This article originally appeared in the March/April issue of Mailing Systems Technology.
For print operations considering switching to high-speed inkjet printing, expanding an existing fleet, or moving from black-and-white to color, digital color management provides the tools to satisfy customers with accurate and consistent color on various media across different presses.
With the wide range of quality options color management offers, shops can print to the specific quality needs and budget of an individual customer. Even when printing under a tight budget for a particular customer, print operations can still use tools to make the most of the color and appearance for higher customer satisfaction.
Increase Quality with Advanced Color Management
When a print operation migrates from offset to high-speed inkjet, many factors that affect output quality are different. For inkjet production, there is no longer the need for plates, ink mixing, or operator skills to manually adjust color on the press. High-speed inkjet presses with an integrated color management system provide:
· Exceptional color quality out-of-the-box
· Easy-to-use tools that allow press operators to perform color management
· Expanded press color gamut providing the ability to match brand colors without specialty inks
· The ability to match colors across presses and substrates
· The flexibility to optimize print color to meet a wide range of quality and customer cost constraints
· The ability to reduce rework by printing one copy to verify color accuracy before printing the entire job
More Accurate, Consistent Color
Inkjet inks aren’t the same as those used in a conventional press. Print operations need to deliver consistent color quality in a hybrid (offset/digital) print environment. Print buyers expect consistent color appearance when a job is reprinted. This is often achieved by adopting a shop appearance-matching reference. The ability to match an offset standard such as GRACoL or SWOP will make a hybrid environment work. In some cases, custom shop references can be established based on production equipment capabilities and customer expectations. And an international color consortium (ICC) profile makes the solid and saturated colors look right every time. Color-managed digital workflows can also consistently match spot and brand colors – in many cases without requiring custom ink mixing.
Some print service providers invest in multiple presses for load-balancing of jobs. One of the functions of the color management system is to create ICC color profiles that are used to match color for each substrate and each press used. These profiles are used to ensure common color appearance across substrates, even in a multi-press production environment.
One tool required to implement color management is a spectrophotometer. In addition to enabling color matching with ICC profiles, this device also enables color quality control to ensure that printed results meet expected color precision. Color quality assurance is conducted by measuring a control bar with the spectrophotometer then comparing it to the shop reference.
More Production Flexibility
High-speed inkjet presses allow a wide range of controls over ink laydown. For this reason, choosing a digital front end optimized for the inkjet production press is essential to provide more control over the way the ink is applied.
Richer, More Saturated Colors with Less Ink
Another benefit of using color management on high-speed inkjet and other digital presses is the ability to control the color separations in order to save ink. This is achieved by creating a press profile that replaces colored inks with black ink in neutrals, a separation technique called gray component replacement (GCR). Creating profiles with high levels of GCR provides more stable neutrals on press and, in some cases, more saturated, chromatic colors. The printed output looks richer and is more eye-catching, often perceived as higher quality by print buyers.
Color management technology for inkjet presses also includes ink-limiting tools for optimizing print appearance while minimizing ink consumption. By setting the correct ink limits when calibrating the inkjet press from the digital front end (DFE), high-quality printed products that don’t use more ink than required can be produced. Optimizing ink coverage not only saves money, it also ensures the pieces dry properly and don’t affect finishing equipment.
Less Rework and Fewer Finishing Failures
Using a raster-viewing tool, an operator can proof and inspect a post-RIP raster image on a calibrated and profiled monitor to check a job’s color accuracy before print production. It is easier to create a proof because there’s no need to change out plates or inks. Operators can easily generate a proof on the same output device that will be used for the production run or a color-correct soft proof for remote color approval workflows.
Finally, digital systems allow one-pass personalization, so there’s no need to put pieces back on press — avoiding potential registration problems and eliminating the need to produce and store preprinted shells.
Today’s Color Management Systems
Users of legacy color management systems are often surprised by the simplicity and ease-of-use offered by modern color management solutions such as wizard-based calibration, profile creation, and profile editing. Now press operators can easily create profiles and calibrations instead of requiring the expertise from an expert color consultant, saving time and money. In addition, desktop spectrophotometers are more precise, more automated, and less expensive. This makes it easier than ever to measure color quickly and successfully. Integration of these devices with modern color workflows means color management works as intended.
When evaluating systems, make sure to choose one with these critical functions to get the full benefit of advanced color management:
· Calibration to enable ink-limiting settings
· Custom profile creation for individual presses and substrates
· Tools to match and optimize spot or brand colors
· Workflows for press-to-press matching to enable load-balancing
· Verification of color consistency over time
· Tight integration with the press DFE
Invest in Quality with Color Management
In the report, The Evolving Shape of the Production Inkjet Market, I.T. Strategies notes that respondents say software (primarily for managing workflow) was key to the efficiency gains.
They continue, “For many print providers, a major allure of inkjet presses is speed. The workflow and color management software that help minimize make-ready and prepress costs may increase productivity.” For this reason, before investing in high-speed inkjet presses, select a DFE and press system with these advanced color management and workflow tools for the highest quality and productivity.
Lou Prestia is a senior product line manager for EFI Fiery products, specializing in color system architecture, hybrid color workflow integration and other color-management topics. For more information about EFI Fiery digital production printing technologies, visit www.efi.com or call 800.875.7117.