- Every time you open a fresh roll of media. Even with the same lot, media can vary and so the color will vary as well. Recalibrating is a quick, painless way to account for that variance.
- Every time that reprints are a possibility. This includes printing a portion of a large job with the remainder to be printed on another day, or even printing a vehicle wrap where a panel may be damaged during installation a week later and needs a reprint. Returning the printer to a known state each and every time helps ensure that the color matches between what was printed last week and today.
- When the customer is picky over color. If you’ve just calibrated the printer this morning, you probably don’t need to recalibrate it this afternoon to make your customer happy. But in most other cases, it’s cheap insurance that the customer’s color expectations will be managed properly.
Time to Profile
We have consistency. We have calibration. The next piece of the color management puzzle is characterization. In terms most are familiar with, characterization is the process of creating the “profiles” used to print on media. These profiles consist of mechanical settings such as heater and stepping information; information about how much ink the media can hold at a given print speed; and an ICC profile—a “recipe book” describing the color characteristics of the printer-media combination and what inks are required for ever possible color. How to create such a profile is beyond the scope of this article, but there’s an important message that needs to be heard: each and every media you print on your machine should have its own media profile. If you’re printing on Media A, you can’t use the Media B profile and expect great results. On a weekly basis I see someone on a message board exclaim that he “uses the 3M ControlTac setting for everything” he prints—and then it’s followed by “but.” But he can’t get good neutral greys without forcing black ink only. But burgundy comes out brown. But blue prints purple. But the media is too saturated with ink to use the takeup roll. These are all inherent problems with using the wrong media profile. Use the right media profile and recalibrate for your machine and specific roll of media, and you’ll be fine. If you can’t find a profile for the media, then your choices are to make your own or be satisfied with whatever results you get from using another profile. There’s no holy grail of color management—there’s no one profile that works perfectly for everything.
The last C of color management is conversion. Conversion is the process of analyzing the colors of a design file and transforming those colors into the specific ink percentages on your printer-media combination to get the best results. There is an inherent difference between the exact color formula used in designing a file and the ink percentages required to duplicate that color on a printer. Even if you design in CMYK, you’re designing using ink colors from an offset litho press. Your printer’s ink colors are very different, and the RIP needs to convert the design file’s colors so that they look like what is expected. This is why, for example, a file designed with 100 percent yellow only may result in the addition of magenta or cyan dots in the finished output. The RIP is interpreting 100 percent offset litho yellow, and converting it into the formula required to match that color on the printer which may result in something other than pure yellow ink. With lower-resolution printers this can be a problem, and there are strategies to address it, but in general this is a good thing—it’s proof that color management is taking place. Conversion is completely transparent to us. It requires no direct interaction other than making sure that the RIP is set up properly and the proper calibration and media profiles are being used.
There is no magic “make my color perfect” button. Establishing a color-managed workflow takes hard work, some understanding of the process, and even specialized equipment. But the end result is worth it. Rework should be significantly reduced, and turnaround time on difficult color jobs can easily be a fraction of the time taken in an unmanaged environment. But the most important effect by far is that the increased confidence in your entire color system allows you to go sell color work you may have otherwise shied away from.