We speak to industry experts to demystify the world of colour management and paint a more vivid picture in this often-misunderstood process.
A colour management system refers to a set of software tools that are designed to merge the different colour capabilities across all devices in a print production process. The ultimate aim of colour management is to ensure that a consistent reproduction of colours that the eye sees, in other words “what you see is what you get”. This system enables the colours that are displayed on all monitors are as representative of the colours of the final printed product.
Every device in a print production process, such as scanners, monitors, proofing printers, imagesetters and the pressrun machines, reproduces colour differently. An open colour management system is needed to communicate colour reliably between devices.
Understanding the theory of colour management may not come as first priority for most companies in Asia, especially those who are just transitioning from analog to digital print systems. Yet it is one of the most essential pieces of the final printing puzzle to repeatedly produce accurate colours across devices.
Myth 1: We are traditional offset printers so we have no need for colour management.
There are many factors that impact how colour looks and is reproduced, such as the environment (is it dry or humid?), materials used, ink/toner/hardware brands, operation methods and human perception. To overcome and minimise these effects, colour management plays a critical role to ensure colour transformation to be as accurate as possible from one end to another.
To ensure colours are consistent and accurate in a digital press, the following is involved:
a. Ensure that the machine is correct and set to the manufactory specification, paying attention to factors like density of ink/toner on paper, operation environment, maintenance, etc.
b. Paper Calibration process to ensure correct density is reproduced on that specific paper. This is because different paper will absorb ink/toner differently due to its characteristics such as fibre, moisture and grain direction.
c. Colour Profiling to bring the machine back to a known condition, as colour can drift from time to time due to environment effect and operation temperature.
d. How does one describe the colour “Blue”? How can we have everyone agree that this is the colour “Blue”? This is where standardisation comes to play. We want the colours to look the same in Shop A and Shop B. The only way to do that is to make both shops use the same Standard. A standard is one in which everyone agrees on, and not one that defined by the individual. For example, ISO 12647-2 is an ISO standard for fffset while ISO 12647-8 is for digital presses. If both Shop A and Shop B are based on the same standard, then they can produce similar outcomes.
These are all part of Colour Management. The rules of colour management are the same, regardless of whether you are a traditional offset printer or a digital printer.
Some examples for colour management in practice includes:
a. Adhering to an ISO standard means that Shop A and Shop B will get similar results, regardless of where the ink is made, and how they are made.
b. Using software in a digital press to transform and map the printer’s colour to an ISO standard colour. After which, the colour can be reproduced as to what the source intended when printed on paper.
c. Ensuring the monitors across devices should portray similar colours by profiling them towards a standard so that all monitors are able to output similar colours.
d. A can of paint needs to be the same shade as the last time it was purchased. In order to get the same paint, the manufacturer will have to use devices to accurately mix and measure the colourant to ensure the same colour is being produced as before.
All of these are called colour management, in different forms and methods, but same ultimate purpose – consistent, repeatable colour that look the same. Colour management is an essential process that needs to be understood to achieve consistent colour.
Myth 2: Colour management is difficult to understand.
The objective of colour management in printing is to obtain a good match across multiple print devices. This is so that the printer can accurately predict the colour that their press is able to produce, and thereby achieving that colour quickly with minimal waste and setup time.
For decades, the printer himself has been ‘managing’ colour, and there is a lingering perception that colour management is expensive and difficult to understand. Before even considering acquiring a colour management system, a process control must be in place. If the press is unable to print consistently, the whole effort on managing colour will be a frustrating exercise. The key point that is sometimes overlooked here is consistency. Technology, however, has moved colour reproduction into the realm of science, where the right tools with automation and real time adjustment capabilities, making process control and colour management both easy and affordable.
Myth 3: It is challenging to achieve rich and desirable colours through production inkjet printers.
We acknowledge that the variance in colour gamut can be significant depending on the type of print equipment, software and colour model. While colour reproduction may differ across manufacturers’ devices and environmental conditions, accurate colour management can be achieved through modern inkjet solutions that are advanced and highly versatile.
Collaborate with print partners and calibrate your inkjet printers to create a preferred colour space profile, enabling a solid and reliable benchmark for consistent results across varied print jobs on paper media.
Myth 4: The digitally-produced print will not match the conventional print run.
In producing packaging proofs, those in the production department especially, are skeptical that the quality of a digital proof might be “too nice”, and that the pressrun will not be able to produce the same colour quality. Should a pressrun print fall short in matching to the quality of the proof, they fear they might be in trouble since the proof is what the customer signs off on. This is a very common misconception that we hear when first introducing our ORIS Flex Pack Web solution to packaging printers in China.
However, having a colour management system in place meant that this is not possible since producing a digital proof can only start from simulating the pressrun, or a standard printing condition, as a first step. Colour management links digital printing and traditional printing functions to achieve the most accurate colour matching.
Myth 5: A digital press is already colour standardised so there is no need for colour management.
Most of the digital press users in Japan are satisfied with default colour settings on the DFE defined by press manufacturers, using industry standard ICC profiles – Fogra, GRACoL, or JapanColor in Japan. If they use a single digital press and there is no collaborative work with any other companies, it should work as an “in-house standard”. However, when customers have a couple of other digital presses, or work with other companies, they realise there are many colour differences between these presses due to distinctions between print engine, ink technology, instrumental error - even if they use same press models. Therefore, digital presses should be colour managed correctly.
Colour management means not only making ICC profiles and colour conversion, but also daily management with measurement and evaluation. To compensate colour differences between digital presses, customers would have to tweak profiles, change settings in the DFE or use external colour conversion software like Automation Engine Color Module. To maintain and ensure colour standardisation, daily measurement and calibration is required.
To ensure standardised colour results, Fogra provides Fogra ProsessStandard Digital certification that sets the colour standard and also standardizes work. In Japan, the Japan Printing Machinery Association has also established the Japan Color Digital Press certification similar to FograCert.
There is also the misconception that a digital press cannot reproduce brand colours. This claim mainly from packaging converters is partly true. Many digital presses are CMYK-based and their colour gamut is similar to process colours on an offset press. Vivid brand colours like Coca-Cola Red is “out-of-gamut”, so it is not reproducible even with some colour management systems.
However, several digital presses in the market exceed the limit with higher chroma inks or additional colours. For example, Konica Minolta’s C71hc has “High Chroma Toner” which covers saturated colours and the HP Indigo can be equipped with additional Orange/Green/Violet inks to extend its colour gamut. Esko’s Color Engine can manage these extended colour spaces efficiently to reproduce brand colours, solving the limitation.