Managing colour in a wide format workflow

  1. A rip is not a workflow!

The wide format rips from the usual vendors are not always a complete workflow system. While most cover the production requirements of the wide format market, tiling, cutter guides etc; many are limited in other important areas such as pre-flighting, integration with MIS systems and colour management which a full workflow requires to be efficient. So when choosing or upgrading a wide format rip system check on its abilities in these other areas and if the one chosen, or in use, has gaps, how easy is it to integrate with other third party software that can cover these areas and needs.

  1. Colour consistency

Do your wide format devices provide day-to-day, week-to-week consistent colour output? If you produce 12 exhibition panels on Thursday and on the following Wednesday the client needs to amend 2, can you print those 2 and be confident they will match the other 10? Or do you print all 12 just to be certain all match? If it’s the last option you need to improve your colour management methods and process control. 

  1. Device profiles

So what is a device profile? It’s an ICC profile that describes the way your wide format device will print using proscribed ink set and substrate. It will only work correctly when used on the device/printer with that ink set and substrate specified. So do you have device profiles covering all your wide format printers, inks and substrates? Or do you use a smaller number of profiles each covering a range of differing type of printers and substrates? Or just use a few downloaded from the printer or substrate manufacturers web site? Well, this area is, of course, market driven but if you are using the last option and reprinting work because of poor colour reproduction or losing work to competitors for the same reasons, it is time to revise your colour workflows, profiling, and systems.

  1. Common colour appearance

 This is a term often used in the colour management world and can cover a number of issues. In this case it simply means the need for an image, logo, brand colour or page to visually match when produced using multiple output devices and substrates. This will often involve the use of more then one supplier. Corporates, brands and retailers are increasingly demanding that promotions across differing production methods, media and substrates match their brand colours. Often this will mandate the use of ISO 12647 standard printing conditions and their associated profiles, which are not aimed at wide format printing. So can your colour management and workflow meet this requirement? It is a requirement understood by most offset litho printers, many who are moving into to the wide format area, bringing their colour management workflow tools and systems into this area. Understanding the requirements of the client, combined with the correct tools, software and systems to meet these requirements will result in happy customers.

  1. Simulation profiles

 We have looked at the importance of device profiles, so it is possible to run a wide format device to its maximum gamut on the chosen substrate. But this will result in a differing visual appearance between devices and substrates if not controlled in some way, as discussed above. The wide format area is now mainly digital. So the use of a simulation profile can solve this issue. This is an ICC profile; normally a CMYK profile which describes the output gamut required if the gamut of the device and substrate is not suitable for the production. This simulation profile can be selected and applied within most wide format workflows colour management menus. The most usual will be a Fogra 39 based profile, which describes an offset litho press printing on coated papers. This is often used as a common colour gamut for mixed media promotions. The colour management tools within the wide format workflow will then use the device profile as the starting point to convert the printed output to the chosen simulation profile. This then should result in a very close visual match across differing printers and media. The caveat is the device profile; see 1.  If this is not accurate, the simulation profile will not work as expected, so the colour will not match across devices and media.

  1. Product validation

As good as device profiles and simulation profiles are, output devices will change over time. Media specifications will change, print heads will be replaced, and ink batches may vary. So a method of validating products is needed. This validation can be the same as used when validating a proof produced on an inkjet printer. A Fogra Media Wedge v3 is printed, and read against the figures of the chosen output, the simulation profile or the device profile is using the full gamut. The pass/fail report will show if the device is printing correctly or if the device profile needs attention. There are a number of other software’s such as MellowColour PrintSpec and Bodoni PressSIGN that can also be used to check this area using similar colour bars. Using validation gives both you and your client the confidence that your product is accurate to the chosen printing profile and condition and will meet expectations.

  1. Colour management policy and system

Think about a formal colour management policy documenting all areas of colour management in your organisation; profiles used, the differing colour managed workflows needed, how it works within desktop software such as Abode CS/CC, the correct settings to use to produce print ready, colour managed PDFs, define the proofing systems, approval methods and queues used, calibration and re-profiling schedules for your devices and substrates. Also as part of this policy training and staff competence in this important area should be addressed.

  1. A Wide Area Workflow

Many areas of the Colour Management Policy can be used to help your clients produce print ready files. You should publish your Adobe CS/CC color settings files and PDF job options to enable your clients to supply problem-free files. I call this a ‘Wide Area Workflow’ as it includes your client in your overall policy and colour management system. Offering training for clients in this area is another very positive approach and will ‘embed’ clients into you as a supplier.

  1. The ROI

 Colour management is a ‘right first time’ system when used correctly. When embedded into your workflow, culture and clients it will save money in many areas and retain and attract new clients who value colour quality and consistency.

It is this consistency and control that provides the return, reduced reprints, reduced wastage, less administration for sales and CRS staff ‘defending’ colour issues,


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