit of a movable feast, with its appearance varying according to ambient light and, say, whether or not a job is back-lit.
But, as users have become more demanding, colour issues need to be addressed and this is now happening, largely driven by businesses wanting to produce accurate output for proofing and prototyping. In these environments there is no such thing as an approximation and using ink-jet as part of the pre-press operation is now becoming commonplace. It's essential it toes the line, and there are products which can help to achieve this; even though their primary raison d'être might be to integrate wide-format digital into existing workflow practices for analogue output, they can play a valuable role in the display sector of the industry.
The requirements for proofing differ to those encountered in display production environments in terms of materials. Whereas process of an end job for banners or graphics is immediately apparent as an end product, for proofing this is only a guide to how the final printed order will appear via analogue presses. Certainly, for checking on a computer screen how an end application is going to result, soft proofing provides simulation defined via correct calibration and a printer profile that should give information regarding gamut and ink characteristics. However, where absolute precision of colour is vital to match brand or certification standards, hard proofing is usually essential as the relationship of colour to ink and to material is critical.
As a result, we are now seeing co-operation between specialist software companies and manufacturers of printers which are not only used for display applications but, also, for proofing and prototyping. Much of this latter demand is coming from the packaging and labelling sector and these are the types of businesses where applications aren't being output to a fairly standard paper stock but, more, to specialist media and boards.
Interestingly, Roland DG has been quick to ally its UV-curable LEC-330 and LEC-540 duo with colour management specialists, and there is also interest developing in the proofing capabilities of its VersaCamm VS eco-solvent series with its metallic and white inks. Some purchasers of these machines need to know that they can rely on colour-managed workflow, and this is achievable now. These principles are also being brought to Mimaki's industrial ink-jet printers, targeting the gravure and flexo sectors as well as offset printing.
The ability to produce accurate colours onto real or emulated final materials for prototyping is now realised with specific software solutions, and migrating these principles across to general display production makes sense. Conveniently, these criteria have come along at the right time to make best use of the latest Adobe PDF versions which lead to greater commonality all round and removes the need for proprietary file formats which used to be endemic, particularly in some of the older RIP platforms.
So, today, the specialists of colour managed pre-press solutions are turning their attention more to the needs of wide-format ink-jet specialists, not only just for proofing but for general applications. Ensuring that properly controlled algorithms are brought into play also simplifies profiling and associated tasks when printing to multiple devices and, for businesses taking the JDF route, this is all part and parcel of ensuring consistency across all production and management processes.
Expect to see more in the way of products from companies like CGS, GMG and EFI in the near future as proofing and general wide-format colour accuracy becomes more important overall to ink-jet. The time surely will come when we'll wonder how on earth we managed without properly managed workflow options. Perhaps it's here already.
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