Four steps to colour standardization in print

GRACoL workflowWe all know the Holy Grail for every printer is to print jobs quickly and efficiently, to match the proof, to use as little ink as possible and to have a minimal amount of wastage, but unfortunately that isn’t always the case. Proofs don’t always match, jobs get pulled off press and clients are asked to wait and are given more bad coffee.

But why does this happen? The answer is a lack of standardization within all the processes involved. The press, the proof, the incoming files and the CTP curves are not aligned to a specification. Usually the proof and the press are calibrated by the plate manufacturer or reseller, but to what target and what method, densities and dot gain values? In today’s colourimetric world, calibrating a press to densities and dot gain is antiquated and simply doesn’t fit into today’s colour-managed world.

The problem starts the moment you receive a client’s file. No two files are created equal and no two files will print equal. If you are a creative or a print buyer, point your browser to; on the right side of the page is a section called G7 Downloads. Select “G7 for Buyers and Creatives.” This document will walk you through the steps to set up your applications colour management settings more closely with today’s printing environment.

Step 1: The first step in the process is setting up a Colour Server to automatically convert all files from RGB to CMYK and CMYK to CMYK using DeviceLink Technology. This conversion harmonizes all files into a common colour space that is consistent with your proofing and press profile. There are many advantages to this approach; consistent total ink values, more reliable gray balance on press, better match with colour-managed proofs and all files carry the same black generation allowing for more consistency across the sheet.

Step 2: Ink Optimization. The ink optimization step happens at the same time as the colour conversion, but is so important that it deserves its own step. Before discussing the conversion, let’s get past the old school mentality that you don’t want to convert the client’s files. The reality is that you, the printer, have been converting files via RIPs, proofing devices, film-setters and platesetters for years. So we need to get past that line of thinking.

The ink optimization programs offer various levels of GCR depending on your requirements. At the average setting, printers can expect to see a 15-25 percent reduction in ink usage. If you have ever struggled with balancing gray balance and chromatic areas of the sheet, then a colour management server could be the answer.

Step 3: Proofing the standardized files in accordance to the manufacturer’s specifications and performing regular quality control checks comes after all files have been standardized. Setting up your proofing device to match the press is nothing new but verifying and regularly qualifying the proof is often the part of the equation that is neglected. It is essential that proofs be verified regularly. This is usually done using a hand-held spectrophotometer and a predefined colour bar in conjunction with Q & A software.

Step 4: Press Standardization. Adjusting the press’s plate curves using the G7 mythology is the final step on the road to matching the client’s files. This step is the most complex and volatile of all the steps; and due to its complexity, it is advised to hire a GRACoL certified expert to assist you in the process. Be prepared to take a few days to get this part of the process running smoothly.

There are multiple reasons this methodology has significant advantages. One of the main advantages is that you are printing to a target that is shared amongst all the creatives and print buyers. This means that the monitors, laser printers, inkjets, proofers and printing machines are all aimed at one common condition. When all parties involved are working on the same visual model, the expectations are the same and by standardizing/harmonizing all incoming files being prepared for print, you are controlling the process.

You have a few choices at hand when considering a standardized workflow. The first is to look at the ROI that is possible from ink saving, reduced drying times, less paper wastage and quite simply taking less time to get the colour right on press. But the concern, which I think is unjustified, is that some printers do not want to convert their customer’s files. But I respond with this: who knows better how a file should be prepared – the person printing it or the person designing it? I’ll put my money on the printer because, ultimately, it is the printer that needs to put ink on paper.