A wide spectrum of factors ensures today’s print service providers must place more emphasis on color management than ever before. After all, now that audiences for their large-format work can get within inches of that output, IBM blue better be the right shade of blue, and Coke red the right shade of red.
Color management is crucial for brand identity colors like Kraft orange, said Jim Summers, president of Hingham, MA-based GMG Americas, a wholly-owned subsidiary of GMG GmbH & Co. KG, based in Tuebingen, Germany, which makes software for color management and has clients that include design and advertising agencies, publishers, and brand managers.
It’s also important to companies that have no well identified brand colors, because they still want color to be consistent. “You want to manage consistency of color, and even if you’re not matching between pieces, you want the color you’re printing today to match the one you did last year,” said Summers.
Other reasons for the greater acceptance of color management have a great deal to do with competitive pressures and a maturing market, said Dean Derhak, Salt Lake City, UT-based product director at ONYX Graphics.
ONYX has seen wide adoption of color management for two reasons, Derhak said. First, print buyers face higher color quality demands and second, shops recognize they can differentiate on the basis of their color quality.
“We also see that color management has become easier for shops to implement, particularly with RIPs that have integrated color management systems,” he added. “It used to be that shops had to purchase third-party color management tools and then figure out how to work them into their RIP workflows. But the better RIPs today have integrated color management and easier color profiling, so the learning curve is much shorter.”
Jennifer Elliott, director of marketing and graphic arts for X-Rite/Pantone, the Tewksbury, MA-based company serving industries from graphic arts, retail paint, and automotive to photography, film, and entertainment, also sees burgeoning acceptance. Color management may still be in its infancy, she said, but it is growing because more information about the technology is accessible online and in print trade publications.
“And manufacturers are providing a lot more education,” she added. “It’s like all technology. If you think about what a personal computer was 20 years ago versus today, everything is easier, more accessible and affordable.”
Is color management widely accepted? Summers believes it is. In larger shops, populated by people who know the business and have been in it for a long time, there is an awareness and acceptance of color management, he said. These are typically shops with more than $3-4 million in annual sales and equipment that isn’t limited to one brand of printer. “They don’t just have a Mutoh, Mimaki, or HP, they have all of those and more,” Summers said. “The issue becomes much more apparent in such settings.”
Production Advances, Prepress Gains
Understanding color management begins with realizing today’s wide-format industry puts a greater level of technology at the command of print service providers. With a wider variety of printers and inks and a broader range of substrates available, more applications are possible. And the larger array of applications makes color management far more important, Elliott said.
“The business opportunities in wide-format are always growing,” Elliott said. “Color management has traditionally been very difficult in wide-format because of the scale [of the output]. It’s always been seen as difficult, complicated, and expensive—and that’s no longer the case.
“Customers now realize there are color issues critical to their success, and that wasn’t always true. Think of billboards; you look at them from 40 or 50 feet away. But now there are many more applications for wide-format to allow the user experience to get much closer to the output. There are applications for wide-format printing that allow for a much closer user experience, and that‘s making it absolutely essential for wide-format providers to manage color.”